Sports betting has gone through radical changes over the last two months, as a near total lack of live sports has meant operators have had to rely on alternatives. Freebets.com, a site owned and operated by XLMedia has been watching the trends in the market, and we reached out to Stuart Simms, CEO of XLMedia to learn more about them.
Surprising stars like Table Tennis and Belarussian Football have taken over the sports betting scene, and XLMedia reports a 42% increase in the amount of bets alternative sports like these have seen. “These markets were almost non-existent under ‘normal’ sports betting circumstances,” Simms said. “Due to the lack of betting options, some bettors are looking for other areas to bet on. Two specific niches have remained unscathed, and that is eSports – which can be played from the home in isolation – and computer-generated virtual sports.”
While there is some pent up demand for live sports betting, don’t expect it to all rush back at once. “It will depend on which sports are returning and when,” they said. “For example, the UFC returned over the weekend of May 9.This brought significantly more traffic than usual during coronavirus, but obviously not nearly as close to the amount of traffic we are expecting when major European football leagues return to action, such as the German Bundesliga on May 16.”
So the big question is, with esports traffic up 690%, and virtuals up 1534%, will we see these levels of activity continue once live sports return? “There will likely be a small portion of bettors who really enjoyed the experience of eSports betting and virtual sports and will continue in this space, even when traditional sports return,” Simms said. “These bettors may also revisit these options during ‘dryer’ sports periods like the summer; but, ultimately, most bettors will most probably return to actual sports betting and their traditional betting options”
An important factor for every operator to recognize is that esports and virtual sports are not magic bullets for every market, and understanding which one would work best for your specific market is key. “For example, in the U.K. we clearly see more bettors prefer virtual sports to eSports,” Simms said. “However, this isn’t the case in every market. Going forward, bookmakers will adjust and offer different betting offers and markets, depending on popularity and conversions.
“In the U.S., the eSports option of iRacing stands out,” they added. “Interestingly, around 1 million viewers on average have tuned in to NASCAR’s iRacing events, which is about a third of the average viewership on NASCAR for the past five years in the U.S. – this is higher than I would expect for an eSport version of a U.S. sport.”
One of the surprises in the esports world has been the new prominence of sporting based games, like FIFA and NBA2K. I asked Simms if this trend might continue long term. “U.K. bettors have historically not flocked towards eSports,” they said. “It hasn’t been particularly popular, nor did it demonstrate any signs of really taking off before COVID-19. Even during the current crisis, it still isn’t dominating the sector even with a virtually no-sports reality. Currently, it’s difficult to establish why bettors aren’t embracing esports without further information and data analysis from the bettors. However, as more interest has been shown in virtual sports, one would think that more sports-like options would eventually have more appeal.”
But then what about virtual sports? I’ve previously speculated that they may be finally realizing a place of prominence in any operators’ offerings, finding an audience that previously didn’t know about them. “It remains to be seen how many bettors will keep gambling on virtual sports once live sports return,” Simms cautioned. “However, there is no doubt that operators have learned a lot about the opportunities that have arisen from this, so they will be investing in their virtual sports options moving forward. Already in the current climate, you can see that operators are adjusting by offering specific betting bonuses for virtual sports and presenting their product in a more conspicuous way than before.”
“I predict that operators will be upselling this betting niche in the future, combining virtual sports offers with actual sports offers,” they added.
But as much as I’m high on virtuals, Simms reminded me not to overlook the promise esports is now showing. “A panel at the SBC Digital Summit also anticipated that eSports will become a piece of operators’ offerings going forward and that it could be an interesting pool of new betting customers for us as an affiliate business.”