Innovation is a buzzword that routinely dominates the industry agenda. From a sports betting supply standpoint, innovation often comes in the form of new proprietary features, which combine to deliver a new future for sportsbook personalisation.
You can read a full series on the subject here.
Yet, within this popular summer series focused on the importance of pricing, risk management, AI and analytics, the source of the associated innovation was sometimes overlooked.
Therefore, we lined up four sportsbook suppliers – SG Digital, Betby, FSB and Prophet – to answer the following question: What drives innovation – is it the operators, players or suppliers themselves?
Keith O’Loughlin, SVP of Sportsbook and Platforms at SG Digital, said: “To drive innovation, you need a combination of players, operators and suppliers, as each stakeholder brings fresh concepts to the table in their own way.
“Operators are in an ideal position to bring innovation to the market as they’re the ones who deal directly with the end user. They collect valuable data that provides them with insight into how consumer trends are changing, which gives them the perfect opportunity to shape their offering in a way that meets customer demand.
“Players themselves are a great source of innovation. They are the ones who experience the products we offer and their feedback is invaluable to bringing new ways of enjoying such content.
“For suppliers such as ourselves, we must do our own bit in bringing new technology to market, leaning on our own expertise to create next-level player experiences that can be enjoyed in a responsible way.
“That’s why everything we do at Scientific Games revolves around innovation. OpenSports™ has a proud heritage of introducing innovative features to the market, with OpenBet™ at the forefront of developing the in-play proposition and was one of the first in the industry to launch cash out.
“Innovation is key to taking our industry forward. We need to create new offerings and experiences to keep our players excited. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean a shiny new product – it can also be a means of enhancing systems and processes across a wide range of clients and markets.
“While operators, players and suppliers all play a big role in innovation, let’s not forget how important other industries are in driving change. Global TV streaming services have driven a culture of personalization and on-demand content, which is clearly influencing our industry to provide similar features to satisfy what consumers are craving.
“We’ll never take our eye off the ball when it comes to innovation, and we strive to evolve the sports betting experience. Scientific Games is committed to upgrading its product solutions in line with bettor needs and invests in a player insights and research team to directly reach out to consumers and understand their needs.
“Our most recent development was the introduction of our new scoreboard functionality Match HQ™, which adds an extra layer of excitement to sports betting by providing bettors with real time data to help inform betting decisions. The widget features in-play animations, as well as team and player statistics.”
Chris Nikolopoulos, CCO at Betby, added: “Let’s first agree that innovation is imperative, no matter where it comes from.
“It allows businesses and industries as a whole to evolve. The successful exploitation of new ideas is crucial, as it helps us to improve our processes, bring new and improved products and services to market, increase our efficiency and most significantly, improve profitability.
“I believe it’s the business itself which drives innovation. A combination of all the different verticals and stakeholders. We need to always keep in mind that iGaming is an IT-driven industry which is changing very quickly. End users are much better educated nowadays compared to what they were 20 years ago and are more demanding as a result.
“Their options have also increased significantly. If they don’t get what they want, it’s quite easy for them to look elsewhere. In my opinion, operators who deal with the end user directly are patently aware that if they don’t innovate, they’re going to lose ground quickly. At the same time, operators who have their own proprietary software are few and far between, thus lots of them rely on different providers to cover their software needs.
“There’s nothing wrong with this approach, as it gives operators the chance to focus on marketing rather than software development. In the end, most of the innovation will have to be developed on the providers’ side on behalf of the operators, bringing new technology to market with the aim of capturing the attention of the consumer. In that sense it would be safe to say that the drivers of innovation are the players themselves.
“However, there are several examples of providers within our industry who, by placing a series of smaller bets on tactical innovation and player-friendly products, have made rapid strides – even from a starting position that was inferior to their rivals.
This is exactly what we’re trying to do at Betby. We’re always looking to embrace new technologies and innovation, both from a product and services perspective, allowing us to differentiate and open the door to new opportunities.”
David McDowell, CEO of FSB, commented: “I’ll leave the chicken-and-egg arguments to others. However, without wishing to make this a state-the-obvious contest, all parties are interdependent in this igaming ecosystem but we all must work together effectively to produce the best results.
