Out of the sportsbook companies we routinely cover, few have gone through the transformation theScore has. It began as a TV show in the 90s, then went completely online in the mid-2010s. Its sports media app became popular in the United States, giving theScore an early glimpse at the international success to come. Shortly after the 2018 PASPA repeal, theScore released its sportsbook app in the United States. Today, it’s working on becoming a national gaming brand in the United States and beyond.
But other sportsbooks have sports news products, too. Fox Bet and Barstool Sportsbook draw fans from their sports media products. (Or in FOX Bet’s case, its partnership with FOX Sports.) But theScore has an advantage over both sportsbook companies. We spoke with theScore President and COO Benjie Levy to learn about what sets his company apart from his competitors expanding across the United States.
Before it expanded into sports betting, theScore was a news media company. It began as a TV station that showed sports betting odds across the bottom of the screen. From there, it grew into a sports reporting site that includes sports betting in its sports coverage. But no matter what product theScore launched, one thing always remained important.
“As a philosophical point, we’ve always believed that betting is part of the sports fan’s experience,” said theScore President and COO Benjie Levy. “Some fans bet on sports and other fans don’t. But for fans who bet on sports, it’s not something that can be separated from their overall consumption of sports.”
This may sound basic, but sports betting only recently became acceptable in the United States and Canada. Sports leagues wanted to distance themselves from it and teams didn’t want to invite controversy. But sports betting was common nonetheless, creating a massive unmet need for theScore’s early products to satisfy.
“When we created theScore television network and even its predecessor Sportscope,” said Levy, “Sportscope was scores and odds set to music. Static boards. Internet on television basically, before the internet existed.”
The Importance Of Being Approachable
However, it wasn’t just that theScore was the only company providing sports betting coverage. It was also one of the most approachable brands. “Our approach was kind of jeans and t-shirts style of sports, not suit and tie style of sports,” said Levy. theScore figured out that laid-back sports reporting could appeal to many fans the decade before Barstool Sports was founded. It’s something else that we take for granted today but was revolutionary at the time.
theScore’s media products have become more sophisticated since then. But the company has never forgotten its roots. “Recognizing our roots, there is no separation [between sports reporting and sports betting]. Any separation that you try to impose is truly artificial. It’s just part of the overarching experience.”
Why Other Sports Media Companies Didn’t Touch Sports Betting
While theScore integrated sports betting into its sports coverage, other sports news outlets didn’t touch it. In hindsight, it’s hard to see why they’d ignore such a large part of the market. But even the 2010s, it was a different time. “[Sports betting] was always off to the side,” Levy said. “It was not talked about. It was betting with your bookies or betting offshore. So, it was a fundamentally different approach and I think it was the right approach. It endeared us to our fans and ultimately now leads to much more natural conversation.”
theScore’s head start in sports betting coverage made a huge difference when sports betting swept the United States. Even established networks had some awkward moments trying to integrate sports betting into their news coverage. As recently as the 2021 Super Bowl, some sports broadcasters didn’t understand the sports betting segment’s terminology. Integrating sports betting into sports media is hard after avoiding the topic for so long. However, older broadcasters found ways around the taboo.
“For years, [it was] like watching Al Michaels covering a game that’s deep in the fourth quarter,” said Levy. “There’s a meaningless field goal because it’s not affecting the outcome of the game. And you get a cryptic, ‘Well that’s going to be interesting to some people.’ Yeah, it’s actually interesting to a lot of people who are engaged in the game and who maybe have a bet on the total. They’re totally immersed in the experience. So, not to acknowledge it is to not recognize what a significant part of the sports fan’s experience this is.”
Today, there’s no need for this kind of sidestepping. Sports betting has become enmeshed with sports journalism.
Competing With FOX Bet And Barstool Sports
theScore may have pioneered the marriage of sports reporting and sports betting. But Fox Bet and Barstool Sportsbook are two other big sportsbook brands with strong media ties. FOX Bet benefits from a partnership with FOX Sports, and Barstool Sportsbook draws from its loyal followers from Barstool Sports. theScore approaches both companies differently. First, Benjie Levy described what sets theScore Bet apart from all other sportsbooks.
“For our part, we’re very much product-led,” Levy said. “We lead with our mobile app. It services a very hardcore user base–guys who are on the app 150 plus times a month.” Users can switch between theScore’s sportsbook and news apps, allowing bettors to combine sports news with sports betting.
FOX Bet And Barstool Sports
Although he didn’t mention FOX Bet by name, Benjie Levy made one comment about one of the challenges of creating an integrated sports media and betting product.
“One of the things that we’ve found is that it’s very challenging to do that and create that experience if you’re not doing it in a unified way all in one company with one engineering team and one product team all focused on that same fan.”
FOX Bet is a joint venture between The Stars Group and FOX Sports. It’s a distinct company, but FOX Sports and The Stars Group must agree on how to run it. That can create conflict and slow the innovation process in a way that theScore doesn’t have to worry about. Benjie Levy may not have been thinking of FOX Bet in particular, but we can’t help thinking of it. In contrast, Barstool Sports built a large media following under one roof before launching its sportsbook. Benjie Levy had more to say about them specifically.
