Since New Jersey sports betting became legal in May 2018, sports betting entities have been jockeying to market and establish their brands.
The 17 NJ sportsbooks are a true melting pot of companies.
It’s a diverse mix of legacy casino and gaming stalwarts (Caesars, MGM, Golden Nugget), European companies expanding their footprint to the US (William Hill, PointsBet, bet365, Unibet), upstart daily fantasy brands (DraftKings, FanDuel) and media ownership (Fox Bet, theScore).
Each company has taken its unique approach to amplify their image in the Garden State.
One logical brand-building path for New Jersey gambling sites is to look for an association with a sports team.
This sponsorship path represents a challenge in NJ in that there are only two New Jersey pro sports venues:
- Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford (Giants, Jets)
- Prudential Center in Newark (New Jersey Devils)
New Jersey Devils attract sports betting brands
The NHL team was quick to embrace the emerging sports betting category.
They inked sponsorship deals for the 2018-19 season with William Hill, FanDuel and Caesars.
Each of the Devils’ sponsorship agreements was put in place before the start of the season or during it.
Given these time frames, there was little opportunity for the sponsors to plan their marketing effectively.
As a sponsorship and media consultant, one of the fundamental principles that I underscore with clients is to buy what you need and use what you buy.
After securing the sponsorship, the steps should be to spearhead a marketing plan to optimize the brand and its assets.
Which sports betting companies are Devils’ sponsors in 2019-20?
During the 2019-20 NHL season, I reviewed sports betting companies’ sponsorships of the Devils at Prudential Center and their TV/radio play-by-play media coverage.
There are four sports betting companies sponsoring the NJ Devils this season:
- William Hill (concourse-branded sports lounge and playing area signage)
- Caesars (concourse-branded club)
- Unibet (playing area signage and radio)
- FanDuel (TV and cable)
After attending a game at The Rock in December 2019, and monitoring the Devils’ media coverage, here are my grades for the four sports betting brands.
William Hill: Come one, come all to William Hill Sports Lounge
In addition to the mobile app, the William Hill (now Caesars NJ) brand has the strongest retail sportsbook presence in New Jersey.
With knowledge and strength in the retail space, it’s no surprise that William Hill’s focal point of its Devils’ marketing plan is a branded area in the Devils’ main concourse, called the William Hill Sports Lounge.
What’s to like at William Hill Sports Lounge
Any fan can access the lounge regardless of his or her seat location.
Additionally, it’s part of the main concourse and in a prime location near one of the Mulberry Street entry rotundas.
While it’s not an overly expansive space, there are six tables with four high-top chairs each, and plenty of room to stand and watch the four TV screens.
The prices available on multiple odds and futures are on the screens.
The lounge features a large, amply staffed bar, with various beer and hard liquor selections.
It is a great spot to grab a pregame drink or between periods, especially if lines are long elsewhere in the concourse.
Viewing other sports
Outside of the private suites, William Hill Sports Lounge is the only public area where one can also check out the non-Devils sports action on TV.
During my visit, there were quite a few eyes on the college football action on the TV screens in the lounge.
The look and feel of a sportsbook
William Hill has done a first-rate job making the lounge look and feel like a sportsbook.
In fact, several patrons (with cash in hand) inquired where they could place their sports bets.
Betting with a live teller in a sports venue is not (yet) legal in NJ; the wagers at the arena can only be placed via the mobile platform.
Also, there were William Hill reps at the lounge offering an additional $5 bonus on top of their ongoing Bet 50, Get 50 sign-up promotion.
Challenges, limitations of William Hill Sports Lounge
“Excuse me, are you into sports betting?”
If you go near the lounge entrance, moneyline odds are -1000 that a clipboard-toting William Hill rep will want to chat with you. The reps are working to drive new sign-ups for the William Hill sports betting mobile app.
It seems ambitious to convert a fan from not having the William Hill app to registering and linking a credit card. However, I did see the reps adding customers despite the 10-15-minute process, all while standing in a busy arena concourse.
Big screen TV envy
The lounge would be a better place to hang out and spend more time if there were more and larger TV screens in the space.
To be fair, William Hill is doing its best within the confines of the real estate available at the Prudential Center.
Where are the power outlets?
The lounge might grab more traffic if there were more power outlets or a charging station for mobile phones.
William Hill marketing activation summary
There is no doubt that you are in a William Hill space.
It hosts excellent and consistent branding, without going overboard, with displayed sports betting terms to logoed pillars and barriers.
I can describe the look as persistent without being overbearing.
