1 April, 2022

Making the most of a winter World Cup

Pronet Gaming CEO Alex Leese predicts how betting levels will be impacted by a winter World Cup, and how trading will differ from other major football tournaments, in conversation with Peter Lynch.

Just a few short years ago, the idea of a winter World Cup would have been laughed at, primarily due to the huge upset it would cause to the regular football calendar. Fast forward to 2022, and this is now a reality, with the upcoming World Cup to be played from 21 November to 18 December.

The winter period is usually a very busy month for players, clubs, supporters and, of course, betting companies. But now the entire routine has been turned on its head, with the biggest competition in world football forced to be held from November to December due to the intense summer heat of Qatar, the host nation.

Before a ball has even been kicked, the 2022 World Cup certainly hasn’t been short of controversy, but FIFA will be hoping all the excitement quickly drowns out all the criticism as soon as the tournament
gets underway.

It’s just the second-ever World Cup to be held entirely in Asia, following in the footsteps of the 2002 competition in Japan and South Korea. Sports betting has evolved immensely since then, with countless innovations developed in the gambling industry in those two decades.

Fans of the game may certainly need some time to adapt to this new format – which incidentally is to be played in a reduced timeframe of around 28 days – but given the calibre of teams and players involved, it shouldn’t take long for punters to fully immerse themselves in the competition.

It wasn’t that long ago, of course, when fans of the beautiful game were gambling in huge numbers on the 2020 European Championship last summer (played, of course, in 2021). Interest was also evident in the recent Africa Cup of Nations tournament.

One constant of such huge sporting events, however, is the global audience. And as one of the most-watched tournaments on the planet, the 2022 World Cup certainly has the potential to attract its biggest audience yet.

Sports betting companies will be expecting another fruitful period, particularly in the UK if the England national team manages to enjoy another lengthy adventure on the international stage.

As you know, the World Cup will be held in November for the very first time. How will it being held in November impact betting levels?

Typically with the World Cups falling in June/July time, that is normally a dead time for football betting in an ordinary year. So the impact of those summer tournaments on the bottom line is that it tends to be the cherry on top; it’s always going to be an addition to what you normally get.

So here, and even in my previous firms like William Hill and GVC (now Entain), we would always be forecasting for at least a higher turnover amount during that period. I guess the difficulty this year, and this is where we’ve actually impacted our forecast, with it falling in November – I think it starts on 23 November, but the players are all reporting for international duty on 15 November – from that point onwards they’re going to be gone for a month. Normally, that period tends to be one of the busiest periods, certainly in UK football, but also globally as well. You’ve got the combination of the European domestic leagues, the cups taking place, the Champions League, the Europa League. So you are tending to see a very, very high level of turnover coming in at that time. Turnover wise, it’s a pretty strong time of the year and we run a January to December financial year so it’s quite a nice boost in that period.

Obviously now, the World Cup is going to eat into that. So for the individual matches, yes we’ll see a decent boost in turnover; but I think, overall, we are going to be forecasting a little bit less during that period, just simply because of losing so many fixtures and basically replacing them with a much lower number of fixtures. Yes they’re more high profile, yes they attract more recreational punters, but the bottom line is – seeing it very bluntly – it’s just another set of football matches really, and it’s about how you make the most of it.

How will World Cup betting compare to the recent Euro 2020 tournament?

You could argue that the World Cup has a higher profile, but I would tend to put them on the same level just because of when they actually occur. I think ultimately the success of those tournaments – when you’re speaking specifically about turnover – is all about the build-up to it. We’re a B2B platform provider, so we are reliant upon our B2C clients doing a good job on the marketing in the build-up to the tournaments. So doing what we would  expect: using it as a good acquisition event, trying to bring in a lot of players, making sure that the PPC is all timed correctly so it falls on the three or four days just before the tournament; and that they’re bidding on the right keywords, and that they’ve got the right cross-sells in place. Then post-tournament, making sure they hold on to the players that they’ve acquired for about three or four weeks before the friendlies and the new European domestic leagues start.