“Consequently, to some significant degree, our collective success or well-being is intimately connected as opposed to being reliant on any one driving force. Whether that’s sports betting innovation, social responsibility or any colour on the sportsbook spectrum in between.
“More broadly, of course, the media modern landscape – emboldened by technology – has allowed the consumer to have a far more impactful say in the products they want and how they want them delivered. Better connectivity and conversation are no different in the igaming sector.
“The power, for example, of social media allows operators and their suppliers to be “all ears” to feedback from the end user. You don’t need to arrange a focus group, or second-guess the market – you can quickly ask it, or leisurely read from its overflowing suggestions box.
“As for the players themselves, they are far better educated nowadays than in, say, the noughties before the utility of in-play betting began to kick in. There’s been a step-change in the options at their disposal, and players have become more demanding and fickle as a result. It’s hard for operators to engender loyalty, and easy for customers to look elsewhere if they’re not satisfied.
“Operators accordingly fear losing their clients if they don’t provide them with the latest engaging, innovative experiences, which leads to losing their clients anyway when the brand is seen as a follower rather than an innovator.
“The sportsbook offer had to evolve in order to provide the scope for bet-building and odds-on-demand which required manual trading. Back when I got into the industry, everyone I spoke with said game winner and goals markets (for example) had related contingencies and simply couldn’t be offered.
“In reality, though, it was just a matter of waiting on better maths and modern technology. Now they’ve arrived, bet builders are one of the hottest products around. So, this consumer-driven revolution naturally places a premium on innovation.
“However, innovation for innovation’s sake is pointless and can be counterproductive. You’re constantly treading a tightrope. Just look at the modern trend for prop bets, both pre-play and in-play. Players say they want them, live data feeds from suppliers can drive accurate prices in-running, and operators can deliver them on all the big games.
“But at what cost? Interminable long-tail markets create a cluttered UI, and can lead to players not being able to locate the major markets that they want to bet on. After all, the vast majority of bets are still placed on a handful of major event markets – official game result (or some narrower component of that result) handicaps, total, points etc. If players can’t easily access those markets, or have to trawl through their interface to find them, everyone loses.
“In more bonkers news, one supplier launched some new functionality the other week with a product whose algorithms promised automatically curated… I’ll cut myself off there, just to say: good effort. Ultimately, innovation cannot drive revenue growth without throwing some howlers into the mix. It’s only when suppliers start shouting about their latest unproven product simply to keep their name in the press that it winds me up. Whatever – hey, let’s call it innovation.
“In short, as Midas discovered to his chagrin, be careful what you wish for. All that glitters is not gold. And all that innovates is not worthwhile. No matter who’s driving that innovation.”
Dean Sisun, CEO at Prophet, said: “It is not easy to truly be certain how innovative operators and suppliers are, despite how they may brand themselves.
“Innovation starts with players because they experience platforms and products day in, day out across a host of levels and consequently explore every nook and every cranny of every game, site or market. If anyone is to find a fault, credibly endorse the product, or discover a loophole in the system, it is them.
“Players drive the creation of products designed to showcase new ways of betting, as well as new ways to deliver customer information. So, it is their collective efforts to find an edge which, in turn, drive operator and supplier innovation.
“No one knows the players better than, well, players, and that is why they are constantly coming up with new ways to improve both the experience and opportunities available, while simultaneously trying to ‘beat the bookie’. It is often these individuals who go on to create companies in our sector, as they believe that their insight and unique take can innovate or disrupt the entire industry.
“We can tell a similar story of desirable change that lead to the creation of Prophet. We were, and still are, passionate players – and quickly identified that cashout opportunities either weren’t reliably available or fair enough on margin. In fact, we’d been stung too often by the rates available after finding a great bet.
“However, you’re still left with a mountain to climb to compete with the behemoths of the gambling industry. If you’re successful, they will swallow you up. That’s not innovation at their end, that’s just adequate R&D that turns into M&A.
“While operators, suppliers and players are all reliant on each other, players have been and remain the driving force behind innovation and will remain so in the future.”