Simplebet: navigating COVID and powering fan engagement

In this exclusive comment Chris Bevilacqua, CEO/Co-Founder of Simplebet and Joey Levy, Co-Founder of Simplebet talk about survival and advancement, navigating COVID-19 and powering a new paradigm of fan engagement.

On March 26 of this year, we were scheduled to launch our first product on MLB Opening Day—nearly two years after founding Simplebet. For the 24 months prior, we had been working relentlessly to develop and refine the future operating system of in-play sports betting.

Our proprietary engine automatically creates, suspends, re-prices, and results in-play betting markets in real-time, and provides reliable, accurate pricing for each market selection using machine learning to refine both historical and real-time data in milliseconds.

All of this work was about to culminate into the first user experience enabling sports fans to predict the outcome of every pitch and every at-bat of every MLB game. And then, just a few weeks prior to launch, COVID-19 took the world by storm, and the sports and sports betting industries alongside it.

As Mike Tyson famously said: “Everyone has a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.” That certainly rang true for us, given we never could have planned to launch a sports betting company into a world without sports.

From there, we aggressively adjusted our plans by assuming there would be no sports until 2021 and we restructured and streamlined our organization. All costs, efforts and mindshare spent on anything outside of the development of the future operating system of in-play betting for US sports were eliminated. We recognized we would have to execute with rigor and precision if we were to survive and advance.

The first step was finding a new launch partner. The San Francisco Giants, an important Simplebet investor who was going to launch our initial product to their fans in Oracle Park, were no longer an option. Our initial sportsbook launch partner was also out of the question, given how COVID-19 upended their product roadmap and integration timeline.

After dozens of meetings and extended diligence, we were fortunate to identify the ideal launch partner in FanDuel. We agreed to launch a free-to-play version of our new operating system for in-play betting featuring our “micro-markets,” which would be delivered to their users with a reimagined user experience, all designed and developed by Simplebet.

We would effectively be consumers of our own data feed and automation platform, building a user experience and game mechanics that would make this new in-play betting experience simpler and more intuitive to a mass market of casual fans.

Results exceeded most optimistic expectations

The product launched as “FanDuel PlayAction” this NFL season. For the first time, users could predict the outcome of every play and drive of every NFL game and win cash prizes. After refining the product in an environment without a preseason, we launched to FanDuel’s broader user base for Week 4 on October 1. Since then, the results have exceeded our most optimistic expectations— the average user in Week 14 bet 71 times across the Sunday slate, and over 45 times per primetime game!

Average session lengths are 20-25 minutes, with roughly 25% of users spending an hour or more on the app, and roughly 10% of users spending two hours or more on the app. Through Weeks 4-14, we have now processed more than 5 million bets and have done this with virtually no marketing behind the product.

As the early data already suggests, in-play, micro-betting represents a generational fan engagement opportunity and may ultimately become the primary way fans consume and bet on sports in North America. And many others are beginning to agree.

Intralot and PointsBet are preparing to launch Simplebet products over the coming weeks, while leagues, teams, media companies, larger technology companies, and various other businesses and organizations are actively considering launching these new products and facilitating the acceleration of this new paradigm of fan engagement.

While it would have been hard to believe nine months ago, COVID-19 in many ways strengthened our business. As we are seeing in the media industry, decades of business practices are being upended in a matter of weeks.

Just observing two announcements in the past 30 days, Warner Brothers and Disney are both going “all-in” on DTC, moving away from their long-established wholesale models because they have both decided to put the end-user first.

Sports betting and fan engagement are now on the same path as operators realize that their end-users are demanding a different kind of experience and we are investing and innovating right into that opportunity. Thanks to the disruption of 2020, we now have a maniacal focus and an “end-user first” mentality with accelerated momentum heading into 2021.

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