By: Joe Dunnigan
As the founder of a young and fast-growing data and demand generation provider in the sports betting industry, I have reentered the gaming industry after 20 years of building and running leading businesses and brands in and around action and alternative sports with what feels like "fresh eyes." As I now witness the exciting and rapidly evolving landscape of online sports betting, what compels me the most is what my co-founder and former #GoPro CMO Todd Ballard and I saw when we launched two years ago. We recognized a unique opportunity to leverage proprietary data and our extensive experience in driving demand around these sports to help expand the global footprint of the sports betting industry. We have since begun to do so by introducing dozens of previously underrepresented alternative sports and the diverse audiences that surround them via the leading operators in the industry.
Why Alternative Sports?
Alternative sports encompass tens of millions of often youthful, passionate, and highly participatory audiences. These sports are deeply intertwined with the lifestyles of their fans and followers, evident in the hundreds of millions of social media followers, billions of annual impressions their content generates, and the influence they exert on popular culture, from art to music and fashion. These "lifestyle" sports include globally popular activities that fall categories including action sports, motorsports, combat sports, endurance sports and the like. A few such examples include surfing, skateboarding, bull riding, etc. and include other leagues that are derivative of more traditional sports.
These sports boast rich and colorful histories, highly engaged surrounding communities, talented athletes, deep regional and international roots, and decades of history. For instance, skateboarding alone features 85 million participants globally. In fact, skateboarding, surfing, and BMX were all recent additions to the #Olympics and collectively generated higher social engagement than any other sports in their Tokyo Olympic debut in 2020.
Globally, the number of lifestyle sports fans runs into the hundreds of millions. In the United States alone, there are 83 million age and geo-appropriate prospects who have yet to be fully tapped into by the sports betting industry.
Who Are the Fans and Participants in Alternative Sports?
Alternative sports athletes and fans often embody a blend of adventure-seeker, artist, and athlete. They live lifestyles that many aspire to, pursue their passions with intensity, and often defy conventional norms. Their non-conformity resonates with large and youthful audiences that value authenticity and unique experiences. These dynamics have historically made them elusive to marketers.
Many alternative sports involve a high degree of difficulty and sometimes significant risk. They push the boundaries of what is possible, making them highly entertaining to watch, leading to the creation and sharing of some of the most compelling and engaging content anywhere. Companies like GoPro and #Redbull have built multibillion-dollar businesses and brands by leveraging this social content. Both are among the top 5 YouTube channels globally. This level of passionate engagement adds to their appeal for sports betting.
What does the Data Say about Alternative Sports Fans and Their Value as Sports Bettors?
The fans of alternative sports constitute a unique and highly valuable demographic for the sports betting industry. These individuals are not just passive observers; they often participate themselves, sharing the same risk-taking spirit as the athletes they admire. This alignment in attitude and lifestyle creates a profound connection between the fans and the sports. A global study conducted by Wasserman Media Group of 40,000 respondents from existing and prospective sports bettors and alternative sports fans, revealed that these fans tend to skew younger, are better educated, and more affluent than Big 4 Sports fans. This youthful and male-dominated demographic profile is highly attractive to the sports betting industry. These individuals are already wagering with five times greater volume and three times greater frequency than traditional sports bettors, even though many of them are not interested in traditional sports.
What is Their Potential Value to Sports Betting?
The value of alternative sports lies in the quantity and quality of their audiences and, perhaps more importantly, in the fact that they are inherently different. Sports betting operators fiercely compete for a finite share of the traditional sports market. While the NFL, NBA, and MLB alone comprise 73% of US Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR), alternative sports present operators with a rare opportunity to cost-effectively access these audiences and create new and authentic differentiation.
Importantly for sports betting, these alternative sports leagues also feature well-established sanctioning bodies, extensive rulebooks, integrity policies and official integrity monitoring partnerships, and readily available live streaming of their broadcasts and API data feeds for their official data. Of personal importance to us and to business is our taking a leadership role in our commitment to Responsible Gaming. Responsibility and the protection of potentially vulnerable populations is critical to what we deem our ultimate success.
By including alternative sports in sports betting offerings, operators, particularly those seeking to enter emerging markets, can do so innovatively to position themselves as leaders in emerging sports. This presents a way for operators to enhance their brand relevance, acquire new customers, and retain them by offering a fresh and engaging betting experience.
A Massive, Untapped Market.
Alternative sports present a massive opportunity for customer acquisition and retention, as well as market expansion. The size of this audience, combined with their unique characteristics and betting behaviors, makes them an extremely attractive segment for sports betting companies. All in all, I believe with deep conviction that alternative sports offer a valuable opportunity for the sports betting industry to expand and improve. They bring in a new demographic, create a unique betting experience, and enhance brand appeal through their authenticity and lifestyle appeal.