In hindsight, it’s obvious that FanDuel and DraftKings would lead the early US sports betting market.
They spent billions on marketing, built a sports-mad userbase, and had ready-made product teams. When projecting forward, those advantages aren’t going anywhere.
As Flutter CEO Peter Jackson put it in a recent investor call:
“When we look at life through the lens of Fox Bet, as a subscale competitor, it’s very tough. It makes us realize how big an advantage the FanDuel brand has. Particularly around acquiring customers at sensible costs. And that reminds us to keep pushing hard and investing.”
Head start for FanDuel, DraftKings
When sports betting goes live in California for instance, everyone is pretty much starting from scratch except the DFS firms. Some casino chains will have rewards members, but that’s a completely different customer cohort.
Even in already-regulated states, DFS firms can get customers in the door and into the database at 18 years old rather than 21.
But even third place in a $20 billion market is a prize worth playing for. Talking to a range of sources, three main contenders emerged:
- Barstool Sportsbook
- Caesars/William Hill
So who has the edge? Read on …
Barstool appears to hold an edge here based on its database. Of the company’s 66 million monthly unique visitors, 62% bet on sports with 44% of those betting at least once a week, according to Penn National.
That’s reflected in the number since launch, with Barstool currently holding a 12% market share in PA sports betting handle less than two full months after launch.
That kind of percentage would be a huge win if replicated nationally. And Barstool founder Dave Portnoy has noted the sportsbook will do better when all operators starts on a level playing field in new markets like Michigan.
“I’m a Barstool fan because they have a great community and a clear means of monetizing it,” said Ismail Vali, the chief product and marketing officer at CX consultancy A Game Above. “Whilst Hills and BetMGM are all about the ‘player versus bookie’ adversarial relationship, Barstool stands out as the brand bucking the standard dynamic. Barstool is a fan community that also offers betting, and clearly set apart from all other bookies as a result.
MGM and Caesars have both spoken about the power of their rewards databases, but there’s not yet much evidence those players convert to sports betting at a meaningful rate.
The wildcard here is BetMGM’s deal with Yahoo. The two companies recently connected wallets so customers can use their Yahoo account to register and sign-in to their BetMGM account, then bet without leaving the Yahoo app. A truly seamless journey there could replicate some of the advantages FanDuel and DraftKings enjoy, even if Yahoo is not on the same scale as those two.
Sports betting brand
A recent poll of nearly 7,000 US citizens put Barstool behind only the DFS giants in terms of brand awareness.
There are similar trends in Google search data, where Barstool is outperforming BetMGM and William Hill in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“Barstool Sportsbook has the best sports brand by a wide margin,” said former FanDuel and Barstool exec Dave VanEgmond. He predicts Barstool to be the number 3 in the market, with a 10+% nationwide market share.
Several execs contacted highlighted the authenticity of the Barstool brand and personalities who genuinely bet on the games.
Elsewhere, gambling content creator Jamie Salsburg noted the Barstool Sportsbook was generating unique engagement on places like YouTube.
“Barstool Sportsbook has 4.6 million views on 158 videos YouTube videos, consistently hitting five- and six-figure views on every video (more than 29,000) on average,” Salsburg said. “Meanwhile there’s lots of lots of three-digit views on the DraftKings channel.”
Long-term, Caesars might be well served to absorb the William Hill brand into the Caesars Sportsbook. But Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said recently that “both brands will live on in the US.”
Marketing war chest
The US is without doubt a market reserved for those with deep pockets.
Despite their current leadership, both FanDuel and DraftKings have upped their investment in the market in recent months.
Their customer lifetime value (CLV) models show investing now pays off in the long run. But that puts pressure on competitors to keep up or get drowned out.
So who can keep up?
That spend has been used to seemingly good effect so far, with BetMGM holding an 18% share of markets where it is live (including online gaming.) The GVC half of the parent companies is cash-generative and insulated from COVID-19 by its online nature, suggesting the money won’t dry up anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Penn recently raised almost $1 billion but a good chunk of that will go to shoring up a heavily indebted balance sheet.
“I’m a little nervous about Penn’s debt, which may wind up being a problem in terms of truly unleashing Barstool,” said one US-based investor with gaming experience, speaking on background. “But those Penn Barstool numbers in PA are pretty impressive. Imagine them putting a big budget behind it too.”
Caesars has not done a capital raise for US online gambling, but CEO Tom Reeg said the combined Hills and Caesars digital business was doing $100m in positive EBITDA a year.
