Can sports-themed content resonate with U.S. players?

David Stoveld, COO of Armadillo Studios, believes that there is plenty of potential for success within sports-themed content in the United States.

A carefully cultivated brand can be a remarkably effective and powerful tool to influence customer behavior.

Companies and individuals build up their brands to embody a certain set of values in order to elicit a positive response. In the United States, sports teams, organizations, and personalities are perfect examples of the way a brand can become a focal point to be identified with by fans, ultimately for significant commercial gain.

In the age of social media, athletes have taken a hold of their own messaging to build bonds with their supporters like never before and their influence cannot be understated. That is particularly the case in the US, the natural home of the larger-than-life superstar.

As we see it, this background presents the potential for success within sport-themed slot content, provided it is very carefully focused on the right sports and brands.

In the land-based casino sector in the US, the industry’s biggest suppliers have long since known how attracted players are to instantly recognizable names. Significant sums of money are pumped into acquiring a particular IP, with the end result often being a spectacular audio-visual experience that dovetails with player expectations inherent within that brand.

For example, you might have a famous singer whose image is prominent on the cabinet with her hits forming the foot-tapping soundtrack or a cult sci-fi film utilized within a huge, curved cabinet with dedicated seating. These sorts of highly immersive cabinets, based on widely recognized brands, are far from cheap to produce but can certainly draw big crowds in Las Vegas.

Even on casino floors, though, branded sports-themed games are a relative rarity and there have been many examples of high-profile failures over the years. Sport is tribal and its stars often provoke mixed reactions from fans, depending on allegiances or geography. The gender balance is also uneven, with a football game, for example, possibly less attractive to female players given that the sport at its highest level is heavily balanced towards males. For myriad reasons, creating a sports slot with mass appeal has often proven to be a very tough nut to crack.

So how can an iGaming studio possibly hope to create a winning sporting slot with mass appeal – particularly when it will typically be played out on a mobile device, without the razzmatazz of the spectacular dedicated cabinet?

Changing demographics

A seismic shift is underway in the way casino games are experienced in the US, with the balance of power moving away from brick-and-mortar and toward iGaming. The rate at which on-the-go casino content is being consumed is growing exponentially and, in turn, new player demographics are emerging. Younger players might not have the time, cash, or inclination to make an extended weekend trip to the Las Vegas strip but could be inclined to download an app that allows them to play slots on their commute to and from the city.

When homing in on that younger end of the spectrum to whom iGaming holds a strong appeal as on-demand entertainment, the selection of the right brand can be a powerful agent of engagement. At Armadillo Studios, our research indicated that a game based around mixed martial arts (MMA) could become successful. As a modern, growing and highly entertaining sport that resonates with the 21-40 age demographic, its stars are household names. The data we examined indicated that, in terms of age groups who enjoy iGaming, a lack of gender divides within the sport’s popularity, and its commercial success in the US, a range of titles based on the theme could prove successful within online casino.

Having selected the right sport, it was then a case of finding the perfect match within a high-profile star. Amanda Nunes– also known as The Lioness – fit the bill. As the current reigning champion of the women’s UFC featherweight division, Nunes was the first woman to become a two-division UFC champion and the third fighter in history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously. Her impeccable sporting prowess has seen her popularity stretch from coast to coast, a factor which is paramount given that our intention was to craft games that can be rolled out successfully countrywide.

The selection of a brand or personality that appeals to the new iGaming audience in the US can also provide an entirely new channel for marketing. This can be particularly effective given that the above strategy taps into existing fandom and brands, with the stars themselves advertising the products given that it is in their commercial interests. The opportunity to attract a new stream of players, at a cost that is far less than the eye-watering amount operators are currently spending on the acquisition, makes branded titles very attractive.

Times are changing quickly, and the old rules don’t necessarily apply any longer. The combination of mass-market appeal, commercial potential, and the ability to attract a whole new generation of players is one that it would be unwise to rule out. That is not to say that picking a winning brand for sports-themed games in the US is a slam dunk, but it is certainly worth plenty of consideration.

The original version of this interview was published by Gaming America under the title Can sports-themed content resonate with us players?

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