Playing to Win: The Ideal Sportsbook Brand in a Nascent, Crowded Market

Level5 introduces an 'industry-first study' on Ontario and the Canada sportsbook market

In a thought leadership piece on the Ontario sportsboook market – exclusively published on Canadian Gaming BusinessLevel5 Strategy‘s Laura Richard and Jordan Shapiro provide data and insights to help industry stakeholders find further success and opportunities for growth.

Survey Methodology Pre-Note: In partnership with Q.i. Value Systems, Level5 fielded a study of ~1,500 active Ontario sports bettors in the wider market using our proprietary BrandMap methodology across genders, ages, residences, incomes, and education levels (we also studied participant brands in more detail using an expanded customer panel). This approach focuses on understanding the most powerful and predictive rational and emotional drivers of consumer behaviour and their brand relationships, informing the right focus around high-return product experiences and marketing communications.

Shortly after the first anniversary of sports betting legalization in Ontario, sportsbooks continue to battle to secure their place in the hearts and minds of bettors – investing millions to build brands and entrench customer connections. We set out to uncover what drives consumer choice in this context, how brands differentiate in this competitive landscape, and how they might drive engagement and loyalty.

Generally, brands catering to the emotional needs of their target consumers outperform those delivering purely on rational benefits. Whether overt or not, emotions significantly influence consumer decision-making. For sportsbooks, nearly 50% of what drives a bettor’s decision to engage with, or recommend, one brand over another is driven by emotional attributes.

Our industry-first study explored the entire market with deeper dives into eight major brands: Betway, Bet365, DraftKings, FanDuel, Northstar, PointsBet, and theScore Bet. It unearthed insights about what constitutes the ideal sportsbook brand, factors influencing recommendation intent, and how competing brands fare in terms of sportsbook selection, engagement, and loyalty. As new provincial markets open and consolidation and exits are anticipated in Ontario, differentiation is crucial.

Striking the Right Balance: Understanding the Ideal Brand

Excitement and adventure dominate brand-building and advertising efforts. In the race to capture consumers, we’ve witnessed brands engage with long lists of sponsored celebrities and athletes, like Bet99’s deal with hockey star Auston Matthews, for example. For this reason, we were very interested to explore the extent to which excitement and adventure drive bettor behaviour. Given that Ontario’s gaming regulator is considering placing strenuous regulations on advertising that leverages big-name sports stars and celebrities, brand leaders are likely to be challenged to find other avenues to appeal to their target bettor. Our research showed that the ideal sportsbook brand encompasses a more balanced approach. Bettors seek brands that are not only thrilling but also portray qualities of being dependable and knowledgeable.

Decoding Recommendation Intent: Unearthing the Emotional Drivers

Average Net Promoter Scores (NPS) for all sportsbooks in the study is -19, ranging from -34 to 3 which is not great news. Our analysis unpacked the drivers of recommendation intent, both stated and hidden, that sportsbooks should consider as they endeavor to strengthen brand attachment and customer loyalty.

While balance is crucial for consumers, unsurprisingly, “excitement” emerged as one of the top three personality drivers, with over half of respondents citing it as important for their ideal brand to deliver. Interestingly, despite its importance, there is a significant spread in the degree to which bettors associate a brand with delivering on this attribute. While only 12% of bettors associated the lowest performer with excitement, BetMGM excels and differentiates in this area. One-third of all bettors associated their brand as ‘exciting’ which could be attributed to the halo effect stemming from their associated MGM casino brand. They’ve engaged the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Jamie Foxx, and most recently, Vanna White as the star in their Wheel of Fortune casino platform commercials.

Despite not being explicitly mentioned as important by bettors, brands embodying “inspiring” attributes exhibit a statistically significant correlation to recommendation intent. That said, only 8-10% of bettors associated their preferred brand with inspiration, suggesting an opportunity for brands to tap into this hidden driver more effectively. As an example, Bet365, who scored well on this attribute, is inspiring its people through product innovation by launching their Platform Innovation Hub to develop new technologies.

Generosity Matters: The Rational Benefits

Consistency is powerful. Our research suggests that while most bettors tend to use three apps (and some five or more!), over 70% of their monthly spend goes to their primary sportsbook. The top reasons cited for selecting a primary sportsbook revolve around essential factors such as offers and promotions, deposit and withdrawal processes, and the range of sports offered. By addressing these benefits well, brands can differentiate and foster lasting brand loyalty.

However, the competitive nature of offers and promotions has driven consumer perception beyond what the market can sustain. While this emerged as important for consumers, the brands studied are trailing the ideal by an average of 17.4%. This indicates that brands relying solely on lucrative offers and promotions will face challenges competing as the market matures.

Our research indicates a sea of sameness for certain benefits and others where there is a large gap, posing an opportunity for differentiation. In a market like Ontario where consolidation and exits are anticipated, and as brands prepare to launch in new markets, understanding the ideal brand for your target bettor and where your brand has the potential to differentiate is key to long-term sustainability.

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