Exclusive interview with Yahoo's Head of Consumer Joanna Lambert

"Our success with fantasy sports has grown since sports betting on BetMGM is an option"

"The data, tools, analysis and content we are providing our users have resonated and we’ve seen great growth in users in legal betting states that are signing up and betting on BetMGM," Yahoo's Head of Consumer Joanna Lambert tells Yogonet.
Reading time 6:36 min
Over the past two years interest in betting has increased from 43 to 58% across Yahoo Sports' consumers, and over 80% of its converted bettors have come from Sports and Fantasy Products, Lambert tells Yogonet. The company is mostly focusing on the recently regulated Arizona market, and existing Massachusetts, Maryland and Ohio.

It’s been a year and a half since Yahoo Sports became a strategic affiliate partner driving qualified bettors to bet on the BetMGM mobile online sports wagering platforms through a partnership with BetMGM and Yahoo Sportsbook. What progress have you seen with this partnership with BetMGM?

Since launching our ground-breaking, multiyear strategic relationship with BetMGM in November 2019 and becoming an official Digital Media Sports Partner of MGM Resorts, we’ve grown our partnership to cover nine states including New Jersey, Indiana, West Virginia, Colorado, Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, Iowa and Pennsylvania. Today, we offer sports betting opportunities and create a seamless experience for our users to place wagers with the BetMGM platforms covering the NBA, NHL, MLB, NFL, college sports and more and have integrated BetMGM into the Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Fantasy apps and desktop experiences. Sports betting continues to drive momentum, reaching hardcore sports fans, fantasy sports enthusiasts and even casual fans. In fact, the number of consumers taking advantage of opportunities to wager on BetMGM continues to grow for us as over 80 percent of our converted bettors have come from Sports and Fantasy Products. We have also found that over the past two years interest in betting has increased from 43 to 58 percent across our consumers while opposition to it has declined from 21 to 17 percent.

Which specific effects has the pandemic had on this business area, considering the major sporting events shutdown and return, and the global shift toward online channels?

Many feel that sports, especially live sports, are more exciting and enjoyable when they can be experienced together. When we were no longer able to attend major sporting events - as well as restrictions on gatherings in general - made it impossible for fans to gather together to watch a game or even to host a fantasy draft, and that created an opportunity. We’ve focused on creating value for our consumers and bridge this opportunity by introducing technology such as our unique Draft Together and Watch Together offerings. By integrating our sports betting content and showcasing betting opportunities available at BetMGM, we are enabling fans to enjoy the social aspects and excitement of sporting events through immersive experiences around the sports they love while also enabling them to enjoy them more because they are connecting with others at the same time.

Which are the new demands and bettor profiles amid this new landscape? Could you analyze this for both traditional and fantasy sports bettors? What are your strategies and resources to attract the younger generations?

Our fantasy players love the opportunity to engage with Yahoo Sportsbook and easily place bets on BetMGM. The data, tools, analysis and content we are providing our users have resonated and those we’ve seen great growth in users in legal betting states that are signing up and betting on BetMGM. And our fantasy integrations with player props have resonated as well, as we have consistently heard from our fantasy users regarding their interest in player props. We also recently introduced single-game, Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) multi-entry contests for all major events with significant prize pools, beginning with the NBA Playoffs and we will continue to offer a number of other contests ranging from traditional DFS to Matchup Challenges, Best Ball and more. Some might think that the addition of sports betting would detract from the fantasy side but if anything, the opposite is true. Our success with fantasy sports has grown since sports betting on BetMGM has been an option. In fact, 80+ percent of total Yahoo Sportsbook users registered with BetMGM are also active in the Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Fantasy Sports apps.

In October 2020, Yahoo Sportsbook rolled out two new features that allowed streamlining the registration and onboarding experience between the Yahoo Sports app and BetMGM and adding player-prop odds to Yahoo Fantasy. What has been the performance of these changes, considering your initial goals for them?

We know our efforts have created a more seamless experience for our sports fans and have provided us the ability to optimize conversion as well as betting re-engagement. We’ve seen all of these conversion percentage metrics increase since October and are excited to expand optimizations here as we approach football season this Fall. Regarding player props, these fantasy integrations have resonated as well with our users and are excited to see continued uptake as we come out of pandemic seasons and as more states come online. That said, the mix of BetMGM bet types that we present to Yahoo users will continue to evolve as we expect to drive calls to action on a combination of well-established and new bet types like Fantasy Player Props.

