Sports Betting Must Be More Entertaining, Interactive To Capture Gen Z

By Steven Salz, CEO & Co-founder, Rivalry

The products, brands, and entertainment we consume are a reflection of our interests and habits more than anything else, designed to fit neatly into the things we already enjoy.

Today, finding success as a consumer product means adapting to the unique consumption preferences of young Millennials and Gen Z. This is a fast-consuming, digital audience accustomed to real-time, interactive, and engaging entertainment such as video games, which is played weekly by 87% of the Gen Z demographic.

It’s a generation everlastingly online too. On average, Gen Z spends 10.6 hours engaging with online content every day, further blurring lines between internet culture and mainstream culture, where the front page of the internet has become the headlines in our everyday, IRL conversations.

For Gen Z, social connection and experiences are placed above all else, which has stunted the cohort’s appetite for online betting in the wake of its traditionally siloed and monotonous nature. Approximately 62% of Gen Z adults say they’d never bet on sports while those who have wagered online are diminishing at 36% versus 48% of Millennials.

Capturing this generation isn’t a lost cause however, but more so a matter of shaping the online betting experience to match their entertainment preferences.

Products and brands in the context of Gen Z

Reaching and engaging this digital generation means that products must now be both fundamentally entertaining and intrinsically valuable. In many cases, that means going beyond the ‘thing’ that you’re actually offering.

A product functionally working well is expected from the customer, and the true measure of success among an under-30 demographic is now how well entertainment can be injected into the experience as a whole.

Not only is this important in the context of the physical or digital product itself, but it goes for the brand and its marketing as well. Connecting these three pillars cohesively enriches the user experience and builds upon the value you’re offering your customer.

In the world of consumer products, and especially those categories where most products are perceived as the same, this combination is the new blueprint for success.

Brands like Red Bull, Robinhood, and Liquid Death are some of those to have mastered this balance, using content and stunts to differentiate themselves and beat competitors; whether that’s recording the first-ever jump from space or producing a vinyl record with lyrics made up entirely from hateful comments on the internet.

You may notice that neither of these viral campaigns are explicitly telling you to purchase the product, nor do they need to if they are inherently entertaining. This is what separates good marketing from great marketing. It connects back to the brand organically without having to literally spell it out. Doing so is more likely to create a lasting relationship with the customer because your brand intuitively exists in the category for them versus feeling they are being sold it.

Sports betting is no longer a transactional experience

While sports betting isn’t often thought of in this context, the same principles ring true.

On average, customers switch between three-to-four betting apps on their phones with little separating them outside of surface-level differences such as marginally better odds or bonuses.

This highlights the opportunity in online betting, where the shifting consumption habits of young Millennials and Gen Z fans can push sports betting beyond a historically transactional experience and toward something much more interactive and social. And soon enough, as the industry’s core demographic starts aging out, doing so won’t be optional.

Getting there however is incredibly challenging, and the online betting industry itself has remained relatively unchanged over the last several decades. At Rivalry, this has meant looking outside of the industry and drawing inspiration from other great consumer products. Here’s what we’ve learned:

Meet them on their entertainment level

Millennials and Gen Z grew up playing video games and are used to the depth, high-end graphics, and social experiences that go along with them. Meeting them on their entertainment level means taking a page out of this book and building products that are deeply engaging and fun versus something purely transactional.

Speed and functionality of a product is the bare minimum for next generation consumers;  entertainment value and design is the key in capturing their attention and loyalty.

Engineering surprising delight into otherwise mundane features like ‘cash out’ or ‘parlays,’ wrapping creative around ordinary experiences, and providing something unique for the user is what establishes a meaningful point of differentiation for your company and creates true operating leverage.

Make entertainment, not marketing

This entertainment value can’t just be siloed to the product or one vertical of the company either. There must be connective tissue between the on-site or on-product entertainment experience and the outward-facing brand you create through every marketing touchpoint.

Sports betting ads are arguably the worst at executing this, which makes them one of the best examples. These advertisements are often best characterized for their lack of creativity and vanilla call-to-actions, which usually involves a random celebrity telling you to “bet now” or “get skin in the game.” With regulated betting having unfolded across the U.S. and Canada over the last several years the results are now in, and most people hate them.

Content must now shift from marketing to entertainment, providing real value for fans that makes them laugh or smile, and is ultimately additive to the experience of being a fan. At Rivalry, this has meant forgoing traditional forms of sponsorship and thinking outside of the box with our campaigns, like sending a buff guy in a chicken costume to hijack an esports event, or having our creator partners sign “blood pacts” with demon goats.

This thinking lends itself to more memorable moments and organic word-of-mouth marketing that is key to unlocking true brand equity and below-market cost of customer acquisition.

Internet culture is now mainstream culture

Today, internet culture has become mainstream culture, gaming is the bridge, and the tastemakers of tomorrow are being defined everyday.

Delivering brand success in this digital landscape now means revolving around the interests of a customer cohort fluent in memes, irony, and living on the edge of the internet and online trends.

Brands that can speak this language through unique content, innovative marketing, and engaging products that tie into online culture and experiences will not only earn the respect of this audience, but increase its overall viral coefficient, driving tangible business outcomes.

An intimate understanding of these audiences and cultures will shape the next generation of great consumer products, and the sports betting industry, too, is poised to experience its own revolutionary change in the coming years driven by Gen Z’s discrete tastes.