Many things have been sorely missed under lockdown. Of course, we all need to pay lip service to the usual suspects: family and friends, the comfort of human contact, the purpose and achievement provided by fulfilling work. And, of course, most of these things are true for everyone to one extent or another. Then, there is a sport. In this time of global crisis, the po-faced and puritan will reach for the caricature of sport as numerous people hitting various shaped balls around different sizes pitches. When looked at like that, I suppose, they have a point: sport doesn’t matter, but for a lot of people it’s the most important of the things that don’t. Its absence is a real loss to many.
And sport matters, even more, when there is something riding on it. But this is bookmakers’ basic conundrum in the time of coronavirus: there is still very little sport being played. Despite being familiar with the now behind-closed-doors Bundesliga, most casual British punters still might be reluctant to take a chance on it when they’re used to the familiarity of British players and the hurly-burly of the Premier League. Looking further afield doesn’t help much either, as parting with your hard-earned cash on the Korean football or Israeli pre-season friendlies can’t be the most appealing prospect. But this is going to be the situation for the foreseeable future. The Premier League still looks a risky bet to return, and apart from this almost the entire sporting calendar, for this summer at least, has been decimated. What to do about this is the question on the mind of every bookmaker. Denise Coates probably has enough to see her through, but for your independent high street bookmaker getting the right answer is what keeps the lights on.
Amongst the easiest ways to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus is store closures. Bricks and mortar betting shops might slowly start to disappear, taking people’s jobs with them. With a severely reduced sporting calendar, and punters with less disposable income to commit to a flutter, bookmakers are going to need to cut their costs somewhere so they can make more attractive offers elsewhere. Online makes sense. The overheads are lower, and doing business online attracts a more sustainable range of customers long term. To give you a taste, here are the wide variety of introductory offers all bookmakers listed here are offering to tempt punters to their platforms: £100 bet credits, risk-free £20 bet, bet £10 get £30. It’s a completive market with offers to be had.
But these incentives do not solve the fundamental problem. It is all very well bookmakers driving traffic to their online platform, but punters need something to bet on. Bookmakers are going to have to make efforts to expand the range of sports and events that people will consider betting on. Promoting virtual sports or obscure Russian table tennis might be novelty enough to see people to part with their money in the short-term, but a more serious long-term strategy is needed. The latter end of the summer might see some more familiar competitive golf or tennis returning, but tournament sports provide only a brief, albeit lucrative, window for revenue. The bookies really need whole competitive seasons to provide a steadier income stream. With the Premier League still getting its act together to finish this season, the next most significant scheduled sporting comeback is arguably the NFL. While UK punters might have limited appetite for US sports, the NFL has undergone something of a renaissance in Britain over the last few years, particularly with younger fans – the kind who might previously have had a football accumulator on Saturday afternoon. This is surely an opportunity to profit in a market that has been overlooked amongst UK bookmakers. Expect them to push the NFL in a big way late summer to bridge the gap before autumn which will hopefully see a return to some semblance of normality.
In the short term, then, bookmakers will try to survive by offering attractive introductory offers and competitive odds on any remotely professional sport still being played anywhere in the world. During a canceled summer of sport, the best many can hope to do is jockey for the position of being a customer’s first choice platform when the sport returns in earnest later in the year. This means great options for your average punter; they just might have to stake their free bets on the Belarusian first division or Call of Duty online.
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