“The guys at Barstool do a great job,” Levy said. “It’s a content-led approach. To the authenticity point I was making before, that resonates, I think. Everybody on Barstool, they’re sports fans, and they’re sports bettors, and that comes across. And I think that’s one of the reasons why they do well.”
In Barstool Sports, Levy recognizes some of the features that made theScore’s early sports coverage resonate. However, the two companies approach their customers differently. theScore focuses on having seamless transitions back and forth between its sports news app and its sportsbook. Barstool Sports focuses on churning out provocative content to drive its fanbase. Both approaches maintain a focus on the customer, which makes both companies worthy adversaries.
Coming To America
theScore is one of Canada’s biggest sports brands. Between its media product and sportsbook, it reaches a wide audience that’s highly engaged with sports and sports betting. There was little doubt about its success in Canada. But before the PASPA repeal, theScore’s success in the United States was far from certain.
“We had no concept for how we would do outside of Canada,” said Levy. However, theScore had plans for the United States since before PASPA’s repeal. When Americans downloaded theScore’s media app in droves, it was a turning point in theScore’s American strategy.
“What we saw very quickly was users of our mobile platform growing totally organically in the US and elsewhere to the point that two-thirds of our business was in the United States on our mobile platform. And ultimately, that’s what gave us the confidence in 2012 to say, ‘You know what? The time is right for us to exit the TV business and just be a 100% digital company.’ And so, we were driving forward building our digital business.”
The United States is a mammoth sports market, with mainstream sporting events that inspire bets worldwide. So, when PASPA was repealed, releasing a sportsbook in the United States was a no-brainer.
“We did our first access deal in mid-2018, launched in August or September 2019, and then obviously COVID hit,” said Levy. theScore Bet was successful in the United States, just like the sports media app before it. But the sportsbook’s success was only one of the big moves theScore made in America.
The United States IPO
On March 1, 2021, theScore closed its $186.3 million United States IPO. It was a big day that listed theScore on the Nasdaq and obviously raised a lot of money. But theScore kept one thing in focus throughout its US IPO.
“Our strategy isn’t changing as a result of the IPO,” said Levy. “It’s building our platform, [pursuing] a product-led approach. And we’re actually creating something in our view that is differentiated from the offering in the market.”
He went on to describe what he wanted theScore to avoid.
“Our view is, at the end of the day, your product has to stand for something. Users want to have to choose you and come back to you because you’re offering something that’s differentiated. If users are only betting with you because of your pricing or your promotion on any given day, you’re on a hamster wheel that just really creates a race to the bottom that I think, in the fullness of time, is fulfilling for no one.”
This goes back to theScore’s product-led approach. It intends to focus on integrating its sports news and sports betting platforms. That’s how it’s going to build its customer base and keep them coming back to use theScore’s products. However, that doesn’t mean theScore Bet won’t offer promotions–especially during big events like March Madness or the Super Bowl.
“Do we offer promotions? Absolutely. That’s part of the mix and our team, I think, is particularly great and creative about [asking], ‘How do you engage users around those events?’ And then, ‘How do you use those events to really draw the users into the ecosystem?’”
So, bettors can still expect competitive odds and promotions. But theScore doesn’t intend to lose focus on its products.
What Differentiates theScore From Its Competitors?
Benjie Levy emphasized theScore’s drive to differentiate itself from other sportsbooks and sports media companies several times throughout our interview. So, we drilled down into what theScore’s leadership wanted to see from its products. Switching back and forth between the sports media app and the sportsbook app is theScore’s signature feature. Seamless integration between the two apps is critical to them. But when I asked whether the two apps could be combined, I was told why it was no more than speculation.
“I think it’s a question of how the regulatory landscape evolves,” said Levy. “I think from our perspective, we’ve created an amazing user experience as is, and we’re very happy with how things are progressing. And if there’s an opportunity to more seamlessly integrate them, then we certainly will. But I think we’re in pretty good shape as is.”
The state-by-state regulations require theScore’s news and sportsbook apps to remain separate. There are no plans for making them into a single app. It’s a speculative vision of what theScore’s platform could look like someday. Since seamless integration is the goal, it’s easy to see why this is viewed as an ideal version of theScore.
What The Future Holds For theScore
theScore’s sportsbook app launched in the United States to great success. But its media app got here first and endeared them to an American audience. Its American IPO was successful, too. But theScore’s future still has plenty in store.
“We’re very excited about the opportunities ahead,” said Levy. “We just announced our market access deal with Caesars in Illinois. That’s really exciting. We’re actively working on broadening out our market access footprint in the United States.”
“Canada is an absolutely tremendous opportunity on the horizon for us. We’re seeing great progress in Ontario in terms of the framework that they’re putting in place. They’re aiming to have their new modernized iGaming framework up and running by the end of 2021. And at a federal level here [in Canada], there’s great momentum and cross-party support to amend the criminal code to permit single-event sports wagering in Canada. So, both north and south of the border, we couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities ahead of us.”
Between theScore’s recent Illinois market access deal Canadian sports betting reform, theScore is going to continue growing. And these market developments are in line with theScore’s long-term goals. Those goals are how Benjie Levy concluded our interview.
“We are aiming to be a national gaming operator in the United States,” said Levy. “And I think as Canada opens up, we’re going to be very well penetrated here. We think our branding and our market positioning, both in terms of our user base and the 25-year legacy of our brand in Canada, positions us very well to do that.”