On February 10th, CBS Sports and William Hill announced a strategic partnership that will make the U.K. based bookmaker the “Official Sports Book and Wagering Data Provider across all CBS Sports platforms.” William Hill will also gain the exclusive rights to market sports betting products on CBS Sports’ digital channels in the deal. Initial integrations will be in place in time for next month’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The ‘full’ roll-out is expected to be completed by the start of 2020 NFL season.
Howie Long-Short: William Hill has been looking to grow their brand in the U.S. for some time (co. currently has a significant presence in NJ and NV and retail books in MS, WV and IN), so aligning with CBS Sports – whose digital channels draw over 80 million unique visitors/mo. (2nd amongst U.S. sports properties behind only ESPN) – seemingly meets that objective. CBS also controls valuable live rights (see: March Madness, NFL) and as respected sports gambling consultant Sara Slane explained “exposure and integration on a broadcast channel – or channels in the case of March Madness – that everyone is consuming, is highly appealing.”
From the CBS Sports perspective, there’s seemingly little downside in the deal. The company is guaranteed to take in some new revenue (for access to their audience and the sponsorship of digital assets) and William Hill has a large enough footprint – remember, the bookmaker has a market access agreement in place with Eldorado Resorts (which has since acquired Caesars) – that they could realistically realize the upside built into the partnership.
Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the New York Times reported the incentive laden agreement “is aimed at getting CBS Sports users to download the William Hill betting app and put money into their betting accounts.” Slane says the wording within the story indicates there is limited financial outlay on William Hill’s part. “Operators are being very thoughtful about how they’re investing money [with so few states having gone live with sports betting]; particularly, as it relates to media and digital. An affiliate deal for deposits would be a smart approach for a [gaming entity] who wants to see a direct ROI on their investment.”
Sports betting operators see the current ‘land-grab’ environment and are aligning with media companies (see: MGM/Yahoo, TSG/FOX Sports, Barstool Sports/Penn National) in an attempt to cultivate new users. But it’s fair to ask – as Alun Bowden (Eilers & Krejcik Gaming) did – “why is [every gaming company] so keen to copy an expensive unproven model in a market where the price of failure is enormous and the potential for differentiation is massive?” It’s certainly hard to argue that the strategy, which varies across each of the partnerships referenced, works. DraftKings and FanDuel continue to dominate the U.S. market (i.e. not casino sportsbook operators + media companies) and Slane said that “while there were a couple of runs [made by gaming companies] at media partnerships in the U.K., Sky Betting & Gaming is the only one that has really been a success.”
If there’s a case to be made that the CBS Sports-William Hill deal will buck the trend, it should be made on the back of CBS Sports’ robust database of fantasy sports players. As we’ve seen with DraftKings and FanDuel – who have both successfully converted DFS players to sports bettors – “there’s a huge overlap between fantasy gaming and sports betting.” Sports Handle EIC Brett Smiley estimated that “60% of those who participate in season-long fantasy and +/- 80% of those who play DFS have also placed a wager.”
Fan Marino: NBC and Sinclair are the last of the major U.S. sports media rights holders without a gaming partner. It’s reasonable to believe that both will ink agreements sooner than later if only because there are no shortage of operators looking to grow their market share and cash in on the perceived sports betting gold rush (in fact, Slane believes a second wave is coming) and to pass on a gaming partnership would be leaving money on the table. While it could be argued that in a market where bettors are not used to line-shopping (think: people are used to betting with a bookie or a single off-shore book here in the U.S.) there is a strong first mover advantage, Smiley believes it’s “a long game and that over time people will become exposed to more apps and more options” (i.e. potential new entrants to the market haven’t missed the boat). As we’ve previously noted, in the U.K. the average sports bettor has accounts with four different books.
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