Seven months after the launch of NJ sports betting, the Prudential Center in Newark has already signed marketing agreements with three companies for the 2018-19 season:
- William Hill Sports Lounge on Prudential Center main concourse
- FanDuel Sportsbook social, digital and NJ Devils in-game activations
- Caesars restaurant/bar on Prudential Center suite/club level
I wrote about these deals back in November. Now it’s time to see how the partnerships came to life during a recent Devils’ game.
This review will be in two parts:
- Overall branding and visibility for sports betting companies at Prudential Center.
- The William Hill Sports Lounge, which opened in December 2018.
(Note: Caesars’ concourse lounge has not yet opened. Caesars currently has a limited presence in the arena.)
Brand visibility in the arena
The impact of technology has been a boon to the team’s approach to marketing its sponsorship partners/brands.
Other than the fixed logos in ice and on the dasher boards, the in-arena messaging is seemingly in a constant state of rotation as all of the ads are fluid and changeable.
Don’t get me wrong, the visual impact of a 360-degree message for Budweiser, M&M’s or GEICO is striking, but the breakneck pace of the brand rotation in 10- to 20-second increments is sensory overload at times.
If you are checking your phone to see who got an assist on the last Devils’ goal or are busy posting a selfie to Instagram with the NJ Devil (team mascot), you will miss seeing some of the brands’ messages.
William Hill, FanDuel and Caesars are all included with 20-plus other Devils’ partners and in-house messaging promos in this advertising rotation.
On the ice, on the scoreboard and on the sidelines
Each of these brands receives added cut-through with other in-arena elements. For its part, FanDuel has a permanent goal-line, in-ice logo placement:
William Hill has opened its sports lounge in the concourse, which I will discuss later. It also has a feature on the main scoreboard highlighting NHL odds for the day’s schedule:
This feature is strong and impactful, but:
- It ran during live action, so it was distracting to shift focus away from play-by-play to read/follow the odds.
- There was no inherent “call to action” to alert people that there is also a William Hill lounge now open on the main concourse to check out and learn more information, et cetera.
As mentioned, the Caesars lounge is not yet open, but the assumption is fair that once it does, there will hopefully be a stronger presence than the “half-logo/half terms and conditions” creative message that Caesars is currently using:
The William Hill Sports Lounge
The William Hill Sports Lounge at Prudential Center is analogous in many ways to its NJ sports betting app:
- It’s functional and basic.
- There aren’t a lot of special features or “bells and whistles.”
As its branding in the arena and at the lounge tout “America’s No. 1 Sportsbook,” one may expect it to deliver more “buzz and excitement.”
The concourse space occupied by William Hill was previously a Jack Daniel’s themed bar. It’s in a high-traffic area on the public concourse level, at the top of the escalators at one of the arena’s main entrances.
Several points should be clarified before you enter the lounge:
- No, you cannot place bets at the lounge.
- Yes, if you enter the lounge, you will likely be approached by William Hill reps trying to entice you to download its app at the minimum, but ideally, complete an application process and make your first deposit.
- No, if you want to sit down and watch some games, you can’t as there are no seats in the lounge.
- Yes, there is a full bar so you can commiserate over a pint of Blue Point toasted lager after a walk-on’s garbage time three-pointer at the buzzer blows up your nine-team college basketball parlay.
Seating and amenities
Once inside the lounge, the furnishings consist of the bar area and five high-top tables. The tables have been uniquely designed to explain to the potentially new NJ bettors of some of the wagering options available. This detail is a nice touch by William Hill as many people may not know the betting lingo and also may be hesitant to ask someone to explain it.
As mentioned, the lounge is sparsely decorated. Aside from the bar tables to lean on, there is nowhere to sit. It’s standup only! In many ways, it has a British bet shop feel, and all that’s missing is a fruit machine in the corner and some of those really small pens.
From what I observed on this particular game day, the majority of the visitors to the lounge were grabbing a drink between periods (no long lines in the lounge) with the others asking questions about or signing up for the William Hill app. There was no one “hanging out,” checking the app or watching the games in the lounge.