It’s fair to say product has not been top priority in the US since PASPA was repealed. Operators have been more focused on getting live in as many states as possible.
A recent Eilers & Krejcik review of NJ sportsbook apps found only a minor correlation between their app score and operator market share. But more mature markets show that long-term, users become more discerning and product is key.
So how did the 16 key brands fare in the Eilers review?
- BetMGM: Ninth
- William Hill: 12th
- Caesars: 16th
Barstool was not rated, but has an Apple App Store rating of 4.7, the same as FanDuel and BetMGM. But Barstool may be somewhat limited in its product upside thanks to its reliance on third-party sportsbook provider Kambi.
Former FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles noted Barstool was probably never going to lead on product, but needs to be just good enough to allow the marketing wizardry to shine.
“I think they can definitely do that, but the product has probably got to be better than it is today,” Eccles said. “As it stands, FanDuel is just a better product, especially in-play.”
FanDuel has spoken frequently about the product benefits of owning its entire tech stack. BetMGM and William Hill both have that capability, but the Eilers review suggests there is still work to do. BetMGM in particular drew strong reviews for its technology but seemingly hasn’t translated that to product yet.
“They [BetMGM] were tripping over themselves to get into the market so that may have led to some issues,” said one senior exec from the B2B side of the industry. “But they have the agility to fix it and fix it quickly.”
William Hill/Caesars has access in 24 states, the most of any operator in the sector according to Hills. They are also dominant in the key state of Nevada.
Meanwhile Penn has access in 19 states, but crucially not for New York.
BetMGM also has access to 19 states.
Leadership and focus
This is the biggest concern for William Hill/Caesars as they will have to go through a complex integration over the next year alongside another Caesars integration with Eldorado.
“The very fact they have two names and two brand shows they have a lot of work to do,” said Eccles.
There are also some questions here for Penn/Barstool, whose management team are new to the sports betting game and will undoubtedly face some hiccups as they scale.
Meanwhile BetMGM has the most experienced management team by a decent margin.
“Our business is nuanced,” said the B2B exec. “It happens in the margin and the execution risk is really high. FanDuel is going gangbusters because they understand the industry. I don’t think BetMGM is too far away from that and they are making those investments too.”
So who has the edge?
BetMGM probably has the highest floor, in part because of its willingness to spend big early. Product is perhaps a question now, but the GVC technology is proven around the world and you’d back the management team to figure out any wrinkles before long.
Barstool might have the highest upside thanks to its brand, marketing prowess, and rabid fanbase. If any US company can replicate the success of Sky Bet in the US, it’s likely them. The biggest question is whether they can build a differentiated product in the long run, especially while the management team learns on the job.
William Hill/Caesars has the most questions to answer simply by virtue of its retail history, relative conservatism around marketing, and the looming integration. But that retail estate and best-in-class sprawling market access also offers a safe floor, even if the upside is potentially capped.
So what about the wildcards for the top three?
An obvious candidate is bet365, the market leader in much of Europe and Asia. The company is revered around the industry for its formidable product and in-house tech. It also benefits from being privately owned, with the accompanying freedom for longer-term thinking. 365 finished second in the Eilers app review behind only FanDuel, belying its current 2% NJ market share.
While bet365 has started to ramp up its marketing in New Jersey, it’s still been quiet in the US as a whole.
“One thing they don’t have is urgency,” says one rival US sportsbook exec, who asked not be named. “Someone like Hills had to go hard early because the share price depended on it. But bet365 has the luxury of waiting. They can wait five or ten years to see what happens.”
There are questions about whether the product translates to the US. Bet365 is heavily focused on in-play betting and offers a phenomenally broad range of markets.
That’s not necessarily a natural fit for the US, where users are generally newer to sports betting and currently prefer to wager before the game.
Other contenders in US sports betting
Fox Bet could have a bright future as a mass-market brand especially when sports betting is truly nationwide and the power of the Fox network can be leveraged more effectively. But as Jackson said at the top, Fox Bet is the clear second banana to FanDuel.
Elsewhere, Rush Street Interactive with its BetRivers band is a top-three player in Illinois and Pennsylvania, but might be more focused on those regions than on national dominance. It’s also more weighted towards online gaming, where it owns proprietary technology.
Finally, PointsBet has also shown its top-five ambitions with a deal worth up to $500 million with NBC, and a product that was rated highly by Eilers. However it might be undercapitalized compared to the market leaders.