Which innovations have Yahoo Fantasy Plus and Draft Together brought to the sports betting market? How would you describe their performance and feedback since launch? Would you consider them as Yahoo Sportsbook’s most distinctive features; why? What are the key technologies and trendy concepts behind them?

Draft Together is a first-of-its kind feature in the fantasy sports industry, enabling multiple fans to uniquely experience and interact with each other through video chat as they draft their fantasy baseball team on yahoo.com/fantasybaseball and create a personalized community of friends and family. This builds on Yahoo’s first-to-market co-viewing product - Watch Together, that debuted in September 2020 and connects audiences to live news, sports and entertainment with the ability to video chat, interact and immerse themselves in top cultural events. The NFL was the first launch partner for Watch Together. We’ve seen great traction to date for Yahoo Fantasy Plus, a new premium subscription product that offers tools to bring the fantasy experience to the next level and improve the user experience. Yahoo Fantasy Plus offers valuable features, including a Research Assistant, Start Optimal Players tool, Trade Insights and Advanced Stats. Although we’ve only launched with baseball to date, we will be introducing Fantasy Plus across all Fantasy Sports we support as new seasons begin. In terms of early feedback, Fantasy Plus subscribers have shown significantly increased engagement with the game they play versus other fantasy players. Retention has also been a success as 90% of trialists have stayed on as subscribers.

This year, Yahoo Sports joined the NBA’s alternate sports betting broadcasts, offering NBABet Stream, NBA Digital’s betting-focused alternative. How would you assess that step and what can we expect in upcoming seasons of major sports leagues?

We are working with the NBA right now to set up our 2021-22 plans. We felt early on that our partnership with the NBA should include an entry into live game coverage with betting-related analysis, which was the reason we worked to collaborate on the launch of the NBABet Stream. We were pleased with this first iteration, offering core basketball analysis matched with really compelling voices in the betting space, and are excited to think about new ways to make our next iteration with our BetMGM partners even more exciting for fans.

Since PASPA's repeal in 2018, we have seen an increased interest from major media companies in the US traditional sports betting market and the fantasy sports market. Why is Yahoo Sports keeping a strong focus in this market? What does this represent for the company’s overall business and what are your goals and expectations in the short-mid term?

Sports betting serves as a key anchor of our 360 strategy to serve as a go-to platform for sports fans. We’ve been tracking the continued emergence of sports betting and have capitalized on the opportunity to expand our revenue streams. By integrating our best-in-class features as a media company, content provider and gaming company, we’re able to create robust engagement with users.

What’s your approach to esports betting? What are your outlooks for this booming market worldwide?

Right now our partner is not carrying an esports betting operation and our top priority is to serve our audience currently playing fantasy, but esports is space we will continue to watch closely in the US and worldwide. 

You are live with BetMGM in nine US states, which existing and potential US jurisdictions would you consider the most appealing in terms of regulations and audience?

With recent news around legislation and potential Fall launch dates, Arizona is a market that we are particularly excited about.  Since DFS historically has not been legal in Arizona, BetMGM’s competitors in the state have not had the opportunity to develop strong user databases as they have in other new markets while Yahoo has a strong free to play, traditional fantasy audience to draw on here. Additionally, pending legislation, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Ohio are 3 states with MGM casinos that would provide substantial opportunity and excitement in the coming months.

Could you share any other plans, goals, and expectations for 2021 and beyond?

We enjoy a unique position as BetMGM's partner to reach all fans through major sporting events ranging from the NBA Playoffs to the Super Bowl, strategically integrating new customer promos as part of our betting content and delivering content to help educate potential new bettors and our existing betting audience. Much of our focus will continue to focus on the consumer journey and personalization and leveraging the scale of our Sports, Fantasy, and broader Yahoo audiences to create the exact “right” opportunity for you based on your preferences. Really more of an experience that is created just for you. We serve nearly 900 million users monthly and remain committed to creating meaningful engagement opportunities, especially as sports betting continues to evolve.

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