Betting Experts Roundtable: Road to World Cup 2022
World Cups are the pinnacle of the sports betting calendar to attract new customers and drive engagement, but with the 2022 tournament unusually taking place in the winter, what does this mean for betting trends? As operators prepare for the biggest tournament of the year, we spoke with multiple providers from the sports betting industry to examine how this year’s event could unfold…
SBC: Given the change of timings for this year’s World Cup, are you and your operator partners approaching the tournament differently compared to a summer event?
Sergey Tsukanov (Chief Sportsbook Operator @ Betby): If we lived in the pre-pandemic world, where sporting calendars were so rigid and traditional, I would have said that it would change the approach to the tournament considerably. However, now that sport is so used to the uncertainty and fluidity in its scheduling, the idea to host a World Cup in winter now doesn’t seem as abnormal.
Yes, there will be less build-up to the event, so interest may be slightly reduced amongst casual bettors, but it is up to the industry to bring creativity to ensure that levels of engagement and interaction mimic those of last summer’s European Championships. As is the case with any major sporting event, we’ll work with operators to work on competitive, interesting lines and markets.
Paul Lowery (Head of Sports @ Checkd Group): In the usual run of things, the tournament is held in mid-summer and that means there is a break for punters between the end of the domestic season and the action kicking off. However, Qatar 2022 takes place while the regular season is in full swing. This makes the traditional August ‘courting season’ for bookmakers even more important, as they look to capture the loyalty of customers and lock that allegiance in for the season.
In terms of the tournament schedule, the daily approach to games will not be too different from a standard summer World Cup. That said, with four games taking place per day in the group stage, it may lead to more selective bookmaker offers. I’d expect to see strong headline offers on the 10am and 1pm kick-offs as bookmakers look to attract customers to the early games and keep their spend secured on the later matches.
Suren Khachatryan (Founder& CEO 0f Technamin): The World Cup is an international event that has always included the most number of fans, participants and of course, bettors. This year’s will be held at the end of the year in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, for the first time, but what never changes is its status as one of the most engaging sport events in the world, one that unites people on a global scale. Traditionally, the June season has been significant as all the other world’s biggest championships would have already ended by that time, therefore allowing bettors to totally focus their attention on the World Cup matches. This year, the season is different, but the betting pattern will generally remain the same – bettors will continue their active predictions and engagement. In addition, no other famous championship is taking place simultaneously for this season, allowing the audience to enjoy the monumental matches of the world’s leading football clubs.
Malte Hegeler (Head of Product Development @ OddsMatrix): With the World Cup taking place in winter, it means that, right now, our primary focus is on the sport that takes place before the first game kicks off in Qatar. The Premier League season is restarting in early August, a week earlier than usual due to the impact of the mid-season World Cup, but the summer ‘pause’, throughout much of June and July, is still a great time to launch new features and clients. We’ll be moving ahead with the launch of our US front-end, our baseball Bet Builder, and our in-house odds model for basketball, across NBA and FIBA. While it is a little too early to talk about our World Cup plans, the global showpiece will certainly come into focus towards the end of the year, from the end of Q3.
SBC: With the World Cup taking place in the lead-up to Christmas, do you feel this could impact engagement rates? Or will we see increased participation as more bettors stay at home to watch the action?
PL: Generally, TV ratings increase during the winter months as people stay at home amid colder weather. This could potentially lead to an increase in the percentage of leisure spending attributed to betting, as people shun the beer gardens for their living rooms. However, with cost of living increases and energy bills on the rise, there are many unknowns which could have an impact on the overall betting spend on the tournament. Ultimately, if Gareth Southgate’s England side have a deep run in the competition, the public will be caught up in the furore, just as we saw last summer.
