Why Free-To-Play Games Will Be Key To Extending Fox Bet’s Reach

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With a free-to-play game for Fox Bet in the pipeline, The Stars Group will be aiming to replicate the success of Sky Bet’s hit game “Super 6.”

When the Stars Group (TSG) and Fox Sports sealed the deal on a blockbuster 25-year partnership, it was the plan to launch the sports betting brand Fox Bet, which understandably stole headlines.

However, we could argue that the nationwide free-to-play product announced at the same time is the ace up Fox Bet’s sleeve. Although no specific details have been released, we do know it will be a mobile-centric, peer-to-peer prediction sports game with cash prizes up for grabs.

As well as being a powerful, low-cost user acquisition tool, the product will present novice players with a less daunting route into wagering in states where it is legal and where Stars Group has access via land-based partners.

When additional states legalize sports betting, Fox Bet will have access to an extensive database of players who like the free-to-play option, which may convert into real-money wagering customers.

As for Fox, which has invested $236 million for a 4.99% stake in TSG as part of the partnership, the free-to-play game will help drive more eyeballs to the broadcaster’s live sports coverage. Fox Sports is already capable of reaching up to 100 million households per weekend.

Free-to-play sports betting lessons from the UK

Across the pond, almost all the UK’s leading online bookmakers serve up free-to-play prediction games to complement their sportsbook offering. One of the trailblazers in this arena was Sky Bet, which Toronto-listed TSG just so happened to acquire last year for $4.7 billion.

For the past decade, Sky Bet has operated the wildly popular soccer scores prediction game “Super 6” on behalf of satellite and online broadcaster Sky, which boasts nearly 12 million TV customers in the UK.

Players forecast the scores for six high-profile soccer games kicking off on a Saturday afternoon for the chance to scoop £250,000. The jackpot occasionally raises to £1 million, such as at the start of a new season in August, while there is a weekly £5,000 consolation prize for whoever goes closest.

“Super 6” is integrated into long-established live results TV show Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports, with anchor Jeff Stelling and the panel of ex-pros playing along, too. Stelling also keeps viewers updated on how many players are still in the running for the jackpot and as the goals go in.

As well as standalone iOS and Android apps, “Super 6” is also fully incorporated into Sky Bet’s app and website. The same log-in details for both products also helps to grease up the path to convert users from Super 6 to Sky Bet.

For instance, after a player has tapped in his predictions, a prompt will pop up with a bet suggestion. It might say that a parlay on the match results (not the exact scores) the player has selected pays £1,200 for a £20 bet. He or she can then quickly place the pre-filled parlay via Sky Bet.

Super 6’s secret sauce

For Bernard Marantelli, CEO and founder of Colossus Bets, a pools-based betting product in the UK that also offers its own free-to-play prediction game, the main reason for Super 6’s popularity is the game itself.

“Simplicity lies at the core of Super 6’s success. It’s six football soccer games and chooses the exact correct score in each to win.”

“The rest of the secret sauce is that they enjoyed a lot of media support in the early days, which resulted in significant word of mouth and a virtuous cycle of winner stories driving more engagement. Perhaps the one criticism against the product is that it is too simple, almost blunt. But then this also means zero barriers to new users and perhaps ends up being an asset.”

While it’s deceptively difficult to win, logging in and making predictions on a Saturday has become a ritual for hundreds of thousands of soccer fans in the UK. The game was also rolled out in Italy and Germany three years ago.

Sky Bet had intended to be pretty tight-lipped on how many people regularly play the game, though it was revealed that 1.4 million players entered on one Saturday in September 2017 when the first-ever millionaire was crowned.

Cultivating a loyal following for free betting

By recruiting hordes of sports fans via the game, a mass-market operator like Sky Bet has accumulated an army of loyal bettors. Indeed, Fox Bet’s newly appointed CEO Robin Chhabra revealed during the announcement of the TSG and the Fox deal that 60% of Sky Bet’s customers don’t wager with anyone else.

