There has long been one question that the plethora of books and websites dedicated to helping those wanting to create web businesses has posed: “Do you want to sell other people’s products or create your own?” Conventional wisdom was that there were two viable business models to choose from: affiliate marketing or product creation.
But in today’s igaming affiliation market, the line between the two is blurred. When it comes to sports betting, many affiliates have created their own recognisable products in a bid to help them sell those of operators.
This mirrors a more widespread shift in the online world, says Richard Moffat, CEO at OLBG. “We have seen how other industries have matured this way to the extent that many consumers will buy all their insurance products through affiliate brands such as Comparethemarket, Confused.com or GoCompare and book their holidays through affiliate brands such as Booking.com or TripAdvisor. “I’m a strong believer that, long term, the big winners in the UK sports-betting industry will be product-led affiliates with userfocused brands.”
The igaming affiliate industry is long past the point when it was sufficient to throw up a few links and pull in the cash. Particularly in the UK, a shift is now firmly underway, moving from products and content related to what had long been one of the key differentials between operators: free bets and sign-up offers.
“Affiliates have been successful in marketing operator offers and focusing on what has been the key differential between operators – the free spins offers. This was how operators marketed and affiliates took their lead from that,” says Tom Galanis, director at TAG Media. “In the UK right now we are seeing a pinch with bonuses getting taxed, so one imagines that more and more will happen on the product front.” In the long run, this move away from free offers is a positive for affiliates and could lead to more loyal players, says Ory Weihs, CEO at XL Media. “These are good methods for attaining players but I’m not a big fan of the users you get when you are just enticing them with free offerings.”
Designs for data
In sports-betting, some larger affiliates have been designing widgets that go beyond helping players compare offers and odds, such as bet slips that allow them to place bets directly through affiliate sites, tipster tools, accumulators and multibet platforms.
Partly, these are designed to keep people in an affiliate’s own ecosystem for longer and partly they are aimed at educating players. That is something that is increasingly demanded by punters, according to Henrik Lykkesteen, senior VP of product and global operations at Better Collective. “More people believe that if they have the right insights and study all the data and the analysis around an event, they have a fair chance of beating the market. As such you have a bigger portion of people that are just looking for transparency, to be well educated in the betting market and then place their bet. And they really believe they can beat the market.
“People are looking to place safe bets by following expert tipsters. It is like the financial world; they have the same mechanism where people place their money in a fund and you have expert advisers that distribute it. We see the same trend here, where people would like to have a portion of the money they spend on betting automatically follow expert tipsters from our ecosystem. These things are some of the products that we see people use and come back to our site to visit.”
However, Ian Sims, founder of affiliate compliance tool Rightlander, believes the proliferation of tipsters may become a problem in future. “Even if the UK’s Gambling Commission hasn’t said it outright, common sense says that if you are trying to get a player to bet on the basis that they can beat the bookmaker, then that is not responsible.”
He also highlights streamers as a potential area of concern. “All it takes is for a streamer to say, ‘I was in debt and I did this and got out of it’, and that’s it. Yes, streaming and tipping are filling a void at the moment but there has to be a question mark over their long-term futures.”
Sims’ words touch on the other driver of change in the UK’s affiliate landscape: compliance. A large number of operators have signed up for Rightlander and the company is also now signing up affiliates. So far, says Sims, “a handful” are on board, with two or three large affiliates trialling the product.
One issue that Rightlander has faced is that affiliates have not embraced compliance with the same rigour as operators. “Affiliates were resistant to compliance but that’s changed. The operators are showing that if you don’t comply then they are going to close your account so we are finding that affiliates are much more engaged in the compliance process now.”
In-house versus external
Another issue faced by independent product creators such as Rightlander is the tendency of the bigger affiliates to create their own products in-house. XLMedia, for example, has more than 100 in-house developers, working on not only betting tools but also compliance tools. “We have our own compliance tools that we use but we are constantly evaluating things like Rightlander and a few of the others, such as wag.io,” says Weihs.
However, one independent product that has quickly gained traction with affiliates is TAG Media’s First Look Games, a platform that connects game developers with affiliates. Galanis says it has signed up more than 180 affiliates since launching in July.
Was Galanis expecting such a large take-up? “Yes,” he says. “We’ve created a product that fills a void and solves a problem that many affiliates have faced: trying to get hold of up-to-date live content from game developers.”
A lack of relevant data means casino affiliates don’t have the opportunities enjoyed by sports-betting affiliates when it comes to developing products. But Galanis thinks there is room for better game and product visibility. Sims agrees, highlighting SlotCatalog.com as a good example of a casino affiliate site providing game analytics. “It is doing a really good job of collecting information from the various casinos and presenting it in charts. It is a typical example of the new style of affiliate site.”
XLMedia has historically been more focused on casino than sports betting and, says Weihs, its team takes a social approach to engaging users. “In casino it is more about getting the info through, getting the promotions and quality reviews. We use other forms of engagement that are more social, such as awards in various countries for best casinos or best blogs. We look for ways to engage users to give feedback or answer polls, or to play free games that might encourage them to check out the real version.”
This is in keeping with a general trend towards affiliates needing to be seen to be providing more to operators than just first-time depositors. With European jurisdictions now curtailing the use of free bets and bonuses through tax or legislation, operators are focused on affiliates that help them develop relationships that extend beyond simply one-off users. And, of course, the compliance issue is also now leading operators to scrutinise their affiliates more closely.
“Operators now would rather have fewer affiliates, provided they try to build products and make a difference in the value chain (rather than having those that just send new depositors) because they want to motivate users to place bets all the time,” says Lykkesteen.
The increasing trend towards both mobile play and users wanting to place bets while on the go is also driving the current need for products. This is one of the key trends underpinning products that allow punters to place bets quickly and directly from affiliates sites, with Lykkesteen, Weihs and Moffat all saying a significant number of players are doing so on their sportsbetting sites.
“We have helped the user reduce the time taken from deciding to place a bet on a sporting event to having that bet accepted,” says Moffat. “When most bets are placed in a small window prior to the start of a sporting event, this is important. The user doesn’t always have time to do the research, move from site to site, find the markets and so on.”
The trend for affiliates to create their own products looks set to continue, and probably even increase if the M&A we’ve seen in recent years carries on at the same pace. Right now, it seems that for igaming affiliates the answer to that central question about whether they aim to market or create products, seems to be that they want to do both.