Michigan may still be in the dugout waiting out American sports’ months-long rain delay, but one gaming operator is positioning itself for an inevitable resumption with a new twist for the state.
Australian-based PointsBet, which launched U.S. operations in 2019, has partnered with the Detroit Tigers to become the first sportsbook to align itself with an MLB franchise and the first to partner with a Michigan professional sports team.
The announcement for the online-only provider is somewhat muted by the lack of legal mobile sports wagering in the state, a development that isn’t expected until 2021. Moreover, the majority of the state remains under strict enough coronavirus lockdowns that brick-and-mortar casinos with locales for legal sports betting remain closed.
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All the same, PointsBet CEO Johnny Aitken sees a long-term opportunity for brand development that a ripe-and-ready sports environment can provide.
“We’re among the very few (U.S. operators) that controls their entire tech environments from back from front, which means that there is opportunity for nimble innovations in the partnership,” Aitken said. “We will enhance the in-stadium viewing and betting experience, and we have plans for some engaging stuff around their digital properties. When you own the technology, you don’t just talk the walk. We can walk the walk.”
Aitken said for as new as PointsBet is to the U.S. market, the company is not new to U.S. sports. American contests have made up about 40 percent of the company’s total sports handle. In spite of MLB’s potential work-stoppage woes in future seasons, he sees nearly limitless offerings within baseball games that will shape a domestic clientele that he sees moving more aggressively toward in-play action.
“U.S. sports are designed for in-play betting. You have the breaks built in, and as in-play activity ramps up, baseball is the most ripe for innovation around that experience,” Aitken said. “We developed a product last season called the Batter’s Box that allows you to bet on each at-bat.
“In essence, you’re turning one long baseball game into 500 to 700 microgames.”
Those enhanced betting options — think combined slugging percentage, over/unders on starting pitchers’ average throwing speeds, individual base outcomes for each batter and more — At the Tigers’ Comerica Park, for example, the initial brand integration for PointsBet centers on in-stadium signage and digital displays for reinforcement in the shortened 2020 season. In future seasons, fans can expect access to unique Tigers content, promotions and other experiences inside and outside the stadium.
“You could join the broadcast in the seventh inning, or be at the stadium, but on your way home, and there’s still a way to bet in-game until the very last pitch,” Aitken said. “And you speak to broadcasters, and they’re also itching for an increased appeal for watching games until those final moments.”
Aitken said Michigan makes sense as the first rollout for this iteration of PointsBet’s applications because of the cleanliness of the state’s designated market area. For example, Michigan media interest is generally self-contained to the state itself, while in New Jersey, where the company held its first U.S. launch, media representation is supplied by outlets from nearby stations in New York and Pennsylvania.
Thus, investment on television and through other mediums with “a cleaner DMA” will have a direct correlation to snatching up some potential market share, he said.
For its part, MLB and the Tigers see that sort of individualized implementation in branding, along with the autonomous nimbleness of PointBet’s technology, as reasons to enter a sports wagering partnership.
“Our incredible fans will love the unique experiences and innovative offerings that PointsBet’s personalized platform provides,” Chris Granger, the group president of sports and entertainment of Ilitch Holdings, which operates the Tigers franchise, said in a statement. “We look forward to the fan-friendly enhancements this will bring to the game-day experience in and around Comerica Park for years to come.”
And the company’s focus on reacting to customers’ interests will hopefully position PointsBet in a positive lane when the state is finally able to wager en masse. Aitken said that although several companies use customer surveys to shape future offerings, his company is able to deliver on those requests with speed, a factor that he thinks will make a lasting difference.
“For sportsbook customers, the best product is what will win over people in the long term,” he said. “We have the technology and the people with experience, and the customer focus is asking them what they truly want. That’s a winning mix.”