IN-DEPTH 16 November 2016
Jeremy Thompson-Hill & Matt Davey interview: The future is bright for OpenBet
The two CEOs reflect on NYX’s acquisition of OpenBet, as the sports-betting provider reaches its 20-year anniversary
By Gambling Insider
It’s been 20 years since OpenBet, one of the digital sports-betting industry’s most reputable suppliers, launched. Those 20 years have provide the company with many highlights, none more so than when it was acquired for £270m by NYX Gaming Group. OpenBet CEO Jeremy Thompson-Hill and NYX CEO Matt Davey spoke to Gambling Insider about the history of the OpenBet brand, the thinking behind making the deal from both sides, and what the future holds for the newly-sealed partnership.
You’ve been at OpenBet for almost all of the company’s 20-year history. On your first day did you envisage being here for the company’s 20th anniversary?
It is hard to look that far into the future, especially in our industry where things change so quickly. If you look at the long timers in the industry 20 years ago compared to today, not many have survived, so that is an achievement in itself. The fact that OpenBet is still going strong 20 years later is a testament to our ability to adapt and remain flexible. On a personal level, while I may not have imagined sitting here almost 20 years later, as soon as I joined OpenBet it was very clear this was a company that offered a fantastic opportunity for growth. The culture at OpenBet is unique and I cannot imagine a better place to have worked for the past nearly two decades.
OpenBet has been publicly very successful over the past 20 years, but do you have any personal highlights or favourite achievements that might be less well publicised?
In successfully navigating our way through three sales – NDS/Permira, Vitruvian and NYX – all offered big challenges, and I am extremely proud of how everyone at OpenBet reacted and adapted to these changes. We’ve continued to grow strongly throughout and that has been perhaps our greatest achievement of all. Elsewhere, there are so many memorable moments it is hard to single out a handful, but signing our first lottery and international customers were big moments for us, we knew we were stepping up to another level. Also seeing our first in-play bets being placed – something which seems absolutely standard today but at the time was ground-breaking – was also a fantastic moment.
Twenty years of stability is a long time to build company culture. What do you believe the core values of the culture you’ve developed at OpenBet?
At the very heart of everything we do is an absolute focus on the customer. We are in constant dialogue with our customers and that informs every area of our business from development to service. It is easy for a business to say it is focused on the customer, but the challenge is making it a part of the culture. I’m proud that we’ve created that culture so successfully at OpenBet and the results we’ve had are evidence that the approach works. Beyond that, we’ve always valued transparency, honesty and respect – the clue is in our name. They are basic values, but they take you a long way.
From your perspective, how did things change at OpenBet the day the NYX acquisition was announced?
Throughout OpenBet’s history, we’ve never actually been owned by people in the industry. We have previously been owned either by private equity firms such as Vitruvian and Permira, or NDS, which was a news corporation interested in the television industry. So the biggest change I’ve noticed, and something which provides us with a huge competitive advantage, is that we are now working with a partner with a great deal of experience in this industry. Some of our experience overlaps, other parts complement the work NYX has done in the past, but it makes a real difference on a day-to-day basis. It means we have partners who can support and even sometimes challenge us on things which previously may not have been discussed. It helps nurture a culture of cooperation and innovation because we have access to many great minds with years of experience in the industry. Even in these first few months, we’ve seen the huge positives this can bring.
What were the key benefits you saw from completing the deal?
The core benefit is finally having a permanent home for OpenBet, and somewhere we are welcome and are surrounded by people who have a deep understanding of the industry. Beyond the day-to-day collaboration, partnering with NYX gives us the ability to step up our offer to customers and begin to look more at what we can do in other verticals, particularly casino. It is more important than ever to offer customers a complete service and we are in a far stronger position to do just that as a combined entity with NYX.
Is it too far in the future to predict what the next 20 years hold for OpenBet?
Given how much has changed in the previous 20 years, I would say it is. But we can make some educated guesses of what our future might look like. I am really excited about the possibilities in the coming years. At OpenBet we are constantly reviewing our core products and looking for ways to improve them, and we’ll have some exciting announcements to make in the coming months, particularly around casino. More broadly, there are exciting possibilities emerging in areas such as virtual reality, and areas that we are yet to discover. The one thing you can never say about our industry is that is boring.
We’re assuming you must have been an admirer of OpenBet for some time. Do you remember the first time the company came onto your radar and what aspect of the company caught your eye?
We were very familiar with OpenBet, in fact I reached out to Vitruvian in early 2015 to gauge their interest in selling the company. OpenBet has been one of the most respected names in our industry for two decades, so the company has always been on our radar. We’d long looked at sportsbook and seen it as a natural vertical to expand into. This deal completes a vision we started back around 1999, to be the leading provider to the digital gaming industry. OpenBet’s performance and customer base made them stand out. When combining our key strengths there is an amazing platform for growth and innovation to help us better serve our customers. The fact that there is a similar company culture just made the deal all the more appealing.
The announcement of NYX’s acquisition of OpenBet earlier this year was an exciting moment for both companies. Is that level of excitement still there for you or do you feel as though everything is now back to business as usual?
Although a few months have passed, we are still very much in the early stages of combining our businesses. Yes, the excitement factor is certainly still there. There are a number of conversations across the business about potential projects, making NYX a vibrant place to be. Of course, it is still business as usual as far as our focus on delivering to our customers, which is another natural synergy between OpenBet and NYX. Continued focus on where we can leverage our combined strength together is an excellent opportunity for our teams to work together across the entire company.
Twenty years near the top of the industry is a great pedigree for a company like OpenBet. Was that longevity a factor in the decision to pull the trigger on the acquisition?
Twenty years as a tier one supplier is a major achievement and there are only a handful of providers who can point to something similar. OpenBet’s success over the years was of course a major factor, combined with a focus on the future that has produced a company that continues to drive innovation in this sector. We want to ensure OpenBet remains at the top of the industry in another 20 years time. We firmly believe that being part of NYX Gaming Group will play a major role in keeping OpenBet ahead of the game.
Did NYX proceed with the acquisition because of, or in spite of its lack of experience in the sports-betting products market?
Certainly OpenBet offered NYX expertise, products, and customers in a field where we were not as established. We view the sports-betting market as highly attractive with high barriers of entry. Further, there are plenty of natural synergies between us. As stated earlier, this acquisition completes a vision we set out in 1999 to become the world’s number one regulated provider. We are now in a position to offer our customers a complete service across all verticals without the need to sacrifice our agility because we’ve partnered with a company that shares these values. Scale is becoming more important than ever and we have found a way to achieve it in a sustainable way with market leading product.
You’ll obviously have plans for OpenBet’s growth in the next few years already mapped out. Are you prepared to be vocal about what those plans are, or are you keeping your cards close to your chest?
Of course we have a plan mapped out for future growth and while it won’t be something we’ll be sharing every detail of,
I can give you an idea of the direction we will be heading. There will be a major innovation programme which will look to leverage these new resources to create products which can drive the entire industry forward. We will review the possibility of expanding the OpenBet offer into new customer segments to complement the existing client base all while we continue to deliver seamless service to our existing customers. It is a hugely exciting time and everyone at NYX and OpenBet is incredibly optimistic about the future.