The innovation is there, so where is the Product?

There is a product gap in the standard sports betting offering that is starting to really frustrate me, and I felt that it was about time to get it off my chest. I’ll explain… As a bettor, you login and navigate to the sporting event you want to bet on, and what do you see? Strip out the platform logo and the colours and you will basically be presented with pretty much the same thing regardless of the company or brand you have navigated to: A live streaming window of the game in question and the prices and markets flashing below or alongside. On lesser sporting events (or on less mature sportsbooks) you may not even have the live streaming but some substitutional visualization of the game.

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I’m sorry, but it’s all just so flat! This simple two-dimensional representation of “engagement” is almost identical to what you would have seen years ago and very little has changed. But the bit that makes it frustrating for me is that technologies exist (and have existed for quite some time now) to really upgrade this experience. So why is there a gap between what is possible and what is deployed on sportsbook event pages? How can it be explained?

Let’s think first about what the market needs. A great deal has already been documented about the new and future generation of sports bettors. You know the drill — more engagement, less downtime between activity yada yada yada. I find that even my own sports viewing habits have evolved to such an extent that I can barely sit through a half of football these days without some sort of continuous interaction. And that’s me we are talking about, a man who can hardly be classed within a “new generation” of sports fans, no matter how much I pretend to still be in my twenties. Broadcasters are constantly looking for ways to upgrade production to keep the entertainment flowing and sportsbooks are no different. However, the best the latter seem to do over the last few years is to add another few markets or accumulators.

Well, personally I don’t think such archaic offerings really do justice to the technological capabilities currently available, nor does it meet today’s bettors at a place where they really feel… what’s the word? Ah yes… engaged!

For those of us looking at technological startups, we have all seen offerings around augmented reality and video overlays. Just looking at some of the presentations makes your head spin with excitement. For years we talked about second (and even third!) screen, but I am convinced that it is all about the first screen. I don’t think that viewers want to flick between different screens and certainly not between different devices unless they really need to. If the relevant information can be displayed through the first screen, the user experience will be so much more seamless. Let’s think about this now from a betting point of view. Technologically, it is no longer that difficult to have odds and prices overlayed on the video so that the bettors’ eyes can view the action and the prices without having the tiresome need to scroll. More importantly, it would allow the bettor to have the video in full screen mode and still see the prices. It sounds so simple doesn’t it? And if we manage to overlay prices onto the video, it’s surely not that great a stretch of the imagination to then have these prices clickable in order to streamline the opening of a coupon and the process of placing a bet. UI/UX experts do this all time; thinking about how to streamline the process of the user and reduce the number of clicks required to get to the money-time (quite literally).

Nothing I am saying sounds that revolutionary, so come on people… what is keeping the engagement side of the betting product in the dark ages? Having been responsible for delivery teams on that side of the fence I feel qualified to present the realities experienced by the sportsbooks. First of all, the B2B providers that come to the betting platforms with a technological solution to solve this issue have not managed to go far enough as to provide a full turnkey product. The general pitch looks and sounds great, but when it comes down to it, the betting platform needs to tie the service up itself or do a number of integrational activities including potentially deploying additional staff in order to manage the implementation of the product on the site. This is where things will break down for a betting platform. My advice to any external provider to betting platforms is to fully understand how your product will be integrated so that you can make it as turnkey as possible. Make it easy for the platform without forcing any additional resources onto them. The platforms will have money to spend on such an end-to-end service, but will be reticent to incorporate a new technology that they have to provide other resources for themselves beyond simple API integration.

I know what you’re thinking now. If external provisions haven’t proved good enough thus far, why don’t betting platforms develop these capabilities in-house? The answer I have here is two-pronged. First of all, there is a specialization to this area of tech that, while not rocket science, is still far from simple and the relevant human resource would need to be staffed. Secondly, (and this compounds the prior reason now that I think of it) sportsbooks always seem to have a IT development backlog that is so long it almost runs into the neighbouring state. Prioritizing which feature will convert best into improved revenues is paramount, and the more intangible benefit of augmented user-engagement is often going to be harder to shove up the priority list than development releases that are more directly relatable to financial return.

These are, naturally, my own personal views as to why the user-engagement side of sportsbooks refuses to advance in line with technologies available. I would be delighted to enter into a discussion with anyone that feels differently about it as perhaps I will learn something new. But if I am right, then something has to give, and someone has to fill this hole. I am convinced that the product on sportsbooks can be significantly upgraded to provide an altogether more modern and engaging offering more suitable to today’s betting public.

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