SK: From the betting perspective, the bettors will stay engaged throughout the championship, despite the weather conditions and season. Online betting makes it possible to bet under any circumstances from the comfort of one’s home. Christmas would not be an obstacle as well, as the true fans will always find time to follow the world’s biggest event. Moreover, not everyone observes Christmas during the wintertime, therefore the season will remain significant due to the event. And what better way to enjoy the winter holidays than to sit with friends and family and watch the game? It’s like Christmas with added flavour!
MH: We find that for our European clients, there is a general pattern that colder weather produces higher turnover, as most people go on vacations during the hotter months when the majority of sport is paused. However, it might be that other factors come into play given the unique timing of the tournament. A World Cup that starts in November faces higher ‘betting competition’, as it is up against a host of sports that are in full season. The NFL and NBA will be in full swing by then, along with various basketball and ice hockey competitions, all of which are usually in their off-season when a summer World Cup is being played. It is difficult to predict exactly what will happen with engagement rates and it could all come down to how successful the bigger nations are in the competition.
ST: I think the level of player and fan involvement will be a little less than usual due to the density of the calendar, as national competitions will be in full swing, with many even carrying on as normal during the tournament, rather than the broad pause that usually occurs with summer sporting events. In addition, a number of US sports such as the NBA, NFL and NHL seasons are already underway, probably occupying much of the time in the emerging markets of North America. In addition, it will be the run up to Christmas, so you may also see reduced spending there.
SBC: What betting trends can we expect from this winter’s World Cup? Will the humidity impact player performances and how you price certain matches/outcomes?
SK: Considering the popularity of the event, bettors will possibly be more engaged to place bets on the outrights, especially determining the winner of the World Cup. Moreover, the statistical markets take over during the World Cup events such as yellow cards, corners, shot on targets, offsides, ect. We will keep our audience engaged by offering the highest odds as well as fast and user-friendly betting experience, ensuring a joyful journey throughout the championship. Despite the unique season and location for the World Cup event, we expect a fully engaging and entertaining betting experience. That’s what’s exciting about our industry! There’s a lot of change, and the thrill of adapting to these changes is what keeps us moving forward.
MH: The stadiums in Qatar will have air conditioning, so it seems unlikely that there will be an adverse impact on player performance. In terms of betting trends, the football world will pause in excitement to watch games one (or two) at a time, so we expect that multi-game multiples will create much less turnover that you would usually find during the football season.
However, we expect to encounter a much higher share of Bet Builder bets (which we now offer for 11 sports), both pre-game and live. There will also be more of a focus placed on player markets and exotic bets – substitutions or hitting the woodwork for example – because bookmakers are inclined to innovate around big tournaments, even if the turnover on these bets is low. Tournament outrights will be popular and as always, we expect to see the bulk of the turnover coming through the usual markets – such as 1×2, Over/Under, Both Teams to Score, Handicap – though influenced much more by (patriotic) emotions. Operators based in competing countries face unsecure profit and loss predictions, with a single match – or even a single kick – possibly having a decisive effect on their monthly returns.
ST: It will be interesting to see how things play out, though in truth, it’s very early to be discussing trends with the international event being so far away still. A lot can change in six months! However, with no clear cut ‘Groups of Death’, it could be an underwhelming group stage for viewers, especially considering the limited expectations on the host nation. In addition to this, the world’s top players – while not having much time to gel and build chemistry with their nations – should be up to full fitness and ready to hit the ground running, rather than finishing gruelling campaigns that both mentally and physically challenging. It could be a real tournament for the favourites.
PL: History tells us that international games tend to be lower scoring regardless of geography. Though I would expect the humidity to have an impact on the pace of games, I think there was already a built-in expectation for cagey affairs, especially early in the tournament when there is a strong desire to avoid costly group-stage defeats. In terms of market trends, I think there will be a further continuation towards the stats-type markets that have proved so popular week-to-week for bookmakers. Player Shots, Tackles, Assists and other stats-based selections have added to options within Bet Builder products and this has helped customers to build bets at bigger price points, increasing engagement levels with casual punters and helping to drive increased revenues.