‘Put the pedal to the metal’: Yahoo Sports finds big appetite for action among its first-time bettors

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Sports betting proponents spent much of 2020 talking about pent-up demand for bets. Verizon Media Group appears to have unlocked a lot of it.

With Super Bowl Sunday just days away, Verizon-owned Yahoo Sports has already blown past the content consumption targets it set for its betting-specific articles and videos, which it created partly to support a partnership it forged with the sports book BetMGM. Through 2020, the articles have piled up over 220 million views, and a separate batch of betting-focused videos has tallied more than 69 million views, more than triple the number of views expected, Yahoo Sports general manager Geoff Reiss said.

But the people consuming that content are also betting, and they are often betting more than once. Nearly a year into its partnership with BetMGM, the average bettor from Yahoo Sports is placing wagers at a rate that would total $6,000 in bets per year, according to a source inside Yahoo.

That source would not say how many customers Yahoo Sports has sent to BetMGM overall, but the number is expected to grow significantly this weekend, as betting-curious people try their luck betting on the Super Bowl. The source said Yahoo is expecting to grow its base of bettors by 20% this weekend.

While not every Super Bowl bettor will turn into a habitual gambler, Yahoo execs are confident that its ecosystem can turn many of the first-timer bettors it attracts into repeat customers.

“We’ve proven that our ecosystem works,” Verizon Media consumer Joanna Lambert said.

Just as it has for its fast-growing commerce business, Verizon has leveraged its ecosystem to drive results for BetMGM. This year, it has put Yahoo Sports betting content on the Yahoo homepage, targeted betting offers at people using Yahoo Mail and aimed it at users across the rest of the Verizon Media Group ecosystem.

In the past month, BetMGM began embedding Yahoo Sports content on its own properties as well.

“The result has been wildly beyond our expectations,” said Reiss.

Some of the changes Yahoo Sports has made are designed to make betting information more visible on surfaces familiar to sports fans. Inside Yahoo Sports’ mobile app, for example, the over-under, a term for the projected number of points two opposing teams will score in a game that’s used to set prop bets, is now displayed beneath every matchup.

Yahoo also built features into different sections of its app, ranging from links to articles explaining what a point spread is to a virtual “front door” where users can line up bets that they will place on BetMGM’s app; for regulatory reasons, users have to exit Yahoo’s app and enter BetMGM’s to make wagers.

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The ads and offers that Yahoo queues up for would-be bettors are context-specific. A person looking at a scoreboard before a game begins might get an offer for a straight bet on the outcome of that contest; a person looking at several scores might get an offer for a parlay, in which a person bets on multiple results at once.

Many sports publishers in addition to Yahoo went into 2020 expecting to kick off highly lucrative media and performance partnerships with sports books. Thanks to the coronavirus, most spent the first half of the year doing something very different, though by the time the NFL season rolled around, many saw encouraging engagement. Yahoo Sports, for example, said that almost 90% of their betting content consumption happened in the second half of 2020.

Verizon Media executives expect that momentum to keep building. while many expect that the effects of coronavirus could linger for much of 2021, the year’s sports schedule, including gambling tentpoles such as March Madness, the Masters and the NBA Playoffs, should be held this year.

And on top of that, the base of possible bettors will continue to grow as more states launch their sports betting operations.

“By the end of this year, 35% of the country will be in a legal betting state. So we’ve been able to dip our toe in as states have gradually opened,” Lambert said. “I think this is the moment to put the pedal to the metal.”

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