In addition to the sports lounge, William Hill also has a branding presence on in-arena dasher boards (shown below).
William Hill has an LED-ribbon board that rotates 360-degrees during game action. The main scoreboard’s call-to-action design pushes those in the arena to check out the sports lounge.
William Hill is an NHL league sponsor, which allows the usage of individual team logos on its mobile app.
Finally, I give credit to William Hill for thinking ahead by investing in the future with this space. Allow me to explain.
William Hill sponsored and rebranded a sports bar at Monmouth Park, almost five years before the eventual passing of legal sports betting in New Jersey in 2018.
Once sports betting became legal in New Jersey, the book was in a prime position to reap the benefits. While sports betting windows at sports venues are not permitted in New Jersey, the ownership and branding of this concourse space could feasibly transition to William Hill betting windows and tellers.
An example of this is at the Washington, D.C., home arena for the Capitals and Wizard.
William Hill Marketing Activation Grade: A-
Caesars: Check out the Caesars Club, but by invitation only
Located only a few sections away from the William Hill lounge is the Caesars Club.
The club, which opened in late January 2019, is an expansive 5,000-square-foot space with a capacity for 175 premium-ticket holders.
The key adjective to note for the Caesars Club is “premium.”
Unlike the William Hill space, which is open to all of the arena ticket holders, the Caesars Club serves as a hospitality hub for those within six rows of the ice.
Premium-seat holders get access to unlimited food and nonalcoholic drink options, plus the full-service cash bars.
The crowd consists of mostly Devils’ season-ticket holders and coupled with single-game patrons who have paid a minimum of $100 per ticket to access this hospitality experience.
Reasons to check out the Caesars Club
It’s spacious and convenient
Access to the Caesars Club is one of the amenities available to Devils’ premium-ticket holders.
Access to food and drinks is steps away from the ice-level seats. While there is seating for 175, there is plenty of room to stand and grab a bite to eat. Patrons can also belly up to two large bars.
The Caesars Club’s design is roomy and comfortable.
The ambiance is great
Hockey is most definitely spoke here.
On this day, there was a strong presence of Devils’ sweaters and plenty of Broadway blue shirts represented.
You can also get an up-close view of the Devils broadcast team Matt Loughlin and Glenn “Chico” Resch calling the game from outside the club entrance.
A ‘no sell zone’ inside the Caesars Club
The Caesars Club has a definitive polished, high-end look and feel.
Its brand logos affixed to marble tabletops and etched into the glass partitions at the club’s concourse entrance.
The branding is subtle, low-key and passive.
From what I have noted during my visits, there is no other activation push going on inside the Caesars Club. In fact, it’s so low key; there is no volume blaring on the TVs within the club.
You won’t go home hungry
Plenty of food options for hungry hockey fans is available at the Caesars Club.
Options range from pork tenderloin or prime rib at a carving station to traditional game-day food such as pretzels, hot dogs and chicken fingers.
The food is continually replenished throughout the game, like the endless supply of chicken tenders.
Challenges, limitations of the Caesars Club
Expensive to access
All the great Caesars Club amenities referenced above come with a price tag.
You can find some seats in the $100 range but the majority will be closer to $200 per ticket.
Hectic at peak times between periods
The typical NHL intermission lasts 17 minutes. During which, a frenzy of fans grab food or beverage, find a seat in the club and go to the restroom, etc. It’s not as hectic as a NASCAR pit stop, but fans are moving in every direction.
Limited TV screens Like many branded spaces and like the William Hill lounge space, Caesars wasn’t involved in the original design of this club.
It took over the naming rights of the space that has been part of the arena (under other previous sponsors or themes) since it opened in 2007.
There’s a design flaw; the concourse main entrance is a wide-open space that allows one to look up several levels in the arena; however, the area where the bars and food service is has a low ceiling.
Because of this design, there’s no logical placement for the “wow!” TV screens or video wall that you might expect to see in a 5,000-square-foot arena or stadium space.
Additionally, most of the video monitors are average in size, just a series of small screens throughout the club.
Many of the TV screens are dedicated to a Caesars’ message or promotion. While this is nice messaging for Caesars, it does limit the number of screens carrying game action.
Caesars’ marketing activation
The Caesars brand name is prominent throughout the club. It appears that Caesars is taking an umbrella approach to the Caesars Club marketing investment. It includes signing up for online NJ sports betting or online casino account or visiting one of the properties in Atlantic City or Las Vegas.
It does not feel like a particular push or pull in any specific direction in the Caesars brand portfolio.
