Ep. 63: Creating A Differentiated Customer Experience in Sports Betting with Ben Fawkes

In each episode of The Playbook presented by FanFood, host Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment and hospitality. We invite industry veterans to talk about how customer expectation have changed in today’s world, and how businesses need to change accordingly for greater operational efficiency and better guest experience.

Ep. 63: Creating A Differentiated Customer Experience in Sports Betting with Ben Fawkes

Ben Fawkes, Vice President of Digital Content at VSIN, joins Rob Cressy to talk about creating a differentiated customer experience in the sports betting industry. How is the use of stats, information, and technology a great way for VSIN to stand out and provide value? What is VSIN’s customer experience? What role does content play and why should you focus on the things you do best? How do you deal with negativity on social media


To see how your restaurant, establishment, or venue can benefit from FanFood’s platform please get in touch here.


Listen to the Gameday Playbook on:

  • Ep. 63: Creating A Differentiated Customer Experience in Sports Betting with Ben Fawkes
  • Ep. 63: Creating A Differentiated Customer Experience in Sports Betting with Ben Fawkes
  • Ep. 63: Creating A Differentiated Customer Experience in Sports Betting with Ben Fawkes
  • Ep. 63: Creating A Differentiated Customer Experience in Sports Betting with Ben Fawkes
  • Ep. 63: Creating A Differentiated Customer Experience in Sports Betting with Ben Fawkes

Rob Cressy: (00:08)

Welcome to The Playbook presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are modernizing today’s customer experience through technology in sports, entertainment, and hospitality. I’m your host, Rob Cressy. And joining me today is Ben Fawkes, Vice President of Digital Content at VSIN. Ben, great to have you on the show.


Ben Fawkes: (00:31)

Thanks for having me on, man. Great to be here.


Rob Cressy: (00:33)

Can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?


Ben Fawkes: (00:37)

Sure. So, I am the Vice President of Digital Content at VSIN. Basically, I oversee all of our paid content both with point spread weekly, which is our digital subscription product. We also have paid content on the website, free content on the website and then contribute as well to the shows and kind of news direction to make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders there as well.


Rob Cressy: (01:01)

And VSIN is the Vegas Sports and Information Network for those who are not familiar. So, we’re going to be jamming about customer experience through the lens of sports betting. And this is an area where customer experience is paramount. Where technology is paramount and there is also a lot of opportunities for disruption, but a lot of players in the game. So, I’m curious Ben, how would you describe what Vsense customer experience is like or your mindset around it?


Ben Fawkes: (01:34)

So, it’s a good question. I think what’s interesting about the sports betting industry is that there are so many different people that you’re attempting to go after, right? You have different tiers of betters. You have the professionals. You have kind of the, for lack of a better term, large middle class and then I think you have the people who are just getting into it, whether they just heard about it, or it’s now legal in their state. We’re up to 18 States, operational plus DC. So, there’s a lot of different kinds of consumer bases. I think at VSIN we’re trying to hit all of them in some capacity. We have a ton of different shows and there are some shows that are kind of more geared to that intermediate advanced as well as geared to more kind of the beginning segment.


We try to have a certain level of implied knowledge. So, we’re not going to necessarily go over, here’s what a point spread is. Here’s what an over-under is. But I think we’re trying to make sure that everyone feels comfortable in the sandbox in which they’re playing and give them kind of some more tools if they want to place a sports bet to make them feel like they have an educated decision. And if they just kind of want to be a smarter fan and that’s also fine. Like I say, there’s a lot of different ways that gambling can help a different prism to view sports. And if you just want to know, Hey, now I know that the Chiefs are the Super Bowl according to Las Vegas then I have that to discuss at a bar with my friends.

Rob Cressy: (03:04)

So, with sports being always on and there’s always content that can be created. How much is the emphasis on the information side of things? The data side, the staff side of things because when I look at VSIN and I’m someone who I really enjoy getting the emails every single morning on the sharp report and the recap of what went on there. How much does that come into play? Because if we’re looking at differentiation or ways that you can differentiate bringing in something like stats and information to the table in this market is one of them.


