Why sports betting brands should change their affiliate marketing tactics

Why sports betting brands should change their affiliate marketing tactics

LEE-ANN JOHNSTONE uncovers what the lasting legacy of this unprecedented period could be, as brands continue to innovate and improve their marketing strategies

Published 28th April 2021

Covid-19 has of course affected many industries, igaming being just one of them. Sports betting has arguably taken the biggest hit, as events that were scheduled to take place all over the world were cancelled. This in turn has impacted a lot of sports betting affiliates and caused them to focus efforts on other verticals. We saw a significant loss in revenue for affiliates and operators who needed to innovate quickly to remain afloat in adverse conditions, with limited sports activity to promote.


Sportsbooks have been diversifying budgets and there has been a significant focus to really engage other sports channels such as live fantasy and esports. These particular niches were already harbouring more interest in igaming as a whole but Covid-19 certainly bolstered their popularity. We are seeing much more enthusiasm for esports from affiliates who are looking into alternative rankings than ever before. The numbers tell this story too, with the Gambling Commission’s most recent stats on esports betting showing that while the gross gaming yield has settled back from its peak last May, when it hit around £4m, it still generated roughly £1.4m in November 2020. This is well above the paltry £50,000 it was doing back in March 2019.

We have also seen greater restrictions on traditional advertising channels such as TV and sports sponsorship globally, which means operators have had to change their marketing tactics and look for new ways to spend the money that was traditionally allocated there. With no events on the short-term horizon, a popular choice has been to spend more of that budget on trying wider partnership channels such as affiliate and influencer marketing. It’s also seen affiliates utilise other social media channels such as Twitch and YouTube, neither of which they had really engaged before, creating more robust branding opportunities. SEO, while still important, doesn’t seem to be the only way affiliates are driving traffic and building their communities these days.

Previously, a big priority was always to secure land on the big corporate affiliate sites, such as Better Collective, Catena Media and XLMedia. However, this has begun to change with smaller affiliate portals moving up the rankings as they build strong, engaged audiences through more thorough, diversified marketing strategies. The power of their communities allows them to drive a high-quality volume of traffic that can be significant to a smaller operator or brand if they are willing to try new strategies and traffic sources in the usual mix.


For now, affiliate managers not harnessing the power of social selling to build rapport and promote their affiliate offers are simply being ignorant to the change that is taking place. Traditional sales methods and cold-calling tactics no longer work. We need to invest in continued education so that front line marketing staff are equipped to deal with the digital change we are all moving through, right now. Affiliates are the first to master new traffic-driving channels to increase traffic to their sites. The result of this behaviour is something that is still under-utilised by brands and needs to be capitalised on.

There also needs to be an understanding that the affiliate management role is changing, and that brands who evolve with it will stay in the race, while those that don’t and keep doing the same old tasks and tactics will slowly be left behind. This isn’t about building relationships any more, it’s about providing your partners with data, intelligent promotions and an affiliate experience that provides the same level of customer service and personalisation you offer to your players. It’s about integrating the affiliate channel into your wider digital marketing mix and not keeping it operating as an appendage on the side of your other digital activities.

Affiliate marketing in igaming is operating way behind other industries in terms of managing data to do effective attribution modelling around sales and delivery. Personalisation and active programme management is the only way forward. The days of odds and pricing leading your brand growth surely have to be changing. Many sports betting programmes took the path of consolidation and reduction of active affiliates to manage regulatory constraints, because tracking platforms couldn’t provide the right level of automation or compliance in the same way that player platforms do. We’ve seen new tools come to market to help address these issues, and that seems to have helped stabilise the growth of programmes again as brands continue to seek new traffic sources and partners to engage with. Quality over quantity needs to be your new affiliate strategy.

The way we work with influencers, and the compliance restrictions we have to follow, must be managed if we want to see growth in the channel continue. And most importantly, we need to see more innovation. New traffic sources must be leveraged, and programmes should also look to leverage agencies in terms of accessing their broad range of expertise against in-house managed programmes. Too often we see clients that are managing themselves into an early grave because they have stopped testing new sources of traffic and are fearful of changing the status quo. We’re living in a disruptive industry, we cannot afford to remain stagnant in the way we market online.

Affiliates who want to earn need to get more serious about compliance and understanding the marketing codes of conduct and advertising policies that govern the regions they are focusing on. This is constantly evolving, and being a small or hobbyist affiliate is no excuse. For me, one of the great things about working in the igaming industry is that it is incredibly friendly and hopefully we can take the global kindness philosophy we have learned from the pandemic and apply it to our partners and work relationships in business. The objective of affiliate marketing is to build a mutually beneficial partnership after all, but that is hard to do when nobody wants to be totally honest about what’s working and what isn’t.


The reality is, if affiliate managers stay still, they’ll get left behind. Keep looking ahead to improve your affiliates’ experiences, and offer your players more personalisation and better player management. Let’s clean up the industry and start looking after the affiliates that drive the majority of traffic coming into it – I’m pretty sure they’ll take care of your business growth. For me, this year is about going big, or keep trying! If nothing else, you’ll still learn and kill time lucratively while waiting for the end of Covid-19 global disruption.