When sportsbook BetMGM began conversations with NBC ahead of the May advertising sales meetings, it had no plans to begin buying nationally.
With only 30% of U.S. adults able to bet legally from home, it knew the most efficient way to reach betting-inclined fans was through a checkerboard of local ad buys in the 13 states in which it operates.
It could spend aggressively in Detroit, Phoenix, metro D.C. and elsewhere while avoiding waste in some of the nation’s larger markets, where viewers still can’t bet legally online.
That was the thinking of most, if not all, sportsbooks last spring.
And yet, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened the season against the Dallas Cowboys on NBC, there was Jamie Foxx, conjuring pyrotechnics on behalf of BetMGM. This followed spots featuring a DraftKings offer of the Bucs +73 points and Caesar hyping a betting app to a throng of Roman subjects.
Viewers in California, Florida, New York and Texas, who combine for 34% of over-21 adults, saw all those spots, but could not act on them legally.
“It’s the first time that we have accepted the fact that we are reaching an audience — and, frankly, spending to reach an audience — that will not be able to directly transact with our brands,” said Matt Prevost, chief revenue officer at BetMGM, which plans 13 more spots during NBC games, as well as some on CBS. “This has been a fundamental shift for us. It is something that marks a bit of an inflection point in our brand and our advertising strategy to some extent, in that we start to take a strategy that is of a national brand versus a local, spot-by-spot brand.”
The availability of commercial spots and pregame show integrations has forced the leading sportsbooks to reconsider budgets and media plans. Arizona sportsbooks opened in time for the NFL season. Those in Connecticut, Louisiana and Maryland are not far behind. Viewers in New York could be betting by the Super Bowl.
Together, those would bring the addressable U.S. online market to 41%, or about the point at which sportsbook executives say a national buy could be cost-effective.
With that moment approaching, and six spots now available per game in the nation’s most heavily bet league, BetMGM, Caesars and DraftKings, chose to go national rather than wait, buying spots on the most expensive real estate in sports television, priced at more than $700,000 for 30 seconds.
“When you’re building a brand and are in it for the long term, the best thing you can do is seed that brand,” said Sharon Otterman, CMO of Caesars Sports. “We’re out there telling a story, and we’re entertaining. These national spots are not direct response for us. We can do direct response on channels that make sense to do direct response. This is telling our story. And even if all the population can’t act on it today, we know that a dollar invested today is going to help us in the long run. And we want to be a winner in the long run.”
Under NFL guidelines, networks can sell the category to seven league-approved sportsbooks: Official-status sponsors FanDuel, DraftKings and Caesars, as well as well as authorized operators BetMGM, PointsBet, WynnBet and Fox Bet. Networks and affiliates can sell both national and local spots, so long as viewers of a game don’t see more than six.
The Caesars spots, which are part of an episodic campaign that features comics Patton Oswalt and J.B. Smoove, will run across all four networks that air NFL games, both nationally and through local buys in legalized states in which Caesars operates.
“We start from the bottom up,” Otterman said. “We know what we have to do in each of the legalized markets to make sure that people are entertained by our message and they get to see it. And we’re able to drive downloads. And on top of that, we feel like the national media helps us.
“It’s kind of like why you put some money into savings and some into other investments.”
Otterman, who began her career in marketing at ESPN, likened the campaign, which has Caesar interacting with an irritating subject played by Oswalt, to that network’s popular “This is Sports Center” promos, which kept fans laughing for more than two decades.
“We talk a lot about spots and cost, but it’s all about ROI versus cost,” Otterman said. “At the end of the day, brands are emotional connections. And if we can truly build an emotional connection and a proposition and differentiation, then you invest in telling a story. I was lucky enough to be part of “This is Sports Center’ for a very long time. Same thing. You invest in being able to tell a story and that story resonates over time. From early signs, our story is resonating, so we want to keep telling stories.”
For BetMGM, the SNF plunge is a test. Prevost thinks the spots could prompt more users to open the app during games, driving adoption of in-play wagering. The spots could drive signups in legalized states and should raise awareness in states that have not yet opened.
While the national play will expose the brand, the core strategy for all the books remains local. The NFL now has a dozen teams playing in legalized states: The Bears, Broncos, Cardinals, Eagles, Giants, Jets, Lions, Raiders, Ravens, Saints, Steelers and Washington. BetMGM sponsors eight of them.
“In the end, we will measure performance on those individual days and those time blocks in which we’re investing [nationally] and we’ll make a decision as to whether we take a similar strategy next year,” Prevost said. “But with the prospect of another 60 million people on the horizon, I think we’ll in all likelihood come back to broadcast television.”