Sports betting is huge in the iGaming industry. In countries where it has been legal for a long time, it represents a significant portion of all gaming activity. In those territories where it has just been legalized, it’s been popping off from the get-go.
In fact, in New York, where sports betting finally went live in January, punters have already put down more than $600 million in bets on various events, reports the New York Post.
But there are still some places where sports betting sites are not legal. And, just like any other business, operators always need ways to attract new customers, as well as educate them.
This is where a relatively new trend in iGaming, free-to-play (FTP) sports betting, comes in. It allows operators to offer services in areas where traditional sports betting is not legal, attract new customers where it is, and it offers benefits for other stakeholders in the industry such as broadcasters and affiliates.
Many in the industry now believe that free-to-play games are the future, especially the future of customer acquisition, education, and retention.
There are already success stories in this area, with the UK betting operator Sky Bet leading the pack and there is also increased interest in emerging sports betting markets such as the United States where sports wagering has recently been legalized.
From free to real money down: how FTP can be used to attract new bettors
While FTP is not as established as some more traditional forms of sports betting, the industry is quickly noticing its potential.
Sports accumulators and trivia competitions offered though this channel are becoming popular and have proven to be an incredibly effective player acquisition tool.
But what is it and how does it work?
“FTP sports betting requires players to correctly predict the outcome of a select number of fixtures, head to heads, or to answer a series of questions in relation to those (prop bets). For each correct prediction, the player is awarded points and the player who predicts all correctly will win a jackpot,” explains Chris Rickards, co-founder of Imprexis Gaming, a company that offers solutions for operators to run their own FTP games.
So, in essence, it’s very similar to traditional betting, except the player doesn’t put their own money down on the outcome. It’s the perfect bridge, also, for those who have enjoyed fantasy sports leagues to make the next step into sports betting territory.
FTP games may also be interesting to the new generation of potential bettors that grew up with omnipresent free-to-play models in online mobile and PC video games and eSports.
It’s not surprising therefore, that the likes of US-based FanDuel have embraced FTP as a way to promote their real-money offerings to millions while building brand awareness and a database of would-be players.
Another benefit is that this kind of game is typically legal where proper sports betting isn’t and, at least at the moment, comes with much less onerous regulations.
“FTP games have become the leading tool for acquiring new players and will continue to grow in popularity with the ever-increasing regulations and restrictions on offering sign up bonuses and free spins,” points out Danny Thomas, founder of Imprexis Gaming.
Simply put, for sports fans, FTP is attractive because it lets sports fans participate in risk-free betting activity with the chance of a jackpot payout or another kind of prize if they get lucky.
“No matter whether the player is a sport lover or a casino player, chances are they will play FTP giving them a chance of a big jackpot. With that in mind, FTP has the ability to create new customers, and this is highly attractive to any business looking to expand their client base,” says Rickards.
The most important advantages: customization and speed
For their part, Imprexis has gone into this space with Gaming Widgets that let operators create their own FTP brand, integrate and cross-sell, offer P2P sports jackpots and bet races, and more.
They can then use their FTP domains to promote the games in media where betting sites may not be allowed. What’s more, competition widgets can be embedded on the websites of media partners and affiliates.
Live bets can also be accepted through in-play game widgets where players can try to guess things like the next corner, next card, halftime score, etc.
It goes without saying that operators are fully in control of customization and branding.
“Imprexis Gaming have designed their FTP solution with both businesses and end-users in mind,” explains Rickards. “The games are easily customizable for any Sport, eSport or event, with user-friendly interfaces, a highly functional and manageable back office, and personalized features such as localization, CRM, and jackpot insurance.”
Operators who choose their solutions are not limited to just one particular kind of game, because the solution can be tailored to offer anything simple-score based prediction to proposition-style betting games.
“The basic format is extremely intuitive and inviting, but it can also be tailored to your specific requirements,” explains Rickards.
“Customization and speed of implementation is what we believe sets us apart from the competition. Also, our aggressive price policy makes our offering extremely attractive to operators and affiliates,” adds Thomas.
In January, Imprexis launched the second version of their FTP platform.
“Imprexis 2.0 brings lots of upgrades in both functionality and design. More markets available, additional odds feed provider integrated, easier integration of the game widget and more customizable options,” says Thomas.
In addition, it is now integrated with BTO, Aspire, and other APIs, letting operators create games directly from an available list of fixtures instead of adding them manually. The new version is also more scalable, being able to serve thousands of concurrent users and is easily packaged as an Android app.
Promoting sports betting to a whole new generation of bettors
In the end, what operators really want is to attract users and of course — make money. Free-to-play games offerings can definitely help with those aims.
“How do you make money from a free-to-play game? Simple, FTP games offer a big jackpot to encourage new players to sign up,” Rickards says.
The key here is to convert those who have never bet on sports into people who might choose to do so. Obviously, this is very useful in markets such as the United States, where for very long, sports betting was forbidden and thus in the province of illegal bookies associated with crime.
FTP allows potential customers to be introduced to this world in a safe and non-threatening way, essentially working to reduce any stigma associated with it.
Even those territories where sports betting has been legal for a long time, there are still those sports fans who haven’t ever wagered. FTP might bring them into the fold too.
“In general, players who already have an apathy too gambling will be enticed to make a free bet and would not think twice about betting real money on other sporting events,” Rickards says.
In this way, these free games are a much better and more effective way to advertise than the traditional ways in which operators and other stakeholders have tried to get people to bet in the past.
“In other words, FTP games help businesses tap into otherwise inaccessible revenue streams. In fact, no amount of television commercials, football team sponsorship, or clever pricing can persuade these potentially profitable customers to suddenly engage in sports betting like an FTP can,” he adds.