Maybe some of the trading directors would give you a different answer, but in terms of me forecasting for it, if it was a summer event, I wouldn’t be forecasting more for either the World Cup or the Euros, I would tend to put them on the same level.

In terms of results, I don’t really see how that is going to affect our results too much, because ultimately with summer World Cups you’ve got players coming off the end of the league; it’s a more tiring tournament for the vast majority of players. This one, you could argue that players might be a bit fresher, but then you wonder what the impact is going to be in terms of this very sudden jolt between stopping the regular fixture schedule at that time of year, then going straight into a World Cup. My hope and expectation is that it might throw up a few interesting results for us, which for every B2C and B2B operator with a trading team is good for business.

And how did betting do in the recent Africa Cup of Nations tournament?

January, generally speaking, tends to be a slightly slower month than what we would see, for example, upon the resumption of the Champions League. From a broad point of view, we had a really strong performance.It was a generally low-scoring tournament and ultimately the final was 0-0, which is the dream, margin wise. But I think with those two really high-profile players – Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – being involved with their teams in the final (Egypt and Senegal), we put some pressure on our clients to really make the most of that when it came to their promotions and mobilising their database of generally recreational and VIP football punters.

What is it like trading during a World Cup?

I’ve never been on a trading team, but I have certainly been on the marketing side of it. It is always an exciting time because of its profile. I would say that, in most of the major B2C betting firms in the UK, the traders themselves are in it every day. Most of them probably have a bet as well, but I would argue the vast majority of the other people who are working for the big operators in the UK, probably about 90% of those people never really bet in general.

But with these big tournaments, what you tend to find is that it really generates a level of excitement internally, and I think it’s a chance to bring the company together. There’s usually a couple of betting competitions internally, so it’s a time when you get the whole company involved in watching the vast majority of the games. It’s a good time.

How much of betting in major tournaments is due to fans backing their own nation?

Everyone’s going to have their opinion on this one, but from what I have seen – and this is actually reflected by the budgets that the firms are tending to spend on acquisition in the run-up to the tournament
– these are events that people who maybe don’t normally bet, or the more recreational punter, are going to get involved with. Of course, your regular punters who are betting week-in, week-out on all the various leagues, the more savvy punters, they’ll still be involved. But you do get a surplus of these recreational players.

I think with all the excitement that goes with it, and the further it goes, you do tend to find people backing their own teams, just out of interest. But it’s also good to see them getting involved in some of the other games as well.

And that’s what any B2C operator should be trying to do; just trying to leverage the excitement around the tournament, in terms of getting people to back their own teams. But you don’t just want that, you want to get people involved in as many games as you possibly can so that you can retain them in the build-up to the new season, to give yourself a nice boost come August. That was always my strategy when I was doing that sort of job in the past.

Does Pronet have any specific plans for the World Cup, either in a product sense or indeed a marketing/strategy sense?

Our job as a platform provider is to provide our clients with as many tools for them to be successful, because we all share in that success. We don’t work for free, of course, we charge a percentage of whatever they make; but it is our job to do that.

For the last Euros, for example, we were releasing a number of widgets, which were certainly very well received by all of our clients; so don’t be too surprised if you see that kind of thing occurring again. Certainly something that includes group betting, player betting, outrights and as many markets as possible in the widget. But I guess we can reveal a bit more about that when it comes to ICE, which isn’t too far away.

And last but not least, who will win the World Cup?

I’m going to duck that to a certain level; I could just give you one of the favourites and that would be it! But what I would say is that I think everyone is perhaps waiting for the day when we see one of the African nations going really far in the competition. Hopefully it is a matter of when rather than if. There have been some strong performances in the past from the likes of Senegal, Ghana, etc.

I know I’m copping out of the question, but I think any answer I give you is just going to be pretty much what everyone else will tell you. So I’m going to go with what I would like to see happen. I’d love to see one of the African nations getting far in the tournament, and given the fact that Pronet Gaming is very focused on the African market, I can’t deny there’s a bit of self-interest in that, which hopefully is fair enough. But also from a personal perspective as well, I would like to see that, and hopefully AFCON can be seen as a springboard for success.