By: Sarah Fogel and Alex Malone
If you are unaware (but seriously, how could you be?), starting on January 1, sports betting became legal in Ohio. With much of our staff located in Ohio, a lot of us have recently been subjected to a slew of ads promoting various sports betting websites. In the digital and broadcast space these ads are never ending and feel as though they are everywhere you look. They’re slotted in our TikTok feed, on TV, across Twitter and so much more. Heck, they’re even threaded in the comments of people who are actively complaining about them!
The number of digital ads promoting sports betting has been a hot topic amongst our team. Most chiming in to share their disgust with how often they see ads. Other team members have mentioned that they don’t mind the ads. This is largely due to the fact that they have already won money participating in these various betting app promotions. But the question remains, are these sports betting platforms doing the right thing with their advertising, both ethically and strategically?
Apps like DraftKings Sportsbook and Caesars Sportsbook are just two of several platforms offering lucrative first-time user bonuses and making their presence known through an abundance of digital advertising. DraftKings Sportsbook has even enlisted celebrities, like Kevin Hart, to star in one of the ads targeted at new Ohio users and FanDuel is using the likeness of Rob Gronkowski to give away $10 million in free bets with the Kick of Destiny promotion if Gronkowski makes a field goal live during the Super Bowl - spoiler alert, he did not make it…or did he? We’re still not sure.
These advertisements can be seen on multiple platforms including TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and broadcast TV among others. When it comes down to it, their digital marketing strategy is remarkable. The ads are present almost everywhere, regardless of whether you have any prior interest in sports or betting. These ads are also targeting college campus areas, leading to many platforms being hit with fines for advertising to those younger than 21. Not only that, but the message is clear, inviting new users to create an account and receive free "bonus bets" as an incentive. Additionally, the simplicity and appeal of these offers makes it easy for new users to join. Once you create a login and link a bank account or make a deposit via credit card or PayPal, you’re all set to make your first bet. And, if you’re new to sports betting, there is even a tutorial on how to read and understand the odds, which makes the proposition approachable to everyone, even those who are unfamiliar with the concept.
The advertising uses buzzwords like “free” and “instantly” to further communicate the benefit and ease of placing a bet. The part that is slightly misleading is that the promos are awarded in “bonus bets” and when you win, you’re winning free bets awarded as credits and not money that you can withdraw from the account. This in turn creates a vicious cycle of repeat betting which is how these platforms end up making money.
Although we don’t have exact profit data, we do know that 11.3 million transactions were recorded over New Year’s weekend, putting Ohio at the top of the list for most online bets placed. It’s also fair to assume that these advertisements and promos are boosting their sign up rate, which garnered 784,000 unique accounts according to GeoComply, which provides geolocation tracking data to the U.S. iGaming industry.
With great power comes great responsibility. Several of these online sports gambling companies received violation notices from the Ohio Casino Control Commission within the first week. These companies have all been cited for neglecting to include visible mandatory problem gambling messaging in their advertisements, which is required under state law and the commission’s rules and regulations. They have also been issued violation notices for directly targeting people under the age of 21. Judging by how often we are still seeing the advertising, it’s clear that a lot of these companies are willing to take legal fines in order to continue running these advertisements.
Overall, do we think they executed a good digital marketing strategy to achieve their goal? Albeit annoying for most and at times illegal, yes, we think they did an excellent job with their digital strategy. They accomplished everything from hitting their target audience (location-wise, the jury’s still out on whether they targeted the correct age group) to achieving a record number of sign ups within the first week of launching.