The short-lived run of BetStars in the United States is over.
After a couple months of preparations, parent company The Stars Group (TSG) recently rolled out its rebranded sportsbook in New Jersey. The new-look platform is also working though its soft-launch in Pennsylvania, with an official launch imminent pending final approval.
It’s not called BetStars anymore, though.
TSG now conducts sports betting in both states under the Fox Bet brand following a landmark deal with Fox Sports. And thanks to market-access agreements with both Eldorado Resorts and Penn National Gaming, the product could eventually be available in as many as 20 states.
Illinois passed the necessary legislation for online sports betting this year and could be ready to go live in early 2020. When it does, Fox Bet will be there.
Indiana and Tennessee are coming soon too, possibly even before the end of 2019.
Including Pennsylvania, those four states have a combined population of nearly 40 million (compared to New Jersey’s 9 million).
It’s no wonder TSG wanted to get its branding hammered out right now. The company is looking at a fivefold increase in its US market reach over the next year.
TSG seems to be fully walking away from BetStars around the globe.
The company acquired the big British brand Sky Betting and Gaming last July for $4.7 billion — a record transaction in the online gambling industry. The sportsbook it bought, Sky Bet, is by far the largest component of its entire operation.
TSG is already working to phase the inferior BetStars brand out of Europe in favor of its new “Sky Bet by Stars” moniker. It has only made the change in Italy so far, but Germany and other European countries should follow next year.
In Australia, meanwhile, there’s no potential for cross-marketing. A 2017 change in the law forced unlicensed operators, including TSG, to discontinue their poker and casino operations in the country. It has therefore elected to partner with a local brand, BetEasy, to continue offering sports betting Down Under.
Why, though, is TSG only rebranding its sportsbook and not all verticals? Why is it still PokerStars and PokerStars Casino in the US, rather than Fox Poker and Fox Casino?
The most obvious reason is that PokerStars is a long-standing, well-established brand.
It’s true that most Americans have not been able to use to its real-money product since 2011, and even residents of New Jersey only regained access in 2015. Even so, the company remains deeply tied to online poker’s boom — at least among the over-30 demographic old enough to be affected by Black Friday.
Although it was caught on the wrong side of things at the time, TSG subsequently established goodwill in the US poker community through its purchase of Full Tilt and reimbursement of its players.
That argument only holds for poker, of course, since casino games are almost as new as sports betting for TSG. BetStars and PokerStars Casino both launched in 2015.
As for why TSG is sticking with PokerStars Casino instead of Fox Casino, it might as simple as it seems. Fox might just not be interested in dabbling beyond sports.
Fox Bet is seen as a bit of a public image risk for the Rupert Murdoch production, as many TV-watching Americans hold conservative views of gambling. Any media company involved in both activities risks backlash from a segment of its viewers.
When it comes to sports betting and a network like Fox Sports, however, there’s a natural connection between the two. There’s also plenty of precedent for the discussion of bookmaking odds within a broadcast.
Establishing an associated betting brand is just a small step from that, whereas a full-service online casino represents a larger leap into potentially controversial territory.
We can also turn the question around. Why is PokerStars only taking this special marketing approach for sports betting? Why wouldn’t it stay the course with BetStars and maintain consistent branding across verticals?
PokerStars might be an elite brand in online poker, but “Stars” doesn’t carry nearly as much weight in sports and casino. TSG was long gone from the US by the time it established BetStars and PokerStars Casino.
Even in Europe and other d0t-com markets, performance for these brands has been lackluster. Prior to the acquisition of SBG (and ignoring the Australian operations of BetEasy), non-poker gaming accounted for less than 30% of TSG’s international revenue. Sports betting through BetStars represented less than 6%.
If not for the acquisition, the company may well have continued to bank on its own brand. With a much larger competitor now living under the same roof, however, it no longer makes much sense to do so.
If it’s going to be Sky Bet by Stars in Europe, it’s pointless to retain the BetStars brand for the US and a few small markets elsewhere.
That brings us to the final and possibly most important point: Sports betting is regionally idiosyncratic in a way that poker and casino games are not.
Certain forms of poker are more popular in some parts of the world than others, of course, but it’s still mostly Hold’em wherever you go. Particularly in the dot-com online market, players are used to playing opponents from all over the globe.
European and Asian casino-goers may likewise differ in terms of their relative preference for roulette versus baccarat, but gamblers and poker players around the world have more commonalities than differences.
This is not the case with sports, and catering to bettors requires a more-localized approach to marketing.
Some of the differences — such as the way odds are expressed — are minor and easy to customize or retool. Fundamentally, though, sports betting is rooted in the culture and the nature of the sports being wagered on. And sports culture varies greatly from country to country.
In the UK, soccer and tennis are the most popular sports to bet on. In the US, it’s football and basketball.
Naturally, the difference in popularity informs which promotions a site runs and how much real estate it allocates within its website or app. Structural differences between sports, however, also have a deeper impact on the conduct of betting.
Football and basketball are high-scoring games, which makes spread betting disproportionately popular in the US. Given the comparative pace of football, American viewers are also more accustomed to advertising breaks during games. Though the concept will initially be a novelty to most American bettors, in-play mobile betting fits nicely into the American sports that revolve around frequent pauses.
Of course, regionalized marketing needs don’t preclude a global branding presence.
If McDonald’s can serve kimchi burgers in South Korea and McCurry in India, a global sportsbook can customize local offerings without changing its identity. Establishing consistency and customer loyalty is the point of branding, after all.