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COVID-19’s Impact on Online Gaming: Trends & Tips for Marketers

With almost all sports being cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak, read on to find insights and action items on how to engage with gamers

The coronavirus outbreak is, first and foremost, a personal tragedy for too many. We want to open by acknowledging this, and by sending our thoughts, prayers, and best wishes all around.

It has also brought a change to billions of people’s daily way of life – including how we, as marketing professionals, are doing our jobs.

Very abruptly, people’s situations have changed immensely. We now need to fit our communications and offerings accordingly while being especially sensitive and emotionally intelligent.

And today, we want to help you deal with the newest major issue you must be facing professionally – COVID-19’s impact on online sports betting.

Sport Betting Took a Hit

In recent weeks, all major sporting events have been cancelled around the world. And just a few days ago, it was announced this summer’s long-awaited European Championship in football (Euro 2020) was postponed to summer 2021. All signs tell us this year’s Tokyo Olympic Games would also be pushed.

Of course, it leaves the online sport bettors with some minimal options to bet on.

To find out just how significant the impact is, we marked Italy’s lockdown (March 9th) as our threshold – then compared one month before it, with the week following. Our analysis includes ten different leading European companies, each with several brands and products.

The first figure that jumped to us was the number of sport bettors – and how it dropped significantly, by an average of 30%.

This dramatic decrease impacted the entire sport betting industry and is the primary concern of all online betting companies. With an average drop of 30% and some brands that are experiencing a decline of 60% in their active sport bettors on the first week after Italy’s lockdown, we can genuinely understand why operators are looking for immediate answers. With no real estimation for when major sports will be back to normal, we can expect this figure to decrease even further.

Online Casino is Stable

It seems COVID-19, and the fact that people are at home didn’t impact the number of daily online casino players when comparing the two periods. We saw a small and non-significant increase (+4%) after the virus started to spread.

We may suggest that the good-old cross-sell may be useful, although we did not see a dramatic migration from online sport betting to casino games.

Online Poker Activity Significantly Increased

Since the lockdown, we saw a massive increase of 43% in the number of daily poker, compared to the previous period. This is a significant enough spike to make Poker a potential savior for many operators.

All of the companies with poker products that we checked experienced an increase and some even doubled their number of poker players.

We can only assume it’s a result of both a lot of people being at home, while not being able to bet on sports.

And so, the next question that we had to ask was: where did these players come from? Did they move from online sport betting to poker, or are they mostly newly acquired players?

From Sports to Poker?

We have seen an increase of 255% in first-time poker players during the period, compared to an average day before the lockdown. But, while on a pre-lockdown day, only 3.5% of poker players played their first game day, during the past week, this number spiked to 9% of new-to-poker players.

More importantly, though, is looking at how many of them were entirely new for the business? Not as much as you might think – on average, 50% (and up to 75%!) of the new-to-poker players had a previous sport betting activity on the same brand before having their first poker game day. This figure is pretty similar to standard times (as in, the more pre-lockdown).

So How About Virtual Sports?

Surprisingly (or not), we have noticed a significant increase in the Virtual Sports product (not to be confused with e-Sports). Could this niche, hybrid product, a kind of online sport betting and casino combo, be the one to keep the online sport betting afloat during these times, and help you stabilize your business?

Apparently, yes.

It seems like the new situation – with a lack of real sporting events – drove more players to place bets on the fictional ones. During the past week, we saw a significant increase of 30% in the number of daily virtual sport players.

While depending on volumes, it will not hurt to try and promote this usually small-scale product to your sport bettors.

Here Are Your Action Items

So, what can marketers do during this challenging period?

  1. Consider which cycle/automated campaigns you wish to pause. Receiving an online sport promotion with no real sport events happening is a bit worthless. You might need to reduce your communication in the next few days.
  2. Ad-hoc campaigns could be beneficial, at least for the short term, to compensate for the loss of cycle campaigns. Think about a few emotional communications you can send to your customers and run them manually.
  3. Communicate differently. It’s a great time to create a new design/templates to acknowledge the hard time through storytelling tools.
  4. Split your cross-campaigns based on your players’ historical data.
    A. Send pure cross-sell for sport-only players, with promotions and other product guidance and onboarding plans, such as “Get to Know Our Products.”
    B. Run up-selling campaigns to players with previous game activity on different products. These campaigns can be more aggressive in terms of frequency, and less generous in terms of bonuses.
  5. Be emotionally intelligent. For example, one of our clients – a prominent operator – is suggesting not to use the “take advantage of time at home” language. We can’t be sure why a person is at home, right?

These are crazy, hectic, scary, unstable times. For you, your players, and everyone around us. Balancing authentic empathy with careful risk-taking can help go through it.

We wish you all the best, and are here for further help.

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