17 March, 2023

A renewed focus: XLMedia discusses its ambitions in the US affiliate market

XLMedia’s President of North America, Kevin Duffey, speaks to Gambling Insider about his career, XLMedia’s ambitions and the US affiliate market

Could you tell us a little about your appointment and your career before joining XLMedia?

I have a background in technology, media and digital publishing. I joined XLMedia through the acquisition of the Saturday Football company, where I was one of the Founders and leaders of a group of college football-centric websites for over 10years. We were acquired in September of 2021, and I immediately got involved in all of our properties while also helping grow our affiliate business in this space. I believe I have a strong understanding and experience blending the worlds of sports and media audiences, which relates to the affiliate business model.

This is an exciting moment where those things have converged into the sports betting landscape that we have now herein the US, and I think we are extremely well positioned with how we have approached the industry and our sports audiences.I am excited about the role and how this business at XLMedia is rapidly evolving through some acquisitions, and we are hitting our stride in terms of internal alignment; and building to capitalise on this space in the long term. So, I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

What are XLMedia’s plans for US markets in light of the competitive landscape and barriers to entry for affiliates, particularly in relation to the crossover between media and betting? How do you plan to differentiate from established market players such as Catena Media and Better Collective?

It is undoubtedly a competitive landscape, and we are in a moment where the business is evolving. As everyone is aware, this industry is not unique in its renewed focus on profitability and sustainability. While there will be a land grab in new states as they unlock and open up in the future, it will increasingly be done through a lens of lifetime value of users and profitability. As we look at our own plans, we know we need to be aligned with where the industry is going. A big point of emphasis is on the quality of the user. As an affiliate, we drive users at scale in terms of volume, but we also need to drive a certain level of quality that will drive lifetime value to our partners. If we do that well, we will be very well positioned for a sustainable business and to be great partners to some of the operators in the States.

We are working on many things, all with an eye on building a sustainable business in the long run. This means working on sustainable commercial deals, whether it be rev share, hybrid or CPA deals. We want to be good partners where it’s a win-win situation, and our partners see great value from the users we send them. We are focused on our internal technology and capabilities in terms of driving high-quality users from sports audiences.

We’re excited about the convergence of large audiences and how to engage them in a way that drives conversion and engagement in the betting landscape. Operators want users that are highly engaged over time. Our team loves when new states open up, but we are also eager to continue building out our capabilities to drive sustainable volume and quality of users throughout the year; outside of state launch windows as well.

Will New York, which currently does not have a revenue-share model in place, eventually adopt one? Is it inevitable for states without rev share to end up implementing it?

Yeah, I think that’s an interesting question. Every state is so unique. Every state has its own agenda and personalities at play there in terms of state legislatures. We monitor all of it, including things that are proposed, even if we don’t think they’ll move forward. It’s interesting to see the buzz and where things are; what’s being discussed etc. I think it’s obvious more work is needed and will happen in certain states. New York has been pretty unique and is a challenging environment in many respects. It’s interesting that we’ve seen how it can be effective when operators, affiliates and regulators work together to ensure a healthy industry in the state, both from a business sustainability standpoint and also a responsible gaming standpoint.

That point was just made in Massachusetts, how affiliates are actually a valuable and important part of the equation here when ensuring proper responsible gambling messaging. So I think that is a successful path forward. Now, which states will adopt rapture and which ones won’t – and how, it’s hard to say. We’ll see and monitor, but I do think the goal of every state is to have a healthy, sustainable industry, which means operators that have sustainable businesses. The goal is also to have responsible gaming and proper user protection in every state. At the end of the day, all parties are aligned in that way and, when given the opportunity to sit down and work together towards those solutions, things happen. Our view is that over time, things will trend towards revenue sharing increasingly. But as that happens, each state will go at varying speeds.

What are your thoughts on the potential for big moves in the affiliate M&A space over the next couple of years? Specifically, do you see consolidation as a necessary step for certain players in the highly competitive US landscape? And as a more general question, what do you think about Better Collective’s decision to take a greater than 5%position in Catena Media?

It’s certainly interesting. I think this industry will have ups and downs for sure, there will be new players that enter and there will be consolidation that occurs. We are very, very focused on this incredible US market that we think has years ahead of it. And we know that every year can look a little bit different, right? So how our competitors are approaching it, we monitor, of course. And we find some of these moves interesting, but don’t necessarily have a comment specifically on it.

In terms of XLMedia’s plans in US territories in 2023, do you have any final thoughts on major trends and topics?

Yeah, it’s funny, I think our business and our model are pretty simple. It’s a good thing in business when you have a simple model. As I mentioned, there’s an increased focus on quality of user. So our view is that we believe in high-quality, highly engaged audiences on sports media properties and sports betting properties. And this, for us, is both owned and operated properties as well as media partners. Our goals are pretty simple, aligning more with the long-term goals of our partners for sustainability and for a long-term view on this business. And then internally, what can we do to improve how we engage and convert our audiences?

Then how can we grow our audiences in a manner that will lead to continued growth in the affiliate space? We think we are uniquely positioned with sports fans and sports audiences that we know are betting both in existing states, and future states

where we have a really profitable long-term business here. As we operate, we continue to improve at how we engage those users toward that end. So it’s pretty simple. It’s aligning well with our operators. It’s engaging and converting our audience. It’s growing that audience in a way that makes sense for an affiliate business model, even while we diversify and explore other areas as well. But we know our core is the affiliate business model here in the US and view it as a really profitable business here for years to come.

Every state has its own agenda and personalities at play in terms of state legislatures. We monitor all of it, including things that are proposed, even if we don’t think they’ll move forward
I think this business will have ups and downs for sure; there will be new players that enter and there will be consolidation that occurs. We are very, very focused on this incredible US market that we think has years ahead of it