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David Vs Goliath

By Aaron Noy

Steve Ruddock, content director and lead analyst at BettingUSA, explores what it’s like as a smaller affiliate going up against the industry giants, and why bigger isn’t always better

Affiliates are one of the biggest beneficiaries of the post-PASPA US sports betting boom. Like the gambling industry writ large, as legal online gambling spreads across the US, the affiliate landscape has also undergone a radical change.

Gone are the days of anyone with $10 for an internet domain slapping up a few boilerplate reviews and creating an affiliate account with online gambling websites. The new reality is a heavily regulated industry that requires affiliates to navigate licensing structures in multiple states, as well as being elevated to Fourth Estate status.

As such, an affiliate in the legal US market in 2021 is unrecognisable from their predecessors of just a decade ago.

The modern gambling affiliate

It’s not difficult to become a US gambling affiliate, but it is difficult (and costly) to break into the second or even third tier. Legislative and regulatory news is now compulsory, and readers expect high-level journalism, not to mention a constant need for updates.

In sum, affiliates need to cover the big stories of the day and somehow keep up with the parade of legislative news and the seemingly neverending trickle of operators entering the 20-something (and growing) US markets.

A from-scratch entry into the US market at this point is something of a fool’s errand. Operating in the US online gambling market requires 20-plus individual licences, forming relationships with dozens of licensed operators and putting together a content team that is not only capable of producing high-quality evergreen content on a permanent loop, but that also has a grasp of the legislative and regulatory landscape.

That helps explain why giant multinational affiliate companies bought their way into the US affiliate market. They gobbled up most of the licensed independent affiliates that had the foresight to operate in the burgeoning space.

These companies sowed plenty of seeds in the period before the monumental Supreme Court decision opened the door to legal sports betting beyond Nevada, and now their gamble has paid off and they are reaping the benefits.

Carving out a space in the US market

Major affiliates like Catena Media and Better Collective have certainly cornered the US market, but it’s not mere scraps that everyone else is fighting over. There is plenty of room for the hardworking affiliate, big or small, to carve out some market share and elevate themselves as a trusted source.

Smaller companies like BettingUSA.com cannot carpet bomb a new and prospective market with news, reviews, press releases and multimedia across a network of national and state-dedicated sites. Instead, our approach is more focused by necessity, using the proverbial scalpel.

The size of your team may only allow you to operate a single site or a small network of sites, and even then, determining what is newsworthy or merely requires a page update is a challenge. Nor are there enough available writers to travel down that path if one wanted to do so.

That makes it quite challenging to compete with the biggest affiliates in terms of volume, industry contacts and speed. As such, our focus is on excellence and providing an authentic voice.

What a small affiliate shouldn’t do is try to imitate the big players. A scaled-down version of Catena or Better Collective is a redundant product that offers zero value to the consumer. We may not be the first company to post a story, but we can put together a comprehensive column that delves into the minutiae others may have overlooked in their quest to be first.

Bigger is and isn't better

On the other hand, just like a company selling high-quality custom products can thrive in a marketplace filled with big-box retailers, affiliates need to ask what they bring to the table that others can’t easily replicate.

The reason being, easily copied products or content won’t save you as a small affiliate. The major players will reverse engineer whatever you’re doing, and with more resources to pull from, they’ll quickly do it better.

Of course, our size and independence allow us to be quite nimble. We don’t have shareholders to appease and we can make decisions without worrying about the immediate bottom-line impact or justifying the decision.

Bottom line, you have to be different, lest your voice gets lost within the cacophony of the gambling industry.

Closing thoughts

Much like the sportsbooks themselves, how the US affiliate sector shakes out over the next few years is anyone’s guess. It’s too early to pick winners, particularly with the acquisitions occurring and the possibility of a company like ESPN deciding to go down the affiliate road.

There’s also a growing concern that a Europeanesque advertising crackdown drifts across the Atlantic, with the affiliate industry likely to be swept up in it.

With so much uncertainty, the only thing we can do is remain authentic and provide our readers with valuable and insightful content they cannot find elsewhere. To stay true to our responsible gaming values and cover the stories we think are essential, regardless of relationship.

That is our USP and that ultimately will allow us to succeed as an online sports betting affiliate in the regulated US market.


Steve Ruddock

brought his 20-plus years of experience in the gambling industry to BettingUSA.com when he joined the team in 2019. Steve is a highly respected and oft-cited voice in the legal online gambling space, both for his knowledge and expertise, as well as his commitment to bring higher standards of responsible gambling to the industry.

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