Last week I moderated the Affiliate CEO panel at the SBC Digital Summit Barcelona, which covered a number of key points about what these businesses learned and experienced during COVID-19. One of the points mentioned in that discussion was around alternative sports betting markets that increased in popularity during the extended lock down we recently experienced.
I caught up recently with Glenn Debattista, Head of Product at WIS (Web International Services Limited) who recently conducted a rather extensive survey of punters betting behaviours and preferances from their sports betting website, The punters page to discuss this recent shift.
LJ: There was a general consensus in the discussion last week that the sports betting industry somehow managed to still generate fairly good revenue, despite the fact that mainstream sports events didn’t feature for a few months.
GD: There’s no denying that across the board, from mid-March until mid-May, the numbers went down considerably. What I saw was a survival of the fittest here, based on how quickly these operators were ready to adapt to this unexpected low-period. Some managed to do well by anticipating the markets and go after certain niche sports which usually they might not chase. However, there were others who either due to technical limitations or other factors not under their control, were not able to compete with the other more advanced operators and keep on top of things.
Here in Malta we have seen some operators who went either bust or had to resort to redundancies or temporary salary cuts in order to remain afloat. This was the case especially for those companies who were focused on brick-and-mortar business, as these shops were forced to shut down for a long period of time. This proves how important it is that in our day and age, online business takes precedence.
LJ: If other niche sports markets increased revenues during this period, do you think there is an opportunity to now cater for these niche sports categories specifically? Will affiliates get an opportunity to build out new sites or niche offerings around these markets?
DB: Once Cheltenham was over, there was a sudden drop of punters who stopped betting, as all major sporting events came to a halt. Your average punter wants to place bets on top football leagues, or high-profile races, or on major tennis, golf or basketball tournaments. However, with the pandemic this was not possible. Combined with the economic uncertainty and people not wanting to risk their money, most sports bettors stayed away from online gambling. Having said that, there was still a discrete number of punters who kept on betting.On the flip side, certain niche sports markets did emerge, allowing both affiliates and operators to focus on these type of events which usually they either would not focus on, or else be relegated at the back during a normal season.
One sport which definitely took us by surprise was table tennis: the interest was high by those who were still willing to bet and it might have caught on with people who usually don’t follow it. With regards to table tennis, the data I have about that is shown here on this page within our main Punters Page website, https://www.thepunterspage.com/table-tennis-betting/ – we saw interest in it from April and during the pandemic it rose up, making it our 9th most viewed piece of content during that period (2% of the total page views from our 600+content).
Since the football season resumed back in May – June, we were quite surprised as it still managed to hold a very good position amongst the other more popular articles, thus proving that certain niche markets will remain, albeit not as strongly. Despite the pandemic, football was still active in some countries, with the Belarus Premier League being the most prominent one, and garnering the interest of both punters and football lovers alike (I wouldn’t be surprised if most people can now mention by heart all the names of the teams in this league!).
Still, what truly emerged as the ‘winner’ of sport markets during this period was definitely eSports. For the UK we saw a big push on FIFA, as various tournaments (including ones with celebrities in them) were being organised. Other noteworthy betting markets that have done well are virtual sports and simulated sports, including the likes of the Virtual Grand National and NBA basketball matches.
LJ: In your opinion, as it stands – which alternative sports do you think affiliates should perhaps focus more efforts on?
GD: Punters have certainly become more aware of these niche sports and new betting opportunities, however once the top ‘real’ sports were back, people flooded back to bet on them, abandoning (but not completely) those sports and markets which kept them company between March and May. Still, both punters and operators now know that during off-season, when in summer things are way quieter than in previous months, they can rely on these new found niche markets to try and at least recoup or increase revenue until the new season is back. However, to build a site exclusively on say table tennis or virtual/simulated sports seems still far-fetched. They can be part of an affiliate site, but an affiliate site cannot revolve around them.
Only eSports has the potential and can afford to have its own affiliate site from these niche sports, as its numbers (irrespective of the pandemic) have been on the rise for quite a few years. With so many young people playing and following this sport, filling up huge arenas to watch team compete against each other and millions of people following them live on the internet, it is difficult to believe that this will not have a huge impact on sports betting. Probably with bigger waves in the coming years than the traditional sports will have.
Glenn Debattista is Head of Product for Web International Services limited. They are a a lead generation company operating within the iGaming and Finance sector, since 2012.