Ben Fawkes: (03:40)

Yeah. And we definitely try and have that both on the website and point spread weekly and on the shows. I think it’s a great differentiator because people want different shows, right? And you don’t just want a couple of talking heads talking about sports betting saying, all right, we got the lions, bears. We got five minutes, go. Tell me which team to bet on. A lot of my philosophy as well on the digital side is it’s important to potentially give a pick, but I’m more concerned whether people are learning something about either the game or sports betting in general. And yes, you obviously want to hit on the pick, especially want to hit on it more than 52.3% of the time, but you really want people to, it’s a very difficult industry as well. A difficult one to win. So, you want people to feel like they are getting some value-added there. And I think with the statistics that you can use especially in sports betting in every single sport you can really make fans smarter. And they feel like when they’re watching the show that it’s something different than they’re going to get from other places.


Rob Cressy: (04:48)

And I believe that it is such an important key and it’s something that is straight out of my playbook 101. Because from a sports betting standpoint, picks are going to win and lose. But if you can teach people how to fish and think the correct way about sports betting you’re going to win. And I know someone who contributes to VSIN and is Michael Lombardi, and I’ve been a long time listener of his podcast, the GM shuffle. What I enjoy so much about it is he makes me smarter. So, now when I’m thinking about games or betting, I can see things from a different lens because I actually believe the mindset is the biggest thing that is a differentiator between the squares and the sharks. The squares being the general public and the sharks being the smarter people is the way that they think about it and evaluate it. Because I always like to say there is no such thing as free money in sports betting, yet all of a sudden it’s like, of course, a culture going to destroy the Jaguars. They have Philip Rivers, the Jaguars are the worst. They traded everyone. But not so fast, my friend.


Ben Fawkes: (05:54)

Yeah. And look I am certainly knee-deep in sports betting and I had the Colts and a couple of teasers down from minus too. It was a long term good value play. And they ended up losing the game. They were certainly stopped at fourth and one and their field goal kicker basically missing an extra point long, a field goal. There’s plenty of things that went wrong in that game, but those are the types of things, it’s good to discuss. Figure out was it a good bet, was it a bad bet. And certainly, there’s also the kind of right side wrong results that happen as well. So, those are all things that I think are interesting as well as things that we try and educate about. It’s very important not to bet outside your means, right? So for me, that was not a large amount of money. It’s not something I’m going to lose sleep over the fact that it didn’t come through. I had that and the Packers plus eight and a half. It didn’t come through. Next week we’ll do it again and see how it looks, but it’s not something I’m losing sleepover. And I think, again, that’s part of the education that we try and give, especially as the NFL comes and that’s the most popular sport to bet on.


Rob Cressy: (07:06)

And I think this is a universal principle that is important for other companies and people is if you can have more education in the content and marketing that you do it can really help add value for your consumer or your fan. And I think it’s something that a lot of brands miss on, in general, is they so often do buy what I’m selling. Buy what I’m selling. And they’re jamming something down your throat, as opposed to saying, well, wait a second. Why don’t I put myself in the shoes of the person who is consuming this? What can we do to be better and add value to them? And for me, the best thing you can do to add value is to make someone smarter and to help them learn. And it’s actually my philosophy in all podcasts that I do including this one is I want someone to be able to listen to this and say, you know what? I was actually able to take something away with it because that’s how you can have an actual impact.


Ben Fawkes: (08:01)

Totally agree. And I think it’s very important for people as well. Part of what we’re trying to do is figure out why are you making this bet? Are you making this bet because you have a projection system and it says one thing and there’s value on the side that you are giving, or because someone on Twitter said, Hey, you know, you should really take the Royals money line tonight. And it’s boom. Okay. Well, I guess I’m taking that. It’s called gambling for a reason, right? We saw it many times in the NFL. Philadelphia goes up 17 to nothing in the second quarter, they lose. The lions of 23 to 6 in the fourth quarter, they lose. Now, I would argue probably the lines for more of the right side than the Eagles, but that Eagle’s game certainly could’ve gone the other way as well. There are going to be things that go against you and I think it’s important to figure out why you’re making that bet. And again, was it a good bet that ended up going wrong or just really a bet you probably shouldn’t have made. And so there’s both kind of the pre-flop decisions. And then the post-mortem of the actual bet and both are important to long term success


