Virtual sports still popular despite live sports returning

Speaking at SBC Digital North America, Inspired's Steve Rogers stated how virtual sports has continued to stay on a strong path even as live sports return.

Virtual sports have undergone fantastic growth in the betting industry over the past 12 months due to the absence of real-life sports, but even now with real-life sports making a return, virtual sports haven’t dropped off.

Speaking at SBC Digital North America on the panel titled ‘Virtual Sports on the rise – in retail and online’, Steve Rogers, Chief Commercial Officer of Virtual Sports at Inspired Entertainment, highlighted how the virtual sports industry has continued to stay on a strong trajectory even as professional sports have returned throughout the year.

Rogers said: “We’ve seen as live sports return, the virtual drop-off hasn’t happened. We’ve found that virtual sports gained a new audience during that period and it hasn’t gone away, it has actually increased since then.

“What we thought was going to be possibly a drop-down when live sport continued, we haven’t seen that, online being a major driver of that. Online used to be roughly 30% of the virtual business for Inspired, it’s now the dominant revenue stream for us.

“Online, particularly mobile, is where we see the big growth area. Retail is always going to be important, but online is really where we see the growth.”

As for virtual sports’ potential in the North American market, Rogers gave it an NGR potential of $40-$50bn if it was fully embraced by both online and land-based operators, thanks to its different sectors and the flexibility of the virtual sports product, especially in the market of in-play betting.

When live sports were put on hold in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual sports was able to ‘plug the gap’ which it left behind, and even in some cases, create a ‘virtual variant’ of a real-life event.

An example of this happened when the Kentucky Derby horse race was postponed back in May 2020 due to the pandemic, as Inspired’s Virtual Sports created a virtual variant of the famous sporting event, which was then broadcasted on NBC to 1.7m viewers.

Rogers added: “We did a number of high-profile virtual sports events last year. We did one in the UK with the Grand National, we did one in Australia with the Melbourne Cup, and one of our other biggest high-profile events was the Kentucky Derby.

“The Kentucky Derby should have run in May, was cancelled and deferred until later in the year, so we spoke to the people at Churchill Downs and we developed a virtual Kentucky Derby. We ran it live on NBC with around two million people watching the event… That’s the pinnacle of how to ‘plug the gap’ when live sports doesn’t happen, we replace it with a virtual variant”

Rogers also highlighted how virtual sports is the perfect cross-sell product and how operators can fit into their portfolio of games for any type of consumer, from a lottery player to a sports bettor.

He stated: “This product itself, because it’s so flexible, and how we can make it simple for a lottery player who just wants to pick a number or a colour, or make it very complex for a sports bettor who wants to think a lot about data and odds and prices and statistics.

“That allows us, because of the flexibility of the product, to position it perfectly to where operators are looking to cross-sell.”

Rogers was speaking on the Leaders in Sports Betting Track, sponsored by Sportradar, at SBC Digital North America, which runs from 9-10 June 2021. Get your free ticket by registering at