Free-to-Play Games and Elevated Second-Screen Experiences Signal the Long Game into Sports Betting

Author: Mike Adorno, VP of Communications

Jacob Feldman of Sportico recently published an article on the Madison Square Garden Network launching free-to-play pick ‘em games for Knicks, Rangers, Islanders, Devils and Sabres games starting in March 2021. This is a smart strategy as it provides the vast MSGN audience a viable second-screen experience that has the potential to elevate how they interact with the games they are watching.

The article clearly points to the obvious:

In particular, the app creates new possibilities for sponsorship deals, either with gaming operators hungry to reach gamblers in New Jersey, or in other categories. Previously, MSGN has offered betting-related content across its platforms.

To us, this announcement signals something much larger than a potential future partnership. It clearly exemplifies that the network sees the potential for how these free-to-play games are an entry point and gateway into sports betting, and live in-play betting in particular. That’s to say nothing about the potential for MSGN to perhaps become an operator itself. The latter is clearly dependent on how New York State’s mobile sports betting laws shake out in 2021. Gov. Cuomo has shown his cards to run mobile sports betting through a single operator. However, current market leaders and longtime DFS operators DraftKings and FanDuel have proven that growing awareness and users with an eye toward becoming a future sports betting operator is a viable strategy. Therefore, it’s not out of the question that MSGN could ultimately become part of an operator partnership if all the chips fall into place.

Let’s focus on how the launch of this free-to-play app is setting the table for future in-play betting capabilities. We see this in three steps.

  1. Education Part A – Conditioning your audience to become accustomed to a different type of second-screen experience that brings with it new and exciting forms of engagement
  2. Education Part B – Developing a level of education and understanding among your user base, such that they can transition from viewers to potential engaged participants comfortable with betting ideas and terminology
  3. Grow awareness and acquire new audiences through the elevated second-screen experience

Education here is crucial. When competition for market share is on the line, having an existing user base who is already conditioned for a second-screen experience and understands fundamentally how to bet is paramount. Two elements from our State of the New Sports Bettor study back this up. First, bettors are more likely to use an operator if there is more to the experience than just making a bet. Second, 87% of sports bettors said that fantasy sports provides a strong knowledge base to inform the bets that they make. These free-to-play games are a great funnel accelerator. By creating a strong experience and providing the user base with a risk-free (and cost-free) way to educate themselves on how to bet in the future, MSGN is setting themselves up to grow and develop an active, ready and hungry user base once in-play betting is ready for prime time. This active, ready and hungry user base will also have a significant influence on MSGN’s market evaluation should they look to partner with an operator, or perhaps look to strategic growth through M&A in the future.

Net-net here is that the future of sports betting lies in having an educated user base willing to give your platform a significant share of their wallet. Moves like MSGN’s show that companies are seeing the opportunities that lie ahead in sports betting, and are willing to play the long-game.

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