While it might be tempting for sportsbooks to simply emphasize hockey to form their Ontario sports betting offerings, it will likely take a more creative approach to retain customers.
With commercial ON sports betting launching Monday, sportsbooks are likely looking for every possible advantage heading into the market. Operators looking to capitalize on sports betting in Canada must be innovative in attracting and securing customers, said Jeff Harris, national sports business advisory leader at Deloitte Canada.
“There are nuances to [Canada], I wouldn’t just treat it as another state,” Harris said.
Like in the US, Harris said sponsorship deals with professional teams and media organizations will be significant. However, partnerships with recreational sports organizations, national governing bodies and Canadian cultural icons might help separate competitors.
Proud to be a (sports betting) Canadian
There are still many unknowns about the market as Ontario gears up for its launch. Operators, however, appear to know that a particular Canadian focus is essential.
That could mean leaning into the sport the country is known for or opening a Canadian office to better understand the country, like FanDuel and PointsBet.
“People don’t respect Canada for how unique it is,” PointsBet Canada Chief Commercial Officer Nic Sulsky said. “Fans and Canadians in general are really unique, not just from a national perspective, but a regional perspective.
“It really boils down to two things: you’re a sports fan and you’re Canadian. You don’t just root for the Habs, you eat poutine, your favorite band is the Tragically Hip. Being Canadian is in its own right extraordinarily unique and it adds to the experience of being a sports fan.”
Ontario sports betting taking different approaches
Various operators already lined up for launch in Ontario are taking the approaches mentioned by Harris. BetMGM is running straight for the love of hockey, partnering with The Hockey News, NHL legend Wayne Gretzky and current Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid.
Toronto-based theScore is looking toward recreational athletes in a deal with Canlan Sports and a partnership with Golf Canada. Company executives also believe theScore’s position as a popular sports media brand in Canada will help establish a substantial market share.
PointsBet secured partnerships with Curling Canada and Alpine Canada while also employing the humor of fictional Canadian characters The Trailer Park Boys. The operator also became the official sportsbook of the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa Redblacks.
Content will be critical in Ontario sports betting
Brooks said that while some Canadians bet through the gray market for years, there is still a lot of education needed. In a February Deloitte report, just 19.2% of Canadians knew single-event sports betting became legal in August 2021.
Many operators have signed ambassador deals with Canadian broadcasters to help fill out content calendars. NorthStar Gaming, which shares an ownership group with the Toronto Star, launched a branded content vertical on the newspaper’s website.
Brooks said that a prohibition on public advertising of bonuses and credits would further amplify a need for excellent educational content to help draw in bettors.
“We are fairly conservative here and don’t want advertisers coming in guns blazing,” she said. “How do we engage through education, awareness and content? Teaching them how to bet properly and what they can bet on.”
Canadian blood runs thick
Many industry onlookers likely assume hockey will see much more action in the Great White North than in the US. While that might hold true, it is not all about the puck.
Canadians also will not simply bet in support of the professional teams in Canada. Sulsky said Canadians love other Canucks, whether that means a national team or individual athletes in the North American big leagues.
“We don’t just cheer for the Raptors, we cheer with RJ Barrett [of the New York Knicks] and Andrew Wiggins [of the Golden State Warriors],” Sulsky said. “We celebrated the O-line for the Chiefs and Jets because of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. You typically think hockey, but [Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman] Freddie Freeman’s parents were born in Canada. Eric Gagne, the great reliever for the Dodgers was Canadian.
“We remember these things. We enjoy sports and being Canadian and when we can marry them together, we do.”
Ontario thrives with major leagues
Canadians might love fellow Canadians, but they are passionate about their teams, whether they are recent league champions (Toronto Raptors) or part of a long-suffering fanbase of a classic team (Toronto Maple Leafs.)
With 15 million people in Ontario, there is no shortage of sports fanatics.
The province has five teams across the NHL, NBA, MLS and MLB, as well as three CFL teams. There are also teams from the Canadian Premier League, Canadian Elite Basketball League, Major League Rugby and National Lacrosse League.
Ontario diversity could shine in sports betting
In Ontario, there is a significant immigrant population, with those Canadians closely following the sports from where they emigrated, according to Kelly Brooks, CEO of Quarter4, a Toronto-based sports betting technology company. According to the city’s demographic website, just under 50% of Toronto residents were born outside of Canada.
There is, for example, a thriving cricket community in the Toronto area, according to the Toronto Star.
The Canadian Men’s National Soccer Team’s strong World Cup qualifying performance helped highlight the country’s intense love of soccer.
Football is bigger in Western Canada
While there are CFL teams in Eastern Canada, Brooks said it is out west where the league thrives. Of the 57 CFL Grey Cup championships won by active teams, Western Conference teams own 37.
The four teams from the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan all drew more than 23,000 people per home game. The team in Toronto welcomed fewer than 10,000 per game, while teams in Montreal and Ottawa attracted fewer than 14,000.
However, football did garner 45% of wagers during the first month Ontario Lottery and Gaming’s ProLine+ was up and running last year. The NFL and NHL made ProLine+ their first sportsbook partnership in Canada.