Rob Cressy: (09:05)

And keeping the theme of things going against you. I think one area where sports betting is unique is the fact that taking any of these games in someone on a decent show gives them out, and then it doesn’t win. There’s this immediate backlash on social media of the trolls and the haters that say you are not good at what you do. I hate you. This is the dumbest thing in the world. It’s not easy for people in a position of visibility where you’re being paid to give an opinion on something and boom, all of a sudden people just coming down your throats, but guess what? This is also applicable to pretty much every single business in every single industry because not everything’s going to be puppy dogs and rainbows, but I believe that sports betting is a great case study and example for how to handle this. Because it’s something that you deal with on a daily basis. So, I’m curious about your experience and knowledge, how do you think about dealing with negativity when it comes to customer experience or social?


Ben Fawkes: (10:10)

It’s a great question. It’s one of the biggest difficulties in the sports betting industry. And I think any time you’re giving advice and specific financial advice, right? Whether that’s the stock market or anything else, I like to think that’s one of the kinds of the way of sports betting differentiates from fantasy. Is that fantasy, a lot of times is going to be for money. Whether you’re in a pool or something else like that, sports spending almost always is about money. And so you are asking someone to make a financial decision. They’re going to be invested in that and they’re going to be upset if it doesn’t go their way. Again, you have to understand that they’re also going to be upset if it doesn’t go their way 100% of the time. And it isn’t. It’s probably not going to go their way, you know, 60% of the time or 50% of the time.


So, I think it’s just about relying on that information and feeling like you gave people good information. Hopefully, you’re giving people winners more often than you’re giving them losers. And I think we really do have unmatched expertise here at VSIN, both from an entertainment perspective and also from a strictly hardcore bedding perspective. Listening to someone like Gill Alexander you’re really gonna learn a lot about bedding and the intricacies and analytics behind it and feel like you’re going to be smarter when you’re making those bets. I think that you just have to understand that the public is going to if you go 10 and 0, they’re going to be very happy. And then when you lose one bet they’re going to come down like you’ve lost them a house or something. It’s just the way that sports betting is. And I think it’s why it’s so important to focus on that information and not be strictly kind of a tout as we say that the dirty word in the sports betting industry, but it’s just not a path that’s going to make anyone happy. Because the public is never going to be satisfied because you always could have won them more money. They’re not going to focus on necessarily the bets that you won.


Rob Cressy: (12:14)

Do you recommend responding to the negativity? Because I know on my end, I actually got some last week from someone who was a 49ers fan, who didn’t like the way that I gave an analysis on things regarding their injuries. So, someone who is so deep into it. It was his favorite team. He didn’t like it. And boom, he just jumped right on board with me. And anytime these moments happen I sit there and I think for a second and I’m like, all right, well, I think of myself as a leader of a community. So, you mentioned the word tout. I am the complete opposite of that. I’m someone who’s informed. I’m gonna try and help make you smarter. I’m gonna let you know sort of how I’m thinking. I’m going to bring smart people on the shows and say, Hey, how are they thinking about things as well? And I did end up engaging this person, telling them one, I’m not perfect. And then two, sort of reiterating where they took things out of context because they can very easily, the 49ers are not injury-prone. They only have two people on the IR, whatever. Side note, the 49ers ended up not covering. I didn’t go back to him because I was correct. But I’m curious from your standpoint because it is an ever-present thing. It can be overwhelming. So, do you recommend responding? And if so, how?

Ben Fawkes: (13:40)

I recommend doing whatever your personal preference and attitude would allow you, I suppose. I think there are certain people who really relish that or like to do it. I think one great example is as SVP. He responds to a ton of people on Twitter. If I was in his position I may not be necessarily doing that. But certain people either feel the need to or derive pleasure from it, or are actually trying to educate people and feel like, Hey, I’m trying to help you see this point X or point Y. I think it’s difficult to do. Just because it’s almost a little like whack-a-mole, where one person you can kind of get to see the light and then there’s going to be three other people come up with something else that they have an issue with.


So, I tend to stay away from it. I’m also intentionally somewhat more on the information side. Here’s what I’m hearing from the books. Here’s this side that they need. And I find that it’s to get as mad at me about that because I’m not saying, you should take the 49ers minus seven and a half. And then if it loses they’re coming at me. All I’m saying is, hey, here’s where potentially some sharp players here’s what is going on at these books. Here’s a big bet. Just giving information. It should be kind of a public good one would hope. Again, it’s Twitter so people are always going to find something that they don’t like, but ultimately you’re giving out free information. You’re giving out free picks. You’re not asking people to pay for them. It is their decision whether or not they want to fade or follow you. So, they’re going to blame you no matter what, but it is ultimately their decision. I choose to generally ignore just because I think it’s something that’s not probably gonna lead to a good outcome for you.


Rob Cressy: (15:45)

Yeah. You don’t want to play down to your competition as they would say. So, the next question for you is around customer experience is the role of content. So, I think that one thing that sports media does a very good job of is they’re very progressive and forward-thinking when it comes to content. They run like media companies. And I believe there’s a lot that can be learned and, or mimicked for all companies out there. So, when I look at VSIN and you guys not only have the newsletter. You’ve got paid subscribers stuff, you’ve got podcasts, and you’ve got video and you’ve got streaming. Can you talk to us a little bit more about sort of the strategy behind it because I’m someone who is always carrying the content creation flag? The more that you can do that is high touch or a little bit more difficult. It’s why I love podcasts. It’s why I love video because of what stands out. It’s very easy to put an intern on a Twitter feed, but go ahead and create some real-time content and you’re going to start to see a community blossom. Take us into your mindset around content.


Ben Fawkes: (16:51)

Yeah, I think it’s important especially in any space, but especially in the sports betting space that you have kind of a level of quality to all of the content, right? And so I’ve kind of long said back at ESPN and here as well, really the only limit to sports betting content is kind of your staffing and quality writing. And whether you think people are gonna read it, right? You can have to handicap on Rugby, Premier League, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB. Once you start going daily on a lot of these things, that’s a lot of content. And it’s a question of, are people going to read all of that and is it also all going to be kind of the same level? So, I think it’s important to first focus on the things that you do best. I think at VSIN and that’s really the shows that we have in streaming.


I think that we’ve seen, certainly an expansion of that this year with Real-Time. And so that we just launched a show on MSG Plus which is, I believe from 4-7 Pacific, daily. And that’s basically an end game show where we’re watching the games. We’re seeing the lines move and we’re saying, hey, here’s something you might jump on. Hey, here’s something I’d wait on. Here’s a couple of props coming up for this game. I think that the goal for that is to be kind of the second screen experience where you’re watching the game here on one hand and then you’ve got ultimately at some point they’ll probably be merged onto one screen down the line. But currently, maybe you’re watching the game there and then you have VSIN and over here saying, Oh, you know, maybe I’ll place $5 again, of course in a place where betting is legal. I’ll place $5 on the Knicks, the Rangers, or your favorite team based on that advice and kind of be there to guide people through it.


It’s the same thing we have on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the College Football season and the NFL season. I think so much of a focus on sports betting is before what happens. And there’s less of that focus kind of during the game and in-game opportunities as well as right after just kind of analyzing what exactly happened. Cause people are so excited to make that next bet and it’s very important as well. There are a lot of opportunities in-game if you’ve done your homework and kind of know potentially where the game could be going. If some teams go to fluke touchdown early. I think Monday Night’s Giants, Steelers game is a good example where Giants go up early. You have a much better number on the Steelers there then you would have had pre-game. So, helping people through that. But ultimately I think it’s just about that kind of level of quality you’re trying to maintain throughout and make sure that people get a good product no matter where they’re getting that on Twitter or on the website or streaming somewhere.


Rob Cressy: (19:45)

I’m curious about the personality side of things between old school and new school because there are a lot of different publishing and media brands in sports betting out there. And for the longest time, I thought one of the biggest opportunities was before the legalization happened, a lot of the stigma around sports betting was the one 900 tout. Here’s an older guy who’s just screaming pics. And then as we’re seeing an evolution, anything from Barstool to the Action Networks, ESPN, to VSIN there’s sort of unique personalities around each of them. And does it have to be a seasoned person who has been in the industry for so long and this is what I belong to do, as opposed to the more community aspect side of things where, Hey, we can entertain and drop some knowledge and have some fun at the same time and build a community.


Ben Fawkes: (20:44)

Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting over the couple years. Sports betting is kind of a shiny new toy. Obviously, we’re sitting here in September of 2020, a little up two and a half years-ish since May 2018 where there’s kind of legal, widespread gambling and our sports spending. I think that it’ll be interesting to see the companies that kind of stick around because ultimately it’s very difficult to win money sports betting. I think the public will get tired of losing, right. As exciting as your favorite personality on any show or media company is, if you’re consistently losing that bet over and over and over and over at some point you’re probably not going to be taking that advice anymore. And so then it’s a question of what are you falling back on? Are you then still reading that sports betting content? Are you just eliminating kind of that company? Are you then going to Twitter to get picks? Are you going to a tout service? Are you hopefully already looking at VSIN? There are many other ways to go, but I think that in the next couple of years it’ll be interesting to see the staying power of some of them because yes, people are going to have hot streaks. People are gonna have cold streaks. But I think we’re kind of banking on the more the expertise, the knowledge that you gain and kind of having that smart content, in the long run, is going to be what gets people to stick around as opposed to just kind of, here’s a pick here’s two picks, here’s three pics, here are four picks that I love. And sometimes those are gonna win and more often than not, those are going to lose. I think that’ll probably be the determining factor in kind, of who sticks around and who doesn’t.


Rob Cressy: (22:35)

And I really believe that’s why the technology side of things is going to be so important because if you can back it up with data where someone can go in there and make their own informed decisions. And I like to think of it as when you’re polling, all the experts that are out there use that as confirmation for what you’re thinking. So, if you’re using stats and data or you have an opinion on something, then you hear a few people on VSIN who are like, hey, also like this side. Boom, all of a sudden, that’s how you can make your informed opinion. But I liked the way that you said that because if you can have that foundation of technology in the back, that is something that can always be relied on.


Ben Fawkes: (23:14)

Yeah. And like I said earlier, I think it’s really important for people to remember, why am I making this bet? What is the reasoning behind this bet? Is it because one person on a show that I liked said that they liked that? It’s important to do your research. See where the market is. As you said, there are some trends that could go for you, against you. And again, we could have a, certainly a separate discussion on trends and the relevance of certain ones and all that. But like you said, there certainly are different biases and confirmation bias. I think it’s important for people just to remember, why am I making this bet? What led me to make this bet? Do I feel good about this? Or am I just tossing the song cause I’m bored or something else?


Those are generally like we say, there’s also a lot of money to be made by the bets that you don’t make. Sometimes those are the best ones. Losing $0 is better than losing 10 bucks, 20 bucks, 40 bucks, 50 bucks that you play. So, just making smart wagers and really kind of thinking through all that you’re doing, especially in this unprecedented time that slowly will be coming to an end with all those sports not converging. But we’ve had such a crazy August where we had all of these sports. You had games from 10:00 AM to midnight kind of on both coasts, not really. There was just always something to bet on. And that’s where you’re going to start to lead down to, Oh my God, it’s 2:00 PM. I’ve already had six bets, but you know what the Clippers game is on. I also got a bet on this.


Rob Cressy: (24:50)

Let’s run that back. It was such a beautiful time. Ben, really enjoyed jamming with you. I feel like we could do this for a long time. Where could everybody connect with you?


Ben Fawkes: (25:01)

Yeah. Can follow me on Twitter, @BFawkes22. All of our great content on VSIN, VSIN.com. The point spread weekly coming out this week on Wednesday. It’ll be out every Wednesday and then yeah, all the different shows we have on a variety of platforms and continuing to expand. So, really hope everyone checks it out and we’re certainly always open. So, if there’s stuff you want to see, stuff you think we’re doing too much of, certainly just let us know or looking to always improve the content.


Rob Cressy: (25:33)

And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I’m curious, what do you look for in a sports personality that you follow? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter, @FanFoodondemand. On Instagram, @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @RobCressy.