Advertising in a new market – what have we learned from the last year of sports betting in Ontario?

This April marked one year since Ontario’s Bill C-218 took effect, removing a federal ban on sports betting and opening the doors to an expanded market for bettors and operators in the province.

This April marked one year since Ontario’s Bill C-218 took effect, removing a federal ban on sports betting and opening the doors to an expanded market for bettors and operators in the province. For some fans, lifting the ban on gambling (particularly on futures and single games) has been a welcome development, allowing them to place wagers on their favourite team or athlete from the comfort of their own home. 

Others, however, worry about the long-term consequences of combining sports and gambling. In a culture that has generally approached gambling with an abundance of caution, concerns have arisen surrounding mental health and addiction, risky betting behaviour, and the integrity of the matches.

Even Ontarians who aren’t avid sports fans or haven’t used iGaming services can’t help but notice a change in the province’s approach to sports betting. Over the past several months, advertisements for various betting platforms have flooded social media sites, the digital display network, live television programming, and in-game digital boards.

Many have deemed the near-constant presence of advertisements for sites like BetMGM, FanDuel, and Bet99 a nuisance. An Ipsos poll conducted late last year found that 48% of Canadians either strongly or somewhat agree that the volume of advertisements for iGambling operators is ‘excessive’ and needs to be reduced. Across the country, 63% of respondents support limits around the amount and placement of these advertisements.

While it’s hard to deny that the liberalised approach to gambling has been a financial success in the province (iGaming Ontario reported $1.4 billion in gaming revenue during its first year), the backlash against the operators’ advertisements is raising red flags for provincial regulators and industry watchers. So, what has Ontario’s experience with sports betting taught us about advertising in a new, highly competitive market? And how can firms in other changing regulatory environments avoid the hot water that sports betting platforms now find themselves in?


Too much of a good thing?

For many consumers, it hasn’t been the content or placement of advertisements that have been so distasteful- it’s the quantity. With an ad for betting sites and apps appearing with nearly every scroll, click, or commercial break, consumers are feeling fatigued.

In a highly competitive marketplace and with so many options available for ad placements, it can be tempting to open the floodgates, yet savvy advertisers can find ways to surround their audience with a message without turning them off your brand entirely. Tools like social listening can help keep your ear to the ground and your messaging fresh.


Know your audience

The frustration with ads for betting platforms doesn’t end with sports fans. Media consumers who may have little or no interest in watching – let alone betting on – a sports game have noticed the uptick in ads. This is especially problematic for an industry that sells a product that may be unpalatable or downright off-putting for many in the general public, as is the case for betting platforms.

The solution? Target advertising with laser focus and an eye to your intended demographic. Instead of defaulting to wide-ranging ad targeting and generic placements, find ways to narrow your target audience so your message gets in front of the people who matter most to your brand.


Parting thoughts

Growing pains in a new or changing market aren’t unusual, as consumers and producers alike find their groove. But to avoid starting off on the wrong foot, it is important that companies take the temperature of consumers and make smart, measured decisions about how and where they spend advertising dollars.

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