When the COVID-19 pandemic brought major events to a standstill, sports betting affiliates were presented with an unprecedented set of problems that forced them to rethink their approach.
Ahead of his speaking appearance at SBC Summit Barcelona – Digital, Oddspedia’s Head of Marketing Yaroslav Stanev told AffiliateINSIDER how the business survived the shutdown, innovated, and is now planning for the new-look sporting landscape.
AffiliateINSIDER: The sudden halting of most live sports events must have presented significant obstacles to sports betting affiliates. What has Oddspedia learned from that challenge?
Yaroslav Stanev: “Whilst live sports were suddenly postponed almost everywhere across the globe, alternatives such as virtual sports and eSports became more prominent and saw a huge boost. Betting providers, as well as affiliates, had to adapt to the situation and make new strategic decisions to tackle the obstacles created by the pandemic.
“Online gambling surged, paired with changes in online gambling laws affecting multiple countries. The patterns that generated revenue also changed, so being flexible and quick to adapt was key, with much more focus on online casino, alternative sports and poker.
“Quite important for us during the lockdown months was the variety of alternative sports like darts and table tennis, and small football leagues like Belarus, Nicaragua and Haiti we had on offer. Thus, we focused on increasing our sports portfolio to cover almost any event going on worldwide. As crazy as it sounds, the matches from the Moscow Liga Pro – a table tennis tournament in Russia – were visited over a million times on Oddspedia.
“Our casino projects also registered increased traffic, with revenues increasing by about 20% in March and more than 35% in April. However, I don’t think that the lack of sports betting fixtures created a new generation of online casino fans. What we’ve seen from the results shows that the last few months have been used mostly for retention and engagement rather than acquisition of new online casino players. The most logical explanation is that existing players are using the lockdown to engage more with their hobby than before.”
AI: Now that some major sporting action has resumed (albeit in unfamiliar formats), what are the main sports betting trends we are likely to see over the rest of 2020 and moving into 2021?
YS: “We have found a few trends that got our attention.
“eSports betting established itself as a major player – it’s here to stay! The vertical was already growing in popularity for the past year, but has now reached a much-wider audience. Events were the least-affected by the pandemic, since they simply shifted from offline to online tournaments.
“Entertainment betting. Props betting has been around for a while, but betting on TV shows, movies, novelties, weather and other special events has been getting increasingly more popular among the younger generation of gamblers.
“There is no home court advantage. The majority of upcoming sporting events will still be played either with limited crowds, or without a live audience, for the foreseeable future. This negates the psychological factors on referees and visiting teams, and also impacts the home-field advantage and players’ performances to a certain degree.
“Betting hasn’t remained unaffected. For example, we see that opening lines, which are more and more based on statistical models, seriously fluctuate or change in a particular direction due to betting volume. It could be due to the fact that algorithms still adjust to the difference of the home advantage parameter, with sharp bettors finding value in particular outcomes and taking advantage.
“Examples like this underline the increased importance of the human factor, and how oddsmakers will weigh in on various events. The changes to the decision-making process will most likely transfer into 2021 as a trend to better determine the bettors’ reaction to the opening lines and the risk management.”
AI: During the period that major football leagues, golf, tennis and the big four US sports were shut down, alternatives such as eSports, table tennis, and the Belarus Premier League gained a following among sports bettors. Are any of those trends showing signs of continuing?
YS: “Part of the eSports betting traffic increase was due to a sudden boom of interest in sports-simulated betting – mostly FIFA, NBA, Tennis World Tour and NHL20. This particular trend is very likely to begin fading once physical sports resume.
“However, the interest in not-so-popular sports betting options that gained popularity during lockdown, like table tennis, remains quite steady. It seems like some of them will keep their newfound fans.
“Oddspedia offers hundreds of live table tennis events every day, and we have noticed that these games provide a great opportunity to punters with good knowledge of table tennis to make profitable bets on them. The margins are not so great, and not a lot of operators cover them, but it seems that it’s not so easy for the traders to follow all these small championships and make the proper odds.”
AI: 2021 should be a big year for sports, with the Olympics, Euros, Copa America, T20 World Cup and the return of full tennis, golf and US sports schedules. What can affiliates be doing now to ensure they are well positioned for the return to ‘normal’?
YS: “Affiliates can do a ‘reality check’ to measure the audience, as well as their interests and ever-evolving hunger for sports.
“We live in a new age of interaction, and the way people consume sports information has changed considerably. Today, sports fans want to consume the most recent information as soon as it happens, be it the latest news, twitter comments or live score information.
“Using your mobile device to stay informed on the go has been the main means of getting information for the majority of fans for a while now. So the ‘mobile first approach’ is not just a gimmick, and with the Oddspedia redesign we wanted to give top notch performance, with accurate and quick updates.”
AI: What should operators be thinking about now, in terms of their affiliate programs and relationships with major affiliates?
YS: “Well, the first reaction of the operators straight after the lockdown was a bit controversial. Some started sending scary emails to affiliates forbidding them to even mention COVID-19, while their own blogs were promoting articles like where to bet while we are staying at home.
“I can completely understand their attitude, as they were under additional pressure from the authorities, which imposed a complete gambling marketing ban in some countries like Spain and Lithuania.
“But now, as the situation settles down and online marketing has proved to be the right tool to promote them, operators should look for better ways to strengthen their relationship with the good affiliates as competition becomes fiercer and fiercer.”
AI: How can affiliates provide enhanced value in the marketing mix?
YS: “The affiliate channel has proved over time that it is a cost-effective way to connect brands to target market customers. Affiliates like Oddspedia help operators win the battle for players with increased brand exposure, attracting specific audiences, and cultivating lifetime value customers.
“Given that the market is so overcrowded and there’s plenty of competitors, it’s highly important to each affiliate to be able to stand out and provide unique features.
“At the heart of the decision-making process behind Oddspedia’s marketing mix stays the motto: ‘It’s All About Sports’. The most important centrepiece is the product.
“Oddspedia’s geotargeting solution allows operators to target the players with the proper affiliate links and to send them to the specific landing page for each market, using this tailored user experience to increase conversion rates. We even take it a step further and offer unique features for the separate Geos – for example, the ‘Wettsteuer Calculator’ for Germany, which allows you to include/exclude the betting tax for each bet you make.
“Upcoming Oddspedia features will include a community with a tipster section and contests, bookmaker reviews with additional data about each operator, more useful betting tools, and even an app.
“The site will focus on improved personalisation features, giving users the ability to follow their favourite leagues, teams or players. Users will be able to customise the news feed they see in their profile and аlso set up push notifications.”
Yaroslav will be taking part in the ‘Lifetime Values & Player Loyalty’ panel during the Marketing & Affiliation conference track on Thursday 10th September, the third day of SBC Summit Barcelona Digital.
Other affiliate-focused content during the event includes a feature workshop delivered by AffiliateINSIDER’s own CEO, Lee-Ann Johnstone: ‘Amplify Your Affiliate Program Performance – In 5 Simple Steps’.
Click here to register for your free pass and bookmark your calendar to attend Lee-Ann’s ‘Amplify Your Affiliate Program Performance in 5 Simple Steps’ live workshop HERE.