Michigan Sports Betting Analysis: Barstool Down, PointsBet Up As Slowdown Nears

Written By Matt Schoch on March 17, 2021 - Last Updated on March 11, 2024
Michigan Sports Betting Analysis March 2021

Michiganders bet more on sports in February than any other state’s residents did in their first full month of online betting.

That means there’s a lot to take in. We’ll give it a shot.

More than $300 million was wagered last month in the new MI sports betting market, which launched Jan. 22. That’s a lot of action, especially as basketball and hockey seasons hit their dog days and football closed up shop for the year.

Which of the 12 operators in the state made the biggest moves up? Who went down? What’s on the horizon for the market?

We now have 38 days of Michigan online sports betting revenue data, so let’s get right to our biggest takeaways.

1. PointsBet proving old-school marketing works

Virtually nobody in Michigan knew who PointsBet was a year ago.

And although few will mistake its name recognition with DraftKings or FanDuel anytime soon, the Australian company is rising toward the top tier.

To be clear, PointsBet is still a distant fifth in market share behind the leaders (FanDuel, BetMGM, DraftKings and Barstool, respectively). But a full percentage point jump in share of handle (from 1.3% to 2.3%) is comparatively big. PointsBet took $1.5 million in bets in January and $7.0 million in February.

Early on, PointsBet spent money and set their sights on news-making deals to get their name out there.

Their partnership with the Detroit Tigers was MLB’s first. Richard Hamilton was the first state-of-Michigan athlete to sign with a sports betting brand. PointsBet is getting a themed bar at Little Caesars Arena, they’re all over the ice and boards during Red Wings broadcasts, and you can’t walk around downtown Detroit without seeing signage everywhere.

It’s paying off with progress, and that’s still without an online casino launch. When the company launches its first online casino (as it expects to soon), that environment will present more cross-selling opportunities and a chance to spend more in customer acquisition.

2. Barstool needs to find more Michigan pizza to review

While PointsBet Sportsbook in Michigan celebrates staying at No. 5, the operator it’s chasing at No. 4 isn’t doing its usual boasting.

Barstool touted its sports betting revenue lead after the Michigan launch and ranked third in January handle, right in the mix of the top tier.

But there’s really no positive way to slice a drop to a distant fourth in February, from 23.9% to 13.3% of market share.

What happened?

You have to first credit Barstool for having the boots on the ground for launch week. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy tried every pizza from Melvindale to East Lansing for viral videos. Penn National Gaming’s decision to match opening-weekend bets toward The Barstool Fund was brilliant.

Michiganders love helping small businesses, and there are plenty that need help after a rough 2020.

That said, viral marketing has a short shelf life. The internet collectively, and quickly, moves on to the next shiny object.

It was perhaps telling that Portnoy did not tweet about the Michigan revenue numbers Tuesday.

Flat debut for Barstool online casino

Not only did Barstool lose sports betting ground, but the No. 5 finish in online casino also has to be a disappointment.

There, the Greektown Casino partner was boxed out by BetMGM, FanDuel, DraftKings and PokerStars.

Barstool Casino launched Feb. 1, so there was an opportunity to have another launch day in the sun. But online casino is a current afterthought for the brand.

The product looks just like any other Kambi brand, and there’s nothing that will specifically attract the company’s loyal Stoolies to the platform.

Barstool has opportunities to brand online casinos more effectively down the road, but that process will take time.

3. What do spring and summer look like for MI sports betting?

We know March Madness will carry the day for online sports betting this month.

Boatloads of promos are in full effect in Michigan, and $100 million or more could be bet on March Madness alone.

But once the nets are cut down on April 5 in Indianapolis, what then?

Sports betting is somewhat seasonal. Football season is king, the Super Bowl is the biggest single-event for betting on the calendar, and then March Madness boosts the market some before an elongated offseason from April to August.

There are fewer sports on TV for BetMGM and FanDuel to advertise to a captive audience. Plus, once vaccinations are deployed at a large scale to combat the coronavirus pandemic, summer vacations could distract even avid fans from betting on sports.

So, after March, you can probably couch predictions of $500 million monthly betting handles until September.

But will operators down the list see a slowdown as a chance to pry away a few customers from the big boys? Might they find niche markets and spend money here and there as industry leaders prepare for the fall?

Or, could the offseason let the strongest online casino products shine, and then allow those operators to cross-sell those new customers back to sports come fall?

With 38 days in the books, there’s a range of possibilities and opportunities ahead. The global market will be watching Michigan.

Matt Schoch Avatar
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Matt Schoch

A Michigan native, Matt has worked at newspapers in Michigan, Missouri and the Virgin Islands. A versatile sports reporter, Matt has covered sailing on the Great Lakes, cricket in the Caribbean, high school and pro playoffs, and the Olympics in Rio. He's also the former host of the Locked On Pistons Podcast and producer of a documentary on Emoni Bates. A former blackjack dealer, Matt has studied the industry from all sides.

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