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The rise and fall of the Grand National Free bet (Part 2)

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Joining us as a repeat guest-blogger for a series of blogs on the history of the Grand National and free bet offers, is Spencer James of He is the director of Red Jack Media Ltd, who have been promoting free bets offers through a wide variety of sites for over a decade.

The early 2000’s were a great time to be a UK sport betting affiliate, with little competition in the marketplace and a google ban on all PPC advertising relating to gambling keywords, in those few short hours on a Saturday morning in April an affiliate could make life changing sums of money at very little cost.

This process of using free bets to promote the GN continued for a number of years, but slowly it became apparent that marketing teams had been doing their number crunching, studying player behaviour and betting patterns, and studying the actual ‘value’ of a player. People betting on the Grand National tended to take their free bets, bet only once and run to the next bookmaker, leaving the operator open to abuse.

It was clear that the Grand National free bet concept needed to be re-evaluated.

The term ‘mug punters’ was canned by the industry for these low value players – the business model of high CPA could not be sustained, and over the course of a few years, around 2006-2007, bookmakers began to slowly remove their free bets as incentives for the Grand National period.

A body blow to the free bets affiliates, who relied on the free bet as a point of promotion with their high CPA deals, but it was clear that the industry was changing and evolving, with marketing teams studying the profiles and gambling habits of Grand National punters, looking to cut their costs, and ‘get smart’.

Of course, not all bookies made it through this period unscathed, as UK Betting and Totalbet merged to become part of Skybet, Betdirect was incorporated into the Stan James brand, while CapitalSports came and went, later to be merged with Canbet.

The emergence of Betfair was shaking the industry to its core with its revolutionary methods of backing and laying selections.

With the popularity of internet betting, bookmakers were now looking to tap in to other sporting events, not just the National.

It was clear the Cheltenham Festival, for a long while the lonlier, poorer brother of the Grand National was emerging as another potential money making product for the gaming industry – these punters weren’t your traditional ‘mug punters’ with their once a year bets, they were savvy, had plenty of disposable income, enjoyed placing multiple bets throughout the year, and were the racing enthusiasts. And not all of them wore tweed.

Bookmakers were quick to catch on, increasing marketing spends to ridiculous levels, and the Prestbury Park Bookmaker Battle commenced, and still continues, as merchants jostle for punters much valued custom.

The Cheltenham Festival now has as annual £600m turnover, when compared to the £350m turnover of the National, and a prize fund of £3.4m, compared to Aintree’s £975,000.

So have online bookmakers given less preference to the Grand National, the grandfather and cash cow of all sports betting affiliates by pulling their free bet offers?

The answer is definitely no, but as bookmakers adapt, so must affiliates.

Cheltenham is for the knowledgeable, savvy punter, who studies form, watches the horses in the paddock, and takes months to make a bet decision. Cheltenham punters do not make their selections based on the horse’s name.  Cheltenham punters   are there to win and win big, bringing with them huge stakes of tens of thousands of pounds at a time;  Grand National punters are there for a ‘bit of fun’, with the average bet only £8.

A  much different animal to your Grand National punter, and for affiliates promoting sites and important point to take into consideration.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Blog – Part 3.


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