This is what Imprexis does too, as Thomas points out further.
“When players sign up for a free bet, we automatically create an account on the operator’s main site. Further free or discounted bets can be offered inside the FTP widget such as Bet Slip replication with markets such as 1X2 on the players predictions. Players are then diverted to the operator’s site to confirm the free bet or make a deposit on the discounted bet,” he explains.
This way, the journey from free betting in order to maybe win a jackpot to placing your own real-money bets is completed.
People who may have never considered going to an actual betting shop or signing up to an online sports betting site could be enticed through FTP to start betting. That is because FTP allows people to explore a form of gambling not just without using real money, but also in a lighter atmosphere with very low stakes.
“From the customer’s perspective, there is no risk in losing any money on a free roll, with the possibility of winning a big prize, no matter how small, is always enticing,” Rickards points out.
What can also be done through these games is player education. Gambling and sports betting do have their own jargons, which can be off-putting or intimidating to those not in the loop. Many savvy operators have started using more natural-sounding language to cut through the jargon.
For instance, over/under becomes more than/less than. It’s a small change but it helps remove barriers to engagement.
Key stakeholders in the betting industry have started seeing FTP as a softer and more socially responsible introduction to sports betting.
FTP helps affiliates and broadcasters too
Not that there aren’t other benefits for operators and stakeholders such as broadcasters and affiliates as well.
“FTP games can be used as a clever marketing strategy to entice players to sign up with an operator they may not have previously played with, with the goal of converting them into paying customers,” Rickards notes. “So, from an Operator and affiliates point of view, it is used to encourage players to familiarize themselves with its website and game offering.”
And, in an industry that has come to rely too much on the same old same old, FTP brings a needed disruption that opens up avenues for better customer acquisition and more user engagement.
“Most affiliate sites all look identical, all with the same ‘signup discounts and bonuses’ from various operators with very little player interaction,” Thomas points out.
Free-to-play games can help address this, attract new players, open up new avenues of interaction, and perhaps most importantly, make money in the process. More people ending up betting means more profits, that should be easily understood.
And this pie is not just for operators. Affiliates and broadcasters can get a piece too.
“Affiliates can create multiple competitions and can both partner with their preferred operator and market offers directly to their player database. Sports Broadcasters should all follow the suit of Sky Sports with their Super 6 game together with Sky Bet,” he adds.
Those who play the Super 6 game can look forward to a £250,000 if they get all six weekly predictions right, but there is also a smaller (£5,000) guaranteed prize for the player with the most correct predictions. It costs nothing to participate, however.
It’s not an overstatement to say that Super 6 has been a great success for Sky Sports and Sky Bet. Since its introduction in 2008, it has transformed the small-time online sportsbook operator Sky Bet into the country’s leading brand that was acquired in 2018 by the betting giant The Stars Group for a staggering sum of $4.7 billion.
No wonder then that as soon as sports betting became legal in the United States, FOX Sports launched their own version of the same game.
How did Sky Bet do what it did? Precisely in the same way as the two Imprexis co-founders have described. By using their FTP offering and the promise of the jackpot to slowly attract and convert these free players into real money punters on their main site.
Those looking for proof of what FTP can do need to look no further than Sky Sports and Sky Bet.
Getting recognized in the iGaming industry as an important vertical and marketing tool
With so many in the industry touting the benefits of free to play sports betting games, the question arises naturally — is this the future? Many believe so.
“FTP games are all the rage and one of the industry’s newest trends, widely regarded as one of the next big things in B2B circles and whilst similar claims have been made about esports, virtuals, and cryptocurrencies in the past, with varying degrees of success,” says Rickards.
That is a good point to bring up. Trends come and go, but there seem to be good indications that this one is here to say. After all, Super 6 is still extremely popular and profitable for Sky as it enters its fourteenth year.
Rickards believes that FTP proponents have been proven right.
“Supporters of FTP have been proven correct on the homepages of all major UK sports betting operators where the entertainment value gained from the FTP product has greatly enhanced the brand’s reputation among the sports betting community,” he says.
What will definitely drive the adoption of FTP as a marketing tool are the increasingly restrictive regulations that the iGaming industry has been faced with in many jurisdictions.
In places like the UK or Sweden, for instance, operators now work under conditions that drastically limit what they can offer in terms of bonuses and how they can promote their real-money products.
With FTP, however, things are generally speaking, easier.
“I expect to see significant growth in the FTP sector across all geographic regions. As marketing opportunities for gambling operators become ever more restrictive, FTP games will continue to gain relevance for player acquisition, becoming a fundamental marketing tool for all gaming operators and affiliate marketeers,” Thomas explains.
In such a landscape, FTP games gain increasing significance. Operators can use them for promotion and advertising, brand building, customer acquisition, education, and retention.
Not to mention, with the rise of white label and turnkey solutions for online casino and sports betting site operators, the global online iGaming market is saturated with many different options available to punters.
Running a well-crafted FTP game and promoting it in the right way could just be the competitive edge an operator needs to succeed in an industry landscape that is only getting more competitive as time passes.
And in emerging markets, such as the United States, where Morgan Stanley Research estimates that iGaming revenue will rise to $12 billion by 2025, FTP games can be a great help in attracting those who have never placed a bet before.
Now that the industry at large has begun adopting FTP and has recognized it as an important vertical in its own right, what happens next is limited only by the imaginations of those running the FTP games and how successful they are in deploying its potential.
“It is safe to say that FTP is here to stay,” concludes Rickards.