The product that changed betting ...
...and how the industry still hasn't realised what happened
In an industry where luck plays a bigger role than we like to admit, it’s fitting the product that changed online betting was an accident. A bored social media desk in Leeds making some strange bet requests to equally bored traders gave birth to Request-A-Bet (RAB), which in turn became Bet Builders and eventually re-branded as Same Game Parlay in the US.
RABs were a fairly slow burn in the UK. And the industry was equally slow to catch on. Sky Bet probably knew what it had before everyone else figured it out, but even they took time to comprehend just how big this thing was going to be. The period from 2016 to 2018 felt like a series of operators discovering fire, excitedly telling you how much revenue was being done on these “RAB things”.
The shift from curated (RAB) to self-selected (Bet Builder) was also fairly gradual, and in turn eventually left Sky Bet sitting on an outdated feeling product. That they have only just launched their own builder is testament to just how hard major tech projects are on legacy third-party stacks and how much resistance to change there often is for a winning formula.
Back to the future
Interestingly we seem to be lurching back to the curated stage, with pre-packaged builders now sold to the lazy feckless masses with the added benefit of a boost from vertigo inducing margin to bog standard high margin. Because make no mistake these are money shitting machines, offering both high volume and high margin betting options to customer at all ends of the value chain.
To put it more simply, most customers like to place a lot of Builder bets and all of them are high margin to the operator. But this is not some sleight of hand evil from the books, selling opium to the masses. This is a product that customers want, that they sought out, that they almost forced the books to offer more of, more often and in more sports.
Why bettors love these same game multis is an article in itself, but the way they effortlessly combine jackpot odds with a sense of control and a longer bet lifetime are some of the bigger factors. The ability for that bet to “feel” live for longer in a game is huge, and to a lesser extent so is the sense of control from selecting very specifically what you want to bet on.
But the key factor is being able to bet on player performance, rather than game outcomes. This really is the big shift that has happened in online sports betting over the past five years, and one that not everyone has really understood or come to terms with yet. People are betting less on teams and more on players, and the idea of “props” as the American sports betting world calls them being a niche product is a relic of the past.
Sitting in the margins
What’s strange in all this is how prop betting, or player performance betting, still feels like a marginalised product on many betting apps and sites. Yes there are the likes of Sky Bet and FanDuel that ram it into your face at any and every opportunity, but they remain more the exception than the rule. And sports betting content still focuses more on the outcome based betting options.
There has been a paradigm shift in the way people bet and what they want to bet on and at times it feels like nobody has really noticed. You will be told SGPs and Bet Builders are just another type of acca, another type of parlay. It’s just about getting players onto high margin products. It’s just about giving them something new to bet on.
OK, but what if it isn’t? What if it’s actually a fundamental change in the betting product itself?
Where is the UI and UX development around player performance betting specifically? It’s pretty much centred around the SGP product itself, making that easier and faster to use and adding more options, more sports and more combinations. Outside of this it’s mostly about packaging it up and selling and re-selling it to customers.
Time for more innovation?
The UK was the birthplace of this type of betting, and we continue to see some incremental improvements here and arguably bet365’s builder is the best version that exists in the global betting market. But it feels like the next leap forward is more likely to come from the USA.
FanDuel’s SGP business is probably larger than any other operators entire online sports betting business. That the rest of the industry allowed them such a massive head start on this, despite incredibly clear and overwhelming evidence from Europe that this product would be critical to success is honestly astonishing. To allow the market leader a year’s lead time on this is frankly absurd.
But that is where we are with the US industry running to keep pace with the market leader, and I’d expect to see FanDuel bring in some new innovations for the new NFL season to keep themselves ahead of the now rapidly chasing pack. One of these is likely to be a port of Sportsbet’s tracker. This ability to sweat your bets is a big miss in current product UX and may be the new big leap forward.
The Sportsbet tracker is a very interesting new development in terms of extending that UX deeper, allowing users to follow their bets through the app in much more detail than previously possible. It’s not dissimilar in UX to the use of data visualizations around in-play sport. There is even an argument that SGPs and player performance bets are the new in-play “interest” bets.
Commercialising toxic masculinity
Almost in opposition to this we have Simplebet and now the Jake Paul fronted Betr product, which as a friend of mine said looks like an attempt to commercialise toxic masculinity. The idea here is super fast resolution in-play prop betting aimed at an audience of under 30s male sports bettors teaching them that betting frenetically on everyone and everything is the key to happiness.
I may have got the brand promise wrong there, but even at very low stakes, which is not really where the initial marketing appears to be aimed, this is still slots for sports and the losses can rack up quickly. When you’re also aiming that product at the demographic with the least disposable income and arguably the highest propensity for problem gambling I have some issues with it to be perfectly honest.
But the proof will be in the execution and hopefully they prove me wrong on all counts. At the very least it’s an attempt to build on this betting paradigm shift and push the betting UX in new directions, and that is to be welcomed. I just hope it doesn’t burn more bridges than it builds on its journey.
Because where it is headed is interesting, and is part of a potentially new era of betting. It’s not the case that the player base and the world of online betting is changing. It has already changed. And the industry that led the change now feels a bit like it’s struggling to keep up with consumer demand. And that’s both a great and a really bad place to be.