The sports business world continues to evolve and get itself more comfortable and engaged with a better user experience tied to mobile in game activities. The days of hand wringing over distracted fans in arena have given way to in game contests, and at some point more active mobile sports gambling, as teams and leagues, and arenas work to keep a time and attention challenged audience watching and involved.
While so much buzz in recent months has been around the growth of esports and the potential of sports gambling when full adoption comes, the reality is that casual gaming is growing at a pace beyond expectations. Simple free to play games that can build community and prizes on any handheld device are driving massive interest and the eyeballs, and in more cases, the dollars, of every demo, from the diehard to the casual fan. The continued improvement of wireless reception in stadia with the growth of 5G, will also help bolster adoption.
One of the companies at the center of building the casual for the masses in FanHub Media. Starting in Australia around Australian Rules Football, FanHub is now working with everyone from the NFL to MLB to the ATP on best in class casual games that appeal to all, form teams and leagues to brands.
What are they doing, how are they doing it and why is it working? We asked Head of Business Development, Americas Phil De Winter to give us the scoop.
How does FanHub set itself apart in what is a crowded space?
There have been a range of factors that have contributed to our sustained success as a business. Our ability to deliver premium products at affordable prices has been key, as has our constant passion for great service. However, our constant drive to deliver high value commercial outcomes for our partners, whether that’s sponsorship revenue, data acquisition or increased fan engagement has been paramount. More and more, the key outcome partners are looking for is providing value for partnerships with sportsbooks. Having extensive experience in achieving this in international markets where sports betting has been legal for decades, this has been really helpful in the US market.
There is so much talk about the value of casual gaming these days; can you explain if I am a brand, what a casual game brings me from an engagement standpoint?
FanHub’s mission is to use technology to make sports a more meaningful experience for fans. In doing so, we foster a positive digital fan relationship for our clients. There have been countless studies that find that fans who play free to play games over index in almost all areas whether that’s buying tickets, watching broadcasts, consuming content, purchasing merchandise or spending time with partners – the list goes on.
Your roots are in Australian sport, how is the casual gaming space different there vs, say, in the US where you are now set up as well?
In many ways the casual gaming space is more mature in international markets. We have been using casual games in Europe and Australia to funnel fans to gaming partners since our inception. 18 months ago, no one in the US was thinking of sports betting as a realistic possibility due to legislative challenges. That’s changed now and is the cornerstone of almost every conversation we have. Our experience in those markets means we can offer solutions that other competitors are yet to catch on to.
One recent partner is Buffalo Wild Wings, who you built a game for. Explain the value proposition for the consumer that gets built into a branded game like this?
Buffalo Wild Wings and MGM are changing the sports bar experience. The free to play game we have built is just one way they entertain fans in store, making Buffalo Wild Wings much more than a restaurant – they’re an industry leader in entertaining customers on site. I believe the MGM and Buffalo Wild Wings partnership is one of enormous potential and is going to be one to keep a close eye on.
Who are some other consumer brands who are playing well in the space?
Again the changes in gambling legislation is playing a fundamental role in which brands are entering this space. MGM has been the most aggressive and are sponsoring games with Buffalo Wild Wings, the NBA, MLB, WNBA etc. Alongside MGM, FanDuel and DraftKings have built significant brands over the past five or so years. It’s going to be a land grab with many international players as well which will make for an interesting 12-24 months.
You also work with many leagues, how does that business model work for the company?
We have a core platform that our clients licence on an annual basis. We know all our clients will have unique requirements, and we make sure to customize our offering to meet their objectives on the nuances of their sport.
In terms of game development, is the model pretty turnkey or is there a great deal of specialization built into every game?
It really comes down to a conversation about what our partners are looking to achieve, what their budget is and how long we have to bring it to life. For our premium clients, no two products are the same and we customize the product to fit their needs. However, for our lower tier clients, the products are a lot more turnkey, but we will always update the look and feel to fit their branding and style.
What percentage of the platform you have built are for cash prizes vs., gifts or points; is there a bigger ROI on cash return games for the investor?
While we have dabbled in paid to play games, the real core of our business is free to play. Our partners understand the value of the data our products generate. Once they learn more about their fans, they can use that data in powerful ways to drive high value commercial outcomes.
How do you see the market expanding in the next few years and why?
Unequivocally, the biggest growth opportunity comes in the form of legalized gambling. One study found that Sportsbooks are expected to spend $2.1 billion on marketing initiatives between now and 2023. That’s $2.1 billion in marketing spend that didn’t exist 18 months ago. This will result in a lot more players and a much more sophisticated market.
It’s important to note growth won’t only be driven by betting related opportunities, but a continued focus on the value of user data – for example, our clients are using products to drive subscriptions to OTT products, sell tickets and in general expand their database with intelligent information.
Who are some of the brands, league and teams that have embraced the model and are doing well with it?
For a long time, it was our friends at the NBA leading the way. They were first to market in a lot of initiatives. However, you are slowly starting to see other leagues catch up. All the major leagues now have partnerships and some of them have multiple. This is a trend that will continue for quite some time.