Don’t go global, go local: McBookie waving the flag for ‘regional’ bookmaking

Don’t go global, go local: McBookie waving the flag for ‘regional’ bookmaking

The term ‘UK market’ is bandied about a lot in business conversations. This can make it somewhat easy to forget that the country and its markets are spread across four nations – England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and last but by no means least, Scotland. SBC News Don’t go global, go local: McBookie waving the flag for ‘regional’ bookmaking

For some businesses, taking a ‘regional’ approach has proven to be a huge success, as Paul Petrie, one of the two directors of Scotland-focused online sportsbook McBookie, explained to SBC News.

Scotland against the world? Far from it

Reflecting on McBookie’s journey, Petrie explained that the initial idea behind the firm was to fill a gap in the market and become ‘the Paddy Power of the UK, but focusing on the Scottishness rather than Irishness’, but a set of circumstances has led the brand to pursue its own path.

Petrie began: “Once we got up and running, we realised that unless we had £50m in the bank to compete against Paddy Power, bet365, Ladbrokes, William Hill etc, it was just impossible. We made a decision to just focus on the Scottish market and not even bother with the rest of the UK in terms of marketing. 

“Once customers come in, because we still do get customers from outside of Scotland, if they prove to be a good customer, they get treated the same as a Scottish customer, dare I say. It’s not a case of Scotland against the rest of the UK, or Scotland against the rest of the world!”

As a white label brand – the operating side of McBookie is run by Star Sports, with whom the company shares a licence – Petrie and fellow Director Damian Walker’s main focus has been on marketing and cultivating McBookie’s status as the Scottish bookie for Scottish punters.

A significant part of the niche spotted by McBookie was that some of the UK’s largest operators don’t typically offer prices on the lower divisions of Scottish football. And when they do, regular followers of Scottish football may not necessarily agree with the prices they see. 

“The thing with betting is that consistency is the key,” he continued. “What you can’t have as a customer coming on to the site one week and the price being there, and then coming back the following week and the price is there, and so on.

“That’s where the other bookmakers were making a little mistake. We’ve been consistent. The odds are up at the same time every week, 21:30, on a Friday. Customers know that they’re going to be there and they can place their bet.”

Football is Scotland’s favourite sport, and as a rule of thumb punters into the country tend to bet more on the market than other countries in the UK, such as in England where despite the popularity of football, horse racing also continues to catch attention. SBC News Don’t go global, go local: McBookie waving the flag for ‘regional’ bookmaking

To engage the Scottish customer, McBookie has taken its knowledge and understanding of and connections with the national football scene to a deeper level than some of its larger competitors.

This has included not just providing betting markets, like offering prices on goals, scorers and cards throughout the football pyramid, but also sponsoring regional leagues which the bigger bookmakers would not even consider, such as the McBookie East Region and McBookie North Region leagues.

Petrie continued: “Scotland as a whole bets more on football than the rest of the UK. This gave us a distinct advantage because we know what we are focusing on. 

““From a turnover perspective, people are still interested in the Champions League Final and Manchester United vs Liverpool etc. Scottish punters and fans don’[t just focus on Scottish football, but that does allow us to get them in at a lower cost, and then offer them the rest.

“We know the Scottish football marketplace better than the other bookies in the rest of the UK, and that allows us to talk about it with real authority, which is the key. 

“I like to think that when it comes to betting we’ll be more realistic than other bookmakers. We look at it from the angle in Scotland at the moment, as in ‘what are people backing?’ rather than ‘what is the price that the industry makes it?’ That’s what we try to do, we make a call on a lot of these markets, which gives us that authority.”

To compete with the big budgets of bet365, Flutter and other betting and gaming giants, Petrie recognised that there is a need for a ‘savvy’ marketing approach. 

The firm’s regional focus itself has assisted with this, however, utilising knowledge of the market alongside cost effective engagement methods such as LED advertising, the aforementioned regional football partnerships and the Tartan Club rewards programme.

Don’t go global, go regional

From Petrie and Walker’s experience of Scotland, a ‘regional’ approach to bookmaking has proven an undoubtable success. This has, of course, been bolstered by the business’ familiarity with the market and its consumers, as well as Scotland’s love of sport.

Outside of football the country has many sporting heroes. Andy Murray, John Higgins, Gary Anderson and Josh Taylor are just some examples of the Scottish sports stars with a loyal following, and this dynamic local scene has given McBookie much to capitalise on and build a brand.

“Regionalised bookmaking, we’ve been banging the drum for it for so long and there are massive gaps in the market, but you need to be strict in what you do,” Petrie continued.

“You’ve got to know that that is what you’re targeting, instead of saying you’re going to do it and then completely ignore that aspect of it.”

Looking at McBookie’s success in Scotland, there is clear opportunity for other regional and national-focused operators to gain ground elsewhere, Petrie added, pointing to DragonBet as a particular example.

The Welsh firm – which operated on FansUnite’s now-sold Chameleon platform during the same time that McBookie was owned by the Canadian company – has grown from a racetrack bookmaker to a fully fledged online firm.    SBC News Don’t go global, go local: McBookie waving the flag for ‘regional’ bookmaking

Petrie predicted that the company will continue to make strides, whilst also questioning why in England a localised bookmaker hasn’t tried the same. Strong regional identities are not exactly in short supply from London to Northumbria, so could someone be missing the gap in the market?

“The DragonBet boys were so keen to come on the FansUnite platform because they wanted to replicate what we did. I could see them being a huge success because there’s such a gap in the market for a Welsh bookmaker. 

“They’ve already got that history behind them as an on-course brand, so they’ll actually have it a little bit easier than we did. We had no history behind McBookie whereas they’ve got that level brand. They’re already well known in Wales, and so they could take advantage.

“I’m still surprised that regional bookmakers in England aren’t looking at it. If I was a north-western English bookmaker I’d just make my free bets focused on the north-west, and then you don’t have to worry about bonus abuse from other regions.” 

The trick to success in regionalised bookmaking is ultimately to make sure you know your audience and stick to your guns – or perhaps not give into temptation – when it comes to marketing opportunities, if McBookie is anything to go by.

Petrie explained that McBookie has been offered several sponsorship opportunities outside of Scotland. These have included Swansea City FC in Wales and Newcastle and Carlisle racecourses in the north of England but, ultimately, these would not fit with the brand’s image.

“When you’re starting a bookmaker, there are loads that have tried to do it and spent lots of money and realised it’s very difficult,” he concluded.

“The ones that have succeeded are the ones that have tried to do it slowly and are more focused – McBookie, Fitzdares, QuinnBet, Star Sports, and I think DragonBet will find success.

“I thought RedZone, which was focused on American sports, was a great idea. I feel that was a brand that could have stuck around and made a real impact, focused on one target and really building that up.”

McBookie – knowing Scotland

2023 has so far seen two major developments for McBookie, with the second also having ramifications for all UK-licensed companies from Plymouth to Dundee, that being the Gambling Act review judgements.

As a white label, McBookie is less impacted by the operational proposals of the gambling act review. However, did Petrie add that ensuring marketing activity is in line with any legislative changes will remain a key priority for the brand.

“I think the Scottish market will work the same way from a UK perspective in terms of how the regulation will come in. Scottish customers are just as likely not to want to send in ID as the rest of the UK, so there’s still that to deal with. 

“From a White Paper point of view it won’t make a difference in Scotland from the rest of the UK, although it will if there is independence. That will be