Jim Van Stone: Why live sports and betting is ‘the perfect symbiotic relationship’

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Does wagering in-stadia enhance fans engagement with the sport or does live sport enhance the betting experience? What is the relationship or the dynamic?

I would describe it as being the perfect symbiotic relationship. The experience of betting and that of absorbing the theatre and intensity that only live sport can deliver are hugely complementary. When you’ve got a vested interest in the outcome, in other words if it’s your team or your club, that engagement goes up a notch or two. Fans are knee-deep in wanting data and sports betting represents another avenue for us to build relationships with our fans. While the United States is at the early stages of sports betting we are really excited at the commercial opportunities as the industry continues to rise. I should underline that this is very much a mutual relationship: from a sports development perspective, the level of engagement, connectivity and profile generated by sports betting creates cost-effective opportunities for transition sports to progress on from the second tier. I’m thinking of Women’s sports such as the WNBA and of course e-sports which has an incredible opportunity.

In your opinion, is in-stadia betting as much about building customer relationships as it is generating betting income?

We are a live events business which has a number of revenue streams not least F&B [food and beverage] and merchandise, so while we can’t share in the sports betting operation it represents a big asset in the mix due to the opportunities it provides to engage with our customers on a much deeper level. I would describe it as an inclusive 360 relationship. If stadiums provide sports betting it undoubtedly helps the business to engage. Sports betting is another exciting factor in getting people engaged.

Are there any specific social responsibility issues surrounding on-site sports betting?

Social responsibility is very, very important for the industry whether it’s here in the U.S. or in Europe. It’s fair to say that it’s critical to growing the opportunity in the United States and in our relationship with William Hill safe gaming was and remains a big part in all of our conversations. It’s important that we are doing the right thing so we partner with the American Gaming Association and I am a big fan of what the Association is doing in terms of educating people. There’s got to be a balance – promotion is critical but so is education. The Leagues also take safe gaming very, very seriously and help us with the guidelines. From our own perspective, we have powerful platforms which enable us to reach out to huge numbers and we all have a responsibility to ensure that we educate consumers at the highest level. Helping to ensure that consumers don’t over indulge in sports betting is critical – I would say more so in the U.S. than in Europe purely because it’s so new to us.

Can you describe the look, feel and services consumers would find in an on-site betting lounge?

That’s a very timely question! Only this morning we released renderings and a video of the permanent sports book location that we are developing in partnership with William Hill and which is scheduled to open early 2021. Essentially, it’s a first-of-its-kind sports fan experience inside a professional sports complex.

What we’re creating is a game-day experience that offers a full-service sports book and restaurant, with an ambience built around the energy of live sporting events. It will feature a full-service sports book with 12 ticket windows, 10 self-service kiosks, two VIP areas and one large private dining/event space.

The entertainment space will feature 1,500 square feet of custom LED that will wrap the entire facility. There will be a jumbotron on the 2nd level, which is a replica of what is located inside the Capital One Arena, bringing game-day action to life. We’ve incorporated a radio and TV broadcast studio on the first floor which is visible from the main bar area and to pedestrians walking past the sports book location.

Sports fans demand authenticity and the interior design elements pay homage to the history of sports and the local professional teams, including baseball stitching incorporated into the staircase railing, vintage lockers featured in the main bar, local sports memorabilia found throughout the space and sketches of local arenas printed on the ceiling.

The William Hill Sports Book will be a one-of-a-kind, immersive experience not only for Wizards and Capitals fans attending events, but for all sports fans. What we are creating is a premier year-round entertainment destination for Washingtonians and visitors to the Greater Washington region.

How do you see the demographic for in-stadia sports- betting – particularly in terms of the gender split?

We’ve done a lot of work and a lot of research with the fan base of both the Wizards and the Capitals and the gender split is very even. The challenge we have is to make the sports betting experience gender neutral, in other words making it an entertainment experience relevant to both men and women. The attention to detail invested in the William Hill Sports Book, the F&B offering, the design features and the overall quality of the customer experience will, I believe, go a long way in enabling us to engage with the broadest possible adult demographic.

What do you think this edition of Sports Betting USA will achieve or contribute to the development of the industry?

I have to say that I love what Clarion is doing with Sports Betting USA and although I understand the disappointment of not being able to stage an in-person event due to the pandemic there is an argument to say that’s not such a bad thing in respect of the ability digital provides to reach a broader audience at what is an important time for the sector. With digital events, there’s an even sharper focus on content and that’s what sets the Clarion organized events apart. There’s a diversity of expert panellists covering the broad picture. I’m very excited to be part of it and in common with the rest of the sports betting industry I’m really looking forward to it.