The timing of the Devils game I attended coincided with a Caesars’ Las Vegas promotion. The winners won a trip to Las Vegas to see a Devils’ game versus the Vegas Golden Knights in March.
This promotion was in heavy rotation on the club’s video screens:
The promotion was open to online casino players as well as new NJ sportsbook account holders.
The vagueness of the promotion’s mechanics aside, this was still a good use of Caesars’ sponsorship assets with the Devils. It included a tie-in to Caesars-owned assets (Las Vegas hospitality) to offer value to new sports bettors and existing online casino players.
I referenced earlier in the review of the exclusive nature of the Caesars Club, which is limited to premium-ticket holders.
It would be of some concern in reaching the same Devils’ audience night in and night out, i.e., the potential for duplication within the fan base.
For Caesars, I suggest that it define the identity and focus of the messaging of the club. If it’s meant to be sports betting, then go all-in with that identity and create some betting visibility in the club.
Screens featuring odds boards, scoring updates, player props can be used to draw interest and attention.
In short, create more reasons to go to check out the club and spend some time there.
Caesars Marketing Activation Grade: B
Unibet: A new player makes its Devils debut
Unibet is one of the newest sports betting operators in New Jersey, having launched its NJ mobile app in September 2019. Unibet is one of 11 brands owned by the European operator Kindred Group.
Unibet announced its Devils’ marketing partnership just before the start of this season.
Unibet has two corner ice logos for Devils’ games, taking the spots once held by FanDuel last season.
Besides the in-ice logos, Unibet has virtual signage that is only visible during Devils’ home and away telecasts:
Unibet also airs commercial inventory in the Devils radio broadcasts.
Unibet marketing activation
Unibet’s signage provides good brand exposure at every Devils’ game, which helps establish its brand in New Jersey. On the media side, Unibet’s radio spots consist of generic brand messaging, with no reference to the Devils.
Unibet is the only Devils sports betting sponsor that references its partnership in the mobile betting app.
Unibet’s marketing platform includes the Devils legendary goalie Martin Brodeur as a brand ambassador.
According to the press release, Unibet promises to provide “unmatched experiences and hospitality.” There should be more to come as Unibet finds its marketing footing in New Jersey and during its marketing agreement with the Devils.
Unibet Marketing Activation Grade: Incomplete
FanDuel: Shifting focus from in-arena to TV elements
In year two of its Devils’ association, FanDuel Sportsbook has tweaked its sponsorship elements.
The book no longer has a static building presence and has directed its focus to inventory in the Devils’ TV/cable game coverage.
In November, Madison Square Garden (MSG) networks announced FanDuel as an official sports gaming partner for the Devils (and the New York Knicks) broadcasts on MSG Networks.
The FanDuel agreement with MSG includes commercial units and in-game features in the 78-regular season (plus playoffs) Devils’ games.
From what I have observed, FanDuel has done an outstanding job of integrating its content into the flow of the Devils’ TV game coverage.
Throughout the Devils’ pregame, in-game and postgame, FanDuel sponsors the news and scoreboard update “crawl” message along the bottom of the screen:
FanDuel has a feature during gameplay that introduces a call to action to make in-game wagers on their app:
During the intermission break, FanDuel is a sponsor of the “Intermission Report” with a strong brand tie-in:
It provides some examples of in-game bets that are available, with current pricing/odds:
FanDuel is doing a great job with its Devils’ activation.
It has taken an approach that both informs while pushing the viewer toward making bets on their FanDuel Sportsbook account.
The visuals are clean and crisp and make the FanDuel/Devils association come to life.
FanDuel Marketing Activation Grade: A
With four partners, the Devils-Prudential Center sports betting marketing landscape is crowded.
The Devils have worked out well to carve out individual space for each company across their arena and media inventory.
One final thought for each company sponsoring the Devils is to look to expand the available betting options for Devils’ games.
Consider some of these potential options:
- Include more props, pregame and in-game odds boosts, specifically for Devils’ games.
- Build in an incentive or reward for placing a bet on a Devils’ game, i.e., any $10 pregame Devils’ wager will receive a $5 site credit for a live in-game bet.
These are heady days for the NJ sports betting industry.
The associations and marketing activities are coming at a fast and furious pace. It’s a critical time for sports betting companies to establish a foothold and build brand loyalty in this competitive market.
While the pace of new NJ sportsbooks has slowed, a total of 17 books leaves room to expand. We will continue to track how the companies work to define, build a presence, and grow their brands in New Jersey.