For reference, the average number of online gambling accounts held in the UK last year was three, according to a study by the regulator. So, to have 60% of the user base betting exclusively with Sky Bet in a saturated and mature market like the UK is an impressive achievement.

It also speaks volumes about how this customer base isn’t stuffed with inveterate gamblers. Instead, this is a user base other sportsbooks can’t always reach, and one that tends to place smaller bets like parlays.

Indeed, Sky Betting & Gaming’s annual report for 2017 revealed the average Sky Bet customer loses about £9 per week, placing around 14 bets with an average stake of £7-8 per bet. Of course, though, all these small losing bets soon add up.

Attracting a casual sports betting user base

Fox Bet’s widespread brand awareness and the free-to-play offering is likely to attract a similar casual-user base with a penchant for low-stakes parlays where betting is permitted.

Yet, to create an Americanized version of Super 6 for US sports won’t cut it, says Cillian Barry, founder and managing director of Dublin-based SportCaller, which builds bespoke free-to-play-prediction games for gambling companies.

“A copy and paste of Super 6 won’t be enough in the US where there is a much more fragmented sports landscape with a greater regional focus. They will need to take a hyper-local approach with a long tail of free-to-play products across sport, state, team, college, even perhaps by player.”

Because the regular NFL season lasts just 16 weeks, it’s likely TSG will build free-to-play games for other major sports, though these games’ reach and appeal could be hampered to some extent by the fact Fox Sports doesn’t hold broadcasting rights for the NBA and NHL.

From a game structure perspective, Marantelli suggested a weekly game covering NFL and NBA would allow for “near year-round recruitment and engagement.”

He added, “The game should also be simple enough to understand, probably moving away from the fantasy experience and revolving around a common bet type such as point spreads or margins, but at the same time complex enough to allow for major prizes.

“It could be built around standard sportsbook features, like a ‘build-a-bet,’ a multiple choice-type pool, and include cash-out to start educating players on the real-money experience.”

BetStars challenges sports fans

To capitalize on 2018’s soccer World Cup, TSG released its own free-to-play-prediction game: the £100 Million Challenge. This entailed players predicting the result (win, lose or draw) of the tournament’s 64 games for a chance to scoop an eye-watering £100 million.

However, the fact it was a fiendishly difficult proposition to accomplish probably deterred some soccer fans from entering – even if there was a life-changing sum of money on offer.

Therefore, it’s essential that any free-to-play product hits the sweet spot of being a simple and intuitive offering combined with an element of skill and a realistically achievable jackpot to keep players coming back for more.

In the UK, Barry says there has been a “dramatic move” toward free-to-play games as sportsbooks face increased regulation and unsustainable costs associated with awarding free bets and offering enhanced odds to retain customers.

“Sky Bet led the way, and others followed, showing that a simple game format can bring in good quality customers and keep them coming back,” Barry said. “Free-to-play is also proving highly effective at cross-selling, whether operators want to move customers from soccer to other sports or encourage and educate a casino or poker customer around the basics of sports betting.”

Scoring a free-to-play touchdown

We should get our first look at Fox Bet’s free-to-play game in August or September as the plan is to launch ahead of the NFL season. While a lot is resting on the product, Sky Bet’s experience in this field is one reason why Fox inked the deal with the Stars Group.

For example, Sky Bet supplanted William Hill in March 2018 as the developer of ITV7, a horseracing prediction game in the UK linked to ITV’s coverage of the sport. Chhabra said that after Sky Bet took over the product, there were eight to ten times as many people playing the game than beforehand.

Sky Bet’s free-to-play products, especially “Super 6,” helped catapult this challenger online sportsbook into one of the largest bookmakers in the UK. Now comes the task of replicating that free-to-play’s success for Fox Bet to help further strengthen this upcoming sportsbook’s huge brand recognition.

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Julian is a freelance journalist who has covered the ins and outs of the global online and offline gambling industry since 2011.

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