Altenar CEO Stanislav Silin speaks exclusively with Gambling Insider about the provider’s performance in a difficult 2020, and what the future looks like for sportsbooks and the wider sports betting industry.
How has Altenar managed throughout the pandemic?
The company was struggling in the first few months when the pandemic hit all the sporting events. We had pretty much all of April, May and a part of June significantly low. It was the lowest we've had in the past months and even in the last couple of years, but then came July and August where things picked up and levels returned to normal. In fact, this November we've had more business than last November, so we have most definitely made a full recovery from the pandemic, as long as the sporting events are running. This is essentially a remote gaming online industry, but we do have some customers that have a land-based component to it, not 100% of it, and the online has probably grown where land-based has lost. So I think we're in good shape.
Have you noticed a change in customer demand?
Well, there are general tendencies that would have happened even irrespective of the pandemic. For instance, India is very much in demand with the Indian Premier League becoming one of the very significant sports competitions out there for the sports betting market, but that's not because of or due to coronavirus. That would have happened anyway in 2020, so that tendency is certainly there.
If I have to think of something that would really be related to the pandemic, it would be of course in March, where everyone went a bit more serious on virtual sports. There's also the simulated reality of events. I think Sportradar has done that, and a few others have created this simulated sports competition product. We've integrated a couple and our current suppliers have expanded their portfolio of events, so we have explored that.
Additionally, we tried to strengthen our esports offering throughout 2020, so if there is the worsening of the coronavirus situation – and the traditional sports events are out – we've got a better virtuals proposition, we’ve got the simulated events and we've got esports events. So those were the three development tendencies we have followed to be better prepared. Not that they actually make more money in their own right, or that they replace the other sports; but if you have them, you're better equipped to mitigate the risks. Because if traditional sports are not there, traffic will definitely decrease, but at least not so much if you have something else to offer.
Do you think then sportsbooks will change as a result of the pandemic?
Well, I think one has to look into the hope and the wish of everyone here that this is not forever. Let's look at the actual sports industry to begin with. Is the sports industry changing to not have spectators in the stadiums? I don't think so. I think everyone's understanding is that this is going to be for the time being. It may be a year, it may be two, but eventually things will start getting back, maybe not completely but they will start getting back. So something will probably change but not radically. I can't see how every stadium now becomes a stadium without spectators, and everything is then delivered digitally. I don't see how media companies or broadcasting companies are making this a permanent shift. Of course, they're adjusting to the current situation, but I think everyone has the aspiration that this is temporary.
What is the biggest challenge you've had to deal with in 2020?
In our case, not all offices had to work from home at once because we were based in different places, but we already had the notion of remote work. Even before the pandemic it was something that was pretty much normal and embraced by our teams. So for some individuals, this was an adjustment. For some individuals it was also a challenge, because for example many would have kids at home, and the working hours and the ways of working may be a little bit against the ability to work from home. Those were challenges for some people, but not for all, so we have had to find ways to deal with it through being flexible.
If we have to achieve certain results and move the company forward, then we have to adapt to the current circumstances. Google and Facebook have adapted to that. They're no longer saying you've got to work in the Google or Facebook campuses. You can work remotely, or a certain percentage of the workforce can work remotely. So even if these tech giants have done that, why shouldn't smaller and more agile companies be able to do so? But it was a challenge nonetheless.
Another development for Altenar in 2020 has been the introduction of the ‘Coffee Break’ discussions. How did this idea come about?
This was an interesting initiative we tried to do. It used to be possible to have conversations on various topics in the industry at the exhibitions, on our stand with people who would casually walk by, maybe get a coffee – because we always used to have coffee in our stands – and there would be different topics we could talk about. There's no requirement for going, this is not that people come and have a commitment necessarily as a result of this conversation. And this was something commonplace and normal. Now that's not possible and has been taken away, so we thought we will try and use our social media channels to try and still send the same suggestions or share some of the expertise we have obtained, through our current business relations with our customers or through the knowledge we acquired along the way.
We thought this would be interesting for people to see, or at least as a teaser to get in touch and see if this is something they may be interested in, because that's maybe what they're thinking about with regards to their business at the moment and perhaps we could help. But other than that it was just an experimental idea to do a little bit of video content, to do a little bit more social media marketing and to have a little bit of fun perhaps.
Do you think it can have a similar impact to the physical exhibitions?
We're obviously hoping the exhibitions and the physical events will return, because nothing beats a face to face conversation, nothing really can replace that. We're social beings, we need to interact with other people and doing so through an electronic medium is always going to be a little worse.
So no I don't believe it’s going to replace it, but we just hope the events return soon. We hope we don't need to be as inventive to create such content, but we will still obviously consider some other online marketing and social media marketing opportunities or initiatives in Q1 2021.