Branding in the Online Sports Betting World

3 November 2003

North America, maybe because of its puritan heritage, has always been, at least officially, somewhat out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to the issue of sports betting. In the majority of the rest of the world, sports betting is considered a benign form of entertainment, something to do while spending quality time with your family on a sunny afternoon. In England, arguably the center of the sports betting universe, even the Queen herself is an avid sports bettor and horse owner. However, the enduring appeal of sports betting was not lost on the actual residents of North America, even as it is formally attacked as something that will bring western civilization to its knees. Because of this tradition, sports wagering has always been something that was done outside of the mainstream.

With the advent of the Internet, North American residents have been allowed to access sports betting like their brethren internationally. This has had a profound impact on not only how sports betting operations are run but also who runs them. Traditionally sports betting operations, or sports books as they are called in the industry, were run by a person called a bookmaker. A bookmaker is essentially a risk manager, so marketing was entirely word of mouth. As sports betting crossed over to the world of the Internet the guys in charge of the industry had to either come from mainstream business and learn bookmaking or bookmakers had to learn mainstream business practices. At today’s sports books, the people in charge are just as likely to be university graduates with strengths in technology and marketing as they are to have a background in bookmaking. Of course there will always be a bookmaker in every successful operation and this will remain an important part of the business, but just as in the rest of the business world, marketing and operational efficiency are now the things that are going to separate the winners from the losers.

Progressive international sports books now look to quality brands like Nike and Virgin for leadership and not to the local bookies of the past. Our organization in particular has studied Richard Branson and Virgin Records as a mentor and model. We set out not to just create a great sports book, but to create a great organization and a great brand. Our vision is to have the BoDog brand able to cross into any industry it wants in the future, not just to be successful in its current industry. We do not consider ourselves to be bookies, but rather a sophisticated mainstream business organization that happens to deliver a sports betting entertainment product. Looking at our space from this perspective enables us to stay detached from a lot of the distractions that plague our competitors and lets us draw from the entire business world for inspiration.

The process of creating a great brand starts right at the earliest days of the organization. You can create a great brand out of a bad name, but it just seems to be that much easier if you put some thinking into your name. I am amazed at how often I am asked, even by our competitors, where the BoDog name came from. Everyone seems to be looking for a great sentimental story of some sort, but it was actually done scientifically. When I came up with the BoDog name I did it using a formula. I was at home by myself sitting in front of a domain name search site. I had a checklist beside me that had all the criteria that the name had to meet and I just put combinations of letters together that met these criteria and then searched to see if I could get the root domain. We are focused on the Internet so we had to control our name in this environment. Additionally, if you cannot get the root domain of your name, it's just going to be that much more difficult to create a meaningful brand. You need everything focused down on a core brand without any of the naming distractions that are so prevalent in our industry. Other criteria on my list included less than six letters, easy to remember and spell, it had to be entirely unlike any of the names used by our competitors and it had to have the ability to create a personality. There were also a number of others, and "BoDog" was the best from the names that were available when I searched.

Interestingly enough, we were just that much different from the rest of the industry with our choice of a name that we were ridiculed by many when we first rolled it out. I actually had to formally pass a rule inside our company that nobody was allowed to make jokes about our name in public. At that time many, even inside our organization, did not see the value of having a name that caused everyone to spend so much time thinking about it. The point that was not obvious to all is if you actually go through the process of wondering about a name, you are also embedding it into your memory.

But a great name choice does not make a great brand. Now you need to attach meaning to the name. We did this the old fashioned way, focusing aggressively on getting the quality of our offering up, because without quality you cannot go any further. Simultaneously, we introduced the world to a number of real personalities that are involved in our organization and created one more in our aggressive dog mascot. The beauty of this strategy was that in order to do the introduction properly we had to produce a lot of unique content. Since most of the sites and magazines covering our industry are always looking for content we got the triple whammy lift of getting an opportunity to introduce our personalities and getting lots of brand exposure for next to no cost. This gave us huge branding leverage. Some of you may recognize portions of this strategy from one of our mentors Richard Branson and his great brand, Virgin.

There is one other important part of this process. You also need distribution of your offering message and what is commonly called "buzz" to create a brand in a reasonable time. We did this in a number of ways. For the distribution, we initiated a program I named "personality offensive." This was a calculated plan to seek out and befriend all major persons who could be described as "points of influence" in our industry. We would then try to find a way to put mutually beneficial deals in place that got these points of influence forwarding our branding message onto everyone they dealt with. This allowed us to significantly increase the speed of delivery of our message. We then spun this program and the creation of a steady stream of creative marketing programs like our very successful "BoDog Girl" into our hosting of unique industry events like the big networking social we recently hosted in Vegas. One thing we make sure of is that everything we do also benefits others including the quality organizations that we compete with. We want to be friends with the competitors that we respect.

While I founded our organization in the mid '90s, the BoDog brand is only two years old. In this time the formula we used has taken us from nowhere to now being the number one brand on the Internet for online sports betting. We have been so successful in this process that our competitors now consider our brand to be a keyword for sports betting and are doing all sorts of things to camp on our brand in the search engines, just to capture some of the traffic that falls off our plate. Though we are flattered by the acknowledgement of branding excellence that this indicates, we now have to initiate another program that is common in the mainstream industry, brand protection. Oh yeah, I almost forgot, nobody makes fun of the name anymore.

One of the pioneers of online gaming, Mr. Ayre founded a software company in 1994 that eventually became Sportsbook & Casino. During this time, the Group of Companies has been responsible for many industry innovations in technology, marketing and business models. Calvin Ayre has a Bachelor's Degree in General Sciences and an MBA in Management Finance.