The old-school gambler is a dying breed. By that, I mean gone are the days of wall-to-wall television screens, leather armchairs and unlimited drink service.
Sure, you can still find these relics clinging to life in Las Vegas, populated by middle-aged gamblers trying to hit it big. But as online casino gaming and online sports betting continue to reshape the US gambling industry, casino operators must find new ways to bring in a more youthful clientele.
Personally, I love a casino resort outfitted with an old-school sportsbook. Nothing excites me more than hearing the sounds of agony replaced by the thunderous cheers of people hitting a six-leg parlay. My sportsbook is a garden where a man, or woman, goes to drink gin, be with the gridiron Gods and place bets. No extra distractions, no over-the-top theatrics, just a place to gamble.
But I’m no longer the target audience.
Now, operators like Penn Entertainment and BetMGM aim to build relationships with social media influencers to help bring in the next generation of gambler. BetMGM has inked a deal with Almost Friday Media, a company that’s a little bit like Barstool Sports. The deal will help BetMGM on the marketing front similar to how Barstool helps Penn Entertainment. In doing so, BetMGM can possibly acquire new, younger customers.
Attracting younger customers to the US gambling market
My journey to find a traditional sportsbook led me to spend over 48 hours in two different casinos in Gary, Indiana. While I did find one that appealed to my specific taste, it’s drastically different from the modernized properties being built today.
One such way to attract younger clientele is to upgrade the casinos themselves. Circa Resort & Casino on the Vegas Strip was the first casino built from the ground up since 1980. It’s outfitted with modern amenities but keeps the “Old Vegas” feel.
Another way is to reach customers directly on their phones. Some casino operators, like Penn, are embracing the entertainment side of things. They are no longer bombarding potential customers with mindless advertisements like free bets and bonus codes. Instead, they host live events and create clickable content like podcasts and celebrity parlays. They engage with the customer on a social level before trying to get them through the doors.
Penn pioneered this movement when it struck a deal with Barstool Sports in 2019. Initially viewed as a reckless pairing, the combination has blossomed into a successful business agreement that substantially decreased Penn’s marketing and advertising budget.
Can the process be replicated? Perhaps. At least, that’s what BetMGM is hoping.
Gambling and social media brand partnerships
As mentioned above, BetMGM made a recent deal with a comedy content network Almost Friday. Although the comparisons to Barstool Sports are scarce, there are a few basic similarities.
Both have a cult following on multiple online platforms like Instagram, TikTok and YouTube, and they each provide some form of sports betting content. While Almost Friday views itself as a lifestyle brand with merchandise and sketch comedy, one could make a similar case for Barstool.
The big takeaway is this: casino companies are thinking differently when it comes to acquiring new customers. The hook is getting their attention through various forms of online entertainment, hoping they show up at the casino doors. And if they do come knocking, modern amenities like beer taps, swim-up bars and Instagram-worthy photo ops are going to keep them coming back.
Big win for BetMGM marketing
With over 7 million followers, Almost Friday has built a small comedy empire that BetMGM will look to leverage.
“Elevated, organic content is a key ingredient in our plans for keeping BetMGM’s voice differentiated as a premium online gaming platform,” Matt Prevost, CRO at BetMGM, said in a statement.
“Almost Friday Media is a great partner to help us continue to distinguish ourselves as an industry leader.”
With fictional personalities like Dr. Locks, which has more than 80,000 followers on Instagram, integrating sports betting and possibly online casino content into the Almost Friday portfolio should be seamless.
Described as the National Lampoon for 2022, Almost Friday COO Andrew Kenward said, “sports is a vital pillar of the Almost Friday content ecosystem.”
“As sports betting continues to come online in the U.S, we know it can be intimidating for the new fan. We’re excited to work with BetMGM to create content highlighting how to responsibly enjoy the phenomenon sweeping the country.”
Almost Friday users will receive special co-branded promotions, betting opportunities, exclusive merchandise, live sporting events and much more.
Customers can currently access the BetMGM Sportsbook app in 16 states plus Washington, DC.
- New Jersey
- New York
- West Virginia
Experts anticipate the company to pursue legalization in the Kansas and Ohio markets when they go online.
Barstool Sports & Penn Entertainment comparisons
If you nitpick enough, you will find differences between Barstool and Almost Friday.
“From the structure and scale, we obviously admire the business [Barstool] built,” Kenward said.
“But we’re not exactly apples-to-apples. Our tone, our comedy, and point of view is quite different. They are more of a podcast company than anything else. I think we’re a little more social media first.”
However, if you dig deep enough and understand why deals like this are made, it all comes down to cutting costs.
Unlike other operators, Penn spends little to no money on marketing and advertising because of Barstool. On the contrary, operators like DraftKings have spent roughly $300 million on marketing in states like New York alone.
During Penn’s Q1 earnings call, CEO Jay Snowden said its Barstool partnership was a key asset to its marketing strategy.
“Disciplined organic marketing, omnichannel cross-sell, great products and owning our media strategy with our friends at Barstool Sports and theScore have led to growth in our net gaming revenue market share results in the first quarter. We believe our differentiated approach will benefit us going forward.”
The deal was so beneficial that on August 19, Penn exercised its option to acquire 100% of Barstool Sports for a total of $500 million.
Lloyd Danzig, managing partner of Sharp Alpha Advisors, an early investor in Almost Friday, said:
“The partnership with BetMGM is validation of Almost Friday’s unique ability to leverage relatable humor as a springboard into successful commercial relationships with the world’s top consumer brands.”
While it is unknown if BetMGM can eventually acquire all of Almost Friday, one can speculate the company’s balance sheet will undoubtedly shed unnecessary weight because of this deal.