The Betting Sun

It’s a well-established rule in gambling that the house always wins, but if the house is run by a bunch of inept, flustering dummies who haven’t the first idea how to set odds, approach a customer, or stay on the right side of industry standards, it’s not entirely clear how anyone wins. Welcome to the House Of Sun…

Give or take a few court cases, jail sentences and citywide boycotts, the Sun is probably the best example of how to do tabloid newspapers. It’s cheap and throwaway yet colourful, cleverly constructed and, on occasion, genuinely agenda setting. It’s a shame then that Sun bosses seem to have the digital Midas touch in reverse.

After the endless saga of their unsuccessful paywall (which went up too late to be useful, subsequently sank, and was replaced by a generic clickbait website) their latest big gamble to secure some online revenue is Sun Bets. And how is that doing?

Well, since you asked…

As a newspaper, the Sun has always had a pretty nice partnership with the bookmakers. Bookies would pay handsomely to be allied with the paper’s tips and have their names sat alongside its coverage of the big races and football matches.

However, after News UK bosses saw how well their earliest forays into gaming were going (Sun Bingo and their version of fantasy football, Dream Team) they started to look askance at the vast sums being made by online bookmakers and decided they wanted a piece of the action.

After all, if Sun readers were the big sought-after demographic by bookies like William Hill and Ladbrokes, surely News UK was missing a trick not to monetise them? Why take the piddling little scraps of ad dollars and commission percentages when the real money was going to third parties?

The answer, they felt, was to run their own book. And so Sun Bets was born.

Sun Bets is a joint venture with one of Australia’s biggest gaming companies, Tabcorp. Tabcorp wanted to expand out of the Australian market and so they partnered with News UK. The agreement was structured as a ten-year deal, on a revenue share. Tabcorp would look after the nuts and bolts of the actual bookmaking while the Sun promised to promote the business both externally and to its “vast customer base and market-leading media assets”. August 2016 saw the launch, just in time for the English Premier League season.

Bookmaking is a pretty hard market to cut through in unless you’re prepared to spend a huge amount of money on sponsorship and promotion (and Sun Bets really weren’t, as News UK had promised their partners they already had a vast number of potential customers already) so, unsurprisingly, things got off to a pretty quiet start.

In order to get themselves noticed in a very crowded field then, Sun Bets made two big decisions. Big decisions that have already come to haunt them.

A Splash For Cash

Football and horse racing both have a surefire way to get attention at the start of each year: the FA Cup and Cheltenham Festival.

The magic of the FA Cup has been a little absent of late, until the fifth round draw in February this year threw up Sutton Utd v Arsenal. The sleek millionaires of Islington heading south to a tiny ground and a non-league team of part-timers.

You’d think you couldn’t miss by sponsoring an event like this. Yet, in being so desperate to make some noise, Sun Bets managed to be completely tone deaf – with the whole thing resulting in a mini scandal, terrible headlines and the sacking of the 18 stone goalkeeper for a pie-eating stunt on TV.

Some of the glowing headlines they received, include:

“How Sun Bets Corrupted The Most Romantic Game Of The Season”

“Pie-Gate Leaves Nasty Smell”

“Wayne Shaw Leaves Sutton United Amid Investigations Over Pie-eating Stunt”

It didn’t go much better at Cheltenham. The biggest competition of the year for both racing fans and gaming industry, it was a no-brainer for Sun Bets to make a splash. And, sure enough, they stepped up to sponsor one of the four big races of the week: The Stayers Hurdle.

Sun Bets put up around 200 grand to the race, but the racing industry expects a little more from its public faces than just cash. They want a commitment to big, splashy promotions. They want the best prices on the runners to draw people in. They want offers which show you’re serious about the commitment to racing. The sport’s funding is dependent on gambling revenues, so the industry needs to see that you’re in it to help out the sport, not just finding the cheapest PR stunt you can pull.

Sun Bets did practically none of those extra things the industry expects. What they did agree to was to offer best prices on the runners, but they only did that for just one day. Back in December 2016. When virtually no-one was betting.

Added to that, there was precious little horse racing coverage on the SunOnline. And on the day of the Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle (Thursday 16th March) the front page of the Sun newspaper was devoted to… a free bet for readers with Ladbrokes.

Mixed messages much?

Behind the scenes at Cheltenham things were equally bad. The Tabcorp contingent were quietly seething in one corner while the Sun Bets/News UK marketing teams skulked away as far as they could from them, the legacy bookmakers all sniggering at their new competitor’s ineptitude.

Even Sun Bets branding and promotions were getting a pasting. The 1950s end-of-the-pier stylings of the Sun might work as a tabloid newspaper but on an online betting site? Their prime demographic took one look at its “Chelter Belter” branding and ran the other way.

So that’s football and racing alienated for the foreseeable future – but is there enough in the way of novelty betting to give them a foot in the door? Not if the way they’re treating the UK’s biggest novelty market, the Eurovision Song Contest, is anything to go by.

The Sun Bets PR team are currently trying very hard to get some PR for their Brexit-focused “UK 20-1 To Come Last At Eurovision” offer.

Why have their odds-setting experts decided that 20-1 is a good price? To quote: “A well-sung ballad by a pretty female in English is very unlikely to finish bottom in Eurovision, especially given the new voting system”.

Very unlikely, is it? We have no idea where they pulled that nugget of wisdom from because if you look at last year’s results (when the new voting system they mention was introduced) you quickly see that last place went to Germany’s Jamie Lee.

A pretty female. Who sang a ballad. Well. In English.

Good luck even finding those odds though, because Sun Bets’ Eurovision options are tucked away in some far, tricky-to-reach corner of their site.

Their Novelty Bets menu links directly to their book for BBC Sports Personality Of The Year (which doesn’t take place until mid-December).

If you do somehow manage to stumble across the Eurovision markets you quickly see that the odds being offered are far inferior to every single one of the other bookmakers. Favourites Italy are 13-8 to 5-4 across the board, except with Sun Bets – where you can get them at Evens.

Disastrous public promotions, terrible industry PR, no gamblers and no idea how to set betting markets?

It’s all going swimmingly.