In the evolving landscape of sports betting, leagues and operators are constantly seeking innovative strategies to create mutually beneficial partnerships. Understanding the dynamics between betting operators and sports leagues is crucial for enhancing fan engagement and driving the growth of sports entities.

Insider Sport spoke to Owen Welsh, VP of Sports Betting, Gaming, and Innovation at the Canadian Football League (CFL), to find out more about the strategies and best practices that have informed its betting partnerships, ahead of his appearance at the Canadian Gaming Summit (CGS) next week.

Source: CFL

What strategies have you found to be most effective in fostering mutually beneficial relationships between betting operators and the league?

The effective strategies we’ve found that work include maintaining regular communication and developing an in-person connection, which allows you to better understand the people behind the brands and what everyone is facing. These interactions build trust and ensure alignment of goals when looking to develop a plan-of-attack for the season.

Finding ways to add value to each other’s businesses is also crucial. For example, this year we’ve leaned into offering insights and data that betting operators might not have because they aren’t focused on the gameplay the way we are. 

We set-up meetings with our head of stats to better understand the data we’ve been tracking and measuring ourselves against. By aligning product and marketing teams, we can collaboratively develop initiatives that resonate with our fan base. This ensures that both parties are working towards common goals, enhancing the overall experience for CFL fans and creating a symbiotic relationship.

How important is it to ensure not only regulatory compliance, but emphasise the best interest of the CFL’s fans when collaborating with gaming entities?

Ensuring regulatory compliance is foundational, but prioritising our fans’ best interests is equally vital. We promote responsible wagering and ensure our Authorised Gaming Operator partnerships are fully compliant with regulations. Our approach includes continuously engaging with our partners, providing suggestions and insights that enhance the betting experience for CFL fans. This not only improves the product, but also ensures fans have a positive and safe experience. 

By featuring CFL marks and promotions on betting platforms, we enhance the betting experience, leading to increased fan engagement and mutual benefits for both the CFL and operators. Simply put, we determine what our fans are looking for and find ways to give it to them throughout partnerships.

In what ways do operator partnerships enhance fan engagement and the viewers’ experiences of the CFL?

Operator partnerships significantly enhance fan engagement and viewing experiences. We know that now after two years of legalisation and one full season in our Authorised Gaming Operator model. Research indicates that fans who bet on the CFL are more engaged with their favourite team and follow the League more intensely. 

These partnerships offer new and existing fans additional ways to engage with the CFL, making the experience more enjoyable and immersive. Responsible wagering can be a fun experience for fans, and through our operator relationships, we can reach more sports enthusiasts across Canada, improving their overall experience and deepening their connection to the league.

What advantages do betting partnerships offer in contributing to the growth and reach of the CFL?

Betting partnerships provide several advantages for the CFL’s growth and reach. They offer fans new ways to engage with the game through diverse betting markets, enhancing their overall experience. 

Operators can quickly adapt to market trends and fan interests, creating timely and relevant betting opportunities. This can be enhanced through improved communication between leagues and operators. This responsiveness helps keep the CFL exciting and engaging for fans. 

Additionally, different operators bring unique advantages, such as localised expertise and the ability to swiftly evolve markets. These partnerships extend the CFL’s reach, attract new fans, and ultimately drive growth.

Is alignment of goals and values critical to successful partnerships for the CFL? Can you cite some examples of this?

Alignment of goals and values is critical for successful partnerships. Our partnership with FanDuel in the Ontario market exemplifies this. We both aim to engage CFL fans on and off platform in-season, which naturally enhances their experience. Aligning on values and objectives was one of the first steps in our partnership discussions. 

Occasionally, revisiting and realigning goals and values is necessary to address any gaps. This year, new betting markets have been introduced as a direct result of our shared insights and collaboration, demonstrating the importance of a mutually beneficial partnership.

What insights or lessons has the CFL onboarded from other sports leagues, both in Canada and overseas, when developing its own approach to betting partnerships?

The CFL has gathered valuable insights from major US leagues, which had legalised sports betting earlier. The key lessons include the use of official league data to help ensure the best experience for fans, the importance of on-platform marks to build credibility of the product you stand behind, and effective data sharing for education purposes. These elements have been integral to developing our Authorised Gaming Operator model in Canada and beyond.

Which sports technologies are having the most influence on innovating and redefining the role betting partnerships play in fan experience?

Technological advancements are pivotal in innovating betting partnerships and enhancing fan experiences. The CFL’s partnership with Genius Sports has significantly improved access to our stats platform, providing real-time data to more bettors and operators. This ensures fans have the most accurate and up-to-date information. 

Additionally, we are rolling out augmented data enhanced broadcast feeds and other fan-facing digital products that are infused with real-time sports data, which enrich the fan experience by adding new game insights and features. This use of cutting-edge technology not only enhances the viewing experience, but also drives brand perception through innovation, making the CFL more appealing and engaging to current and prospective fans.

To what extent has sports consumer demand influenced the way the CFL and wider Canadian sports ecosystem’s relationship with betting has developed?

Sports consumer demand has significantly shaped the CFL’s approach to betting. It has opened up fan engagement, new revenue and growth opportunities for the League, leading the CFL to develop strategic betting partnerships and initiatives across provinces. 

Additionally, the increased demand has necessitated investments in infrastructure and regulatory compliance, ensuring our partnerships offer secure and responsible betting offerings. This comprehensive approach benefits both the league and its fans, driving growth and engagement. We’re excited to see how this evolves over time.

What do you expect CGS attendees to learn from your panel about the relationship between sports stakeholders and operators?

Attendees will gain valuable insights into the evolving Canadian sports landscape, including the latest perspectives and tools available to protect the integrity of the game. They will hear from properties about their views beyond sponsorship revenue, understanding how leagues and teams balance fan engagement and innovation. 

This broader perspective will help attendees appreciate the complexities and opportunities in the relationship between sports stakeholders and operators, which highlights the importance of collaboration and shared goals in driving success.

Owen Welsh, along with other Canadian and US sports and betting stakeholders, will be speaking at the Canadian Gaming Summit from June 18-20, 2024 next week at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Click HERE to purchase your ticket and gain access to all three days of the Summit, including the Player Protection Symposium.

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