I observed that the highest traffic in the lounge was pre-game and between periods of the Devils’ game. Once alcohol sales ended at the start of the third period, the foot traffic slowed even more.
Where to find the William Hill Sports Lounge
The William Hill lounge is on the main concourse and is open for every fan to access. The lounge is open for all Prudential Center events.
The primary tenants are the Devils (NHL) and Seton Hall NCAA basketball (again, no betting allowed on NJ college teams) and a variety of concerts, family events, WWE, etc. (Also, my lock of the year, the Harlem Globetrotters moneyline over the Washington Generals also was not available for wagering.)
Screens and odds
The lounge has three TV screens that face the interior of the space. They aren’t exceptionally large, so one needs to stand close to them to see the action. Also, there are a number of auxiliary odds and future prices screens in the lounge.
Ideally, these boards might be streaming various Devils or other NHL game props (first goal scorer, over/under for the first period) or in-play odds, but the William Hill app sports betting options are limited to full game spread/moneyline and over-under.
Instead, the boards highlight future wagers for the Stanley Cup winner, NFC/AFC, Super Bowl betting and the 2019 MLB World Series Champion. Hey, it’s never too early. Pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 13, and the Astros are 5-1 favorites.
Logging in to the William Hill NJ app
While I couldn’t seem to connect to a Prudential Center public Wi-Fi, it was straightforward and easy to log in and verify location to connect to the William Hill sportsbook app.
Interestingly on this game day, at approximately 30 minutes before the opening face-off, the Devils’ game was not available for wagering on the William Hill app. Only NHL games scheduled for later that evening were posted.
Once the Devils’ game was underway, it was then available to bet as an “in-play” option. I asked the William Hill rep about this later. He said that technically, you are not able to bet on New Jersey teams in New Jersey. I told him that is only applicable to college sports, but those restrictions would not apply to the Devils.
Other than the gaffe regarding what sports you can/can’t bet on in NJ, the William Hill reps accounted for themselves quite well. They were friendly, and were cordial in guiding new account holders through the sign-up process.
Clearly, William Hill is looking to drive app downloads and new accounts. There is a promotion offered in the lounge of “Bet $50 – Get $50” using a Devils-themed promo code. This is the same bonus offered to other new William Hill customers not signing up at Prudential, so there’s no extra benefit for applying on the site.
According to the William Hill reps, the majority of the sign-ups are new to sports betting, so good for them to be the initial point of entry to the space.
Since I have no visibility into the William Hill “success metrics” and what the costs are for the lounge, it’s hard to assess whether 20 sign-ups in one day is a good thing or not.
Getting a head start at Prudential Center
William Hill does have a head start here in the arena, as Caesars will also be opening its betting lounge in early 2019. The Caesars’ space is slated to be located on the club level, theoretically limiting access to the suite and club seat holders.
The William Hill Lounge is a clean, open space. As it’s only been open for a short time, there is an opportunity for continued improvement in the look and feel. Right now, it’s just basic.
Some of my thoughts and suggestions on how to make the William Hill lounge space more impactful:
- In-arena tie in: The main scoreboard feature displaying NHL odds could also be used as a “push” to the lounge by informing fans of its location and suggesting they go there to open up a new William Hill sports betting account.
- Jazz up the Lounge: Generate some new reasons for people to go and hang out there. Add some chairs and/or sofas, really anything to help add to the “time spent” in the lounge. One can only lean on a stand-up bar table for so long.
- Promotions: Develop some unique promotional angles for those that already have the app.
As the sports betting landscape continues to evolve state-by-state across the country, the battle for sports betting companies to market themselves is well underway.
FanDuel, William Hill and Caesars have been aggressive as the first to stake their claims to promotional rights in New Jersey at the Prudential Center.
But it’s early, and while there’s not a clear winner, each of these companies has a head start on the rest of the competition. The NJ sports betting market may grow to as many as 20 operators in New Jersey in 2019.
Also, these “early-adopter” deals should position each company to be at the front of the line if NJ laws change to allow on-site betting (similar to current UK soccer clubs). Hopefully, each of these companies built into their contracts the option to be an on-site betting provider.