DraftKings Director Talks Sports Betting, Bookmaking in New Sports Landscape

Posted on July 22, 2020 - Last Updated on August 31, 2020

More than half — 56% — of people surveyed reported missing sports a lot during coronavirus-caused shutdowns, according to a recent national study conducted by DraftKings.

Perhaps the other 44% are content to survive off streaming services and alcoholic slushies.

However, the majority miss live sports and are done with replays. But they won’t have to suffer through life without major sports much longer.

  • MLB: 60-game season starts on Thursday, July 22, with Phillies and Pirates openers on July 24.
  • NHL: Restarts with exhibition games, including one between the Flyers and Penguins, on July 28, and qualifying series Aug. 1.
  • NBA: Resumes with seeding games on July 30.
  • NFL: Season expected to start on Sept. 10.

Fans ready for sports

DraftKings surveyed 1,000 self-identified sports fans “to better understand the future of sports fandom” during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some interesting insights about the current state of the American sports fan include:

  • 56% reported taking developments around COVID-19 more seriously following league cancellations
  • 1 in every 4 fans began following a new sport as a result of league cancellations, with eSports as the most popular newly followed sport
  • The NBA is the live sport fans are most looking forward to, followed by MLB opening day
  • 1 in every 5 fans do not plan to be in-stadium again until a cure for the virus is identified
  • 66% think it’s important for live sports to return between now and September
  • Respondents feel that the NFL and NBA have had the best responses/reactions to the outbreak of COVID-19
  • 42% will watch all sports, regardless of overlapping schedules; 40% will prioritize one or two leagues

A pivot creates new options

Johnny Avello, director of operations at DraftKings, has seen a lot in his 40 years in the gaming industry, but never anything like the past few months. Coronavirus canceled March Madness, the biggest betting event of the year. It delayed the start of the MLB season, the end of the NBA season and the NHL season and playoffs.

But it wasn’t game over for DraftKings. Instead, it held firm to its spot as the No. 2 operator in Pennsylvania in terms of handle and revenue.

“The company has done a great job,” said Avello. “We have been able to pivot and find additional content for our customers. It’s worked out pretty well for us, and we are optimistic on what the future holds.”

Avello said that over the past three months, there were multiple sports and ideas that DraftKings explored. It found that there was interest in things like darts, certain international soccer matches and table tennis that Avello thought would never be embraced by bettors. He said:

“You always look for content, and now that we’ve found it, it’s going to be part of our everyday offerings. It forced us to go out and find something we wouldn’t be looking for.”

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Cautiously optimistic

Avello said that since the PGA returned in the middle of June, every week has been better than the previous week.

“When you go through a period like that (coronavirus-shutdowns of major sports) and are able to sustain a good portion of the action you’ve lost, you can’t be anything but optimistic,” he said.

What is DraftKings’ outlook now that mainstream sports are returning? Avello said:

“We are really optimistic about sports betting over this upcoming period of time, but also cautious. As a bookmaker, your teams are put together, but they can be dismantled quickly. You have to stay on top of it on a daily basis.”

Futures betting market is strong at DraftKings

Despite the uncertainty of the coronavirus and whether an outbreak will cut a season short, Avello says bettors have not been shy about placing futures bets. He said:

“Futures bets are as strong as ever, especially over the past three weeks. Bettors know if something happened and the season wasn’t completed, they would get their money back. In a 60-game season, that gives the teams that wouldn’t win it over the long haul, because their bullpen would be depleted or they didn’t have a deep enough pitching staff, a chance. We’re seeing a lot of action on the longer-odds teams.”

How DraftKings will adjust to not having fans at games

It looks like there will be no fans at MLB, NHL and NBA games. It raises the question, is there still a home-field advantage? How will sportsbooks adapt to games being played in empty stadiums?

Avello said each sport will be different. For baseball, there will still be something of a home-field advantage, since teams are playing at their own ballparks and doing less traveling.

“There won’t be fans, which will change the dynamic some,” he said. “How much? We are not exactly sure yet. But we will make adjustments from game to game.”

For the NBA and NHL, there will be no traditional home court/home ice. Avello said:

“I don’t know what that will mean for scoring, if players will be more focused or it will be less because they don’t have crowd noise to give them additional momentum. There are a lot of unknowns.”

What if a star player tests positive?

Major League Baseball tests players every other day for coronavirus. Since July 13, no NBA players have tested positive. Two NHL players out of 800 have tested positive since training camp started.

What if a player like Bryce Harper tests positive? And how will it impact betting lines if a player(s) tests positive? Avello explained:

“Any time a player is out, whether he is injured or sick, the lines are going to be adjusted. For bookmakers, the thing we have to keep an eye on is the futures wagers. If Harper is out for two weeks [and] they are playing 60 games, and it’s a quarter of the season. We have to be careful on the futures wagers. Some of those teams who are normally big long shots do have a chance in this type of environment, and more so if a few teams lost some of their major players.”

College football

The Big Ten and the Pac-12 are going to play a conference-only schedule. It looks like the ACC will follow suit. What does this mean for DraftKings, especially since teams usually use the out-of-conference games as tune-ups?

“There are going to be less games to wager on. We are going to have less amount of games to book,” Avello said. “Every game is important as a bookmaker. You miss a few games, it’s not a big deal. You miss 50 games, it is a big deal.”

Preseason gives the players and sportsbooks time to get sharp

The players are pushing for no preseason games, and the NFL at first countered with two games instead of four. The most recent update is that the NFL made an offer to the NFLPA to play no preseason games. For DraftKings, what does preseason football mean? Avello said:

“The players are getting comfortable and training for the season, and so are the bookmakers. It puts us in a similar situation as the teams. The teams aren’t used to playing and hitting, so it’s going to take them a few weeks to get back to what they are comfortable with. It’s going to take us a couple weeks to get comfortable, because we don’t know how many points they are going to score and aren’t sure if they are game-ready. As a bookmaker, our lines won’t be as sharp as they normally would be. Preseason helps us get those lines where they need to be.”

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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