With sports betting in the US having emerged ‘out of the darkness’, stakeholders across the sports ecosystem are examining how the emerging sector can be leveraged for a range of purposes. 

A key area of interest for these leagues and teams is fan engagement, something which Steve Bornstein, President – North America at Genius Sports, believes betting can play an important role in. 

Sharing his views alongside Rajiv Maheswaran, President of Genius’ subsidiary Second Spectrum and two other guest panel speakers at Genius Sports’ Super Bowl Event, Bornstein asserted that gamification of content will drive increased engagement with younger sports fans. 

He explained: “When you take stuff out of the darkness and put a light on it, it’s going to be better and it’ll be more fun and it’s going to be safer. That’s what we’re seeing today, you’re seeing really with the legalisation of gambling allowing for the gamification of content. 

“To me, that’s ultimately how you’re going to connect with more fans and with younger fans – by gamifying the content, and that’s what Second Spectrum does very well and what Genius Sports does very well.”

Meanwhile, for Renie Anderson, Chief Revenue Officer at the National Football League (NFL), the rollout of US sports betting poses opportunities in areas including revenue generation as well as engagement and understanding of consumers.

“As we started to talk to the different operators, understanding the different executions that sports betting can take,” the NFL CRO explained.

“Caesars is so unique because they have brick and mortar, they surround it with all of their entertainment, restaurants and all their offerings; FanDuel has a great opportunity as they lean into their free to play, and then obviously DraftKings lean into their daily fantasy. It was a great three level sponsorship for us to see how consumers are engaging.”

However, the panel also observed that the increased gamification of the fan experience – of which sports betting is a key part – must be developed in tandem with responsibility and player protection. 

“it’s not just about the revenue, not just about the partnerships,” she said. “It is about the responsibility that we have as we continue to do this legally within those 30 states and as the legislation continues to evolve. 

“It was amazing what we all saw in New York when they turned mobile on recently, and the engagement during the NFL playoffs. That’s only going to grow and so that responsibility is on all of us within the sports ecosystem to make sure that we’re really focused on that.”

Observing changing trends in sports over the past few decades, Warren Moon, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback who played from 1978 to 2000, noted that when he first started his career even fantasy football was discouraged.

“There’s been a big transition when it comes ot gambling and sports and the league is a big part of that, just like all the other leagues as well,” he remarked. 

“I’ve joined the board of a minority gaming company called Atlantis Gaming, so I’ve joined that realm as well, so it’s here to stay. 

“People are going to bet on games and they’re going to make it easier to bet on games, you can use your phone in the stadium and make your bets as you’re watching the game. It’s just the way things have progressed in sports.”

As Moon observed, wagering is now a well established aspect of US sports. This has had consequences not just for fan engagement and revenue, but also for advertising. 

In the UK, and many other European nations, the extent of gambling advertising – whether through televised commercials, online ads or sponsorship deals – has been a key topic of debate lately, especially with regards to gambling harm minimisation .

Commenting on the NFL’s approach to the topic, Anderson added: “We wanted to make sure that we weren’t oversaturating our games with tons and tons of ads and making sure that we’re thoughtful for the fans that want to see sports betting ads and thoughtful for the fans that don’t.”

For more information on fan engagement and US sports betting, see Steven Bornstein and Genius Sports’ Chairman David Levy discussed the topic in a recent video, covered by GamblingTV here.

Genius Sports: The role of betting and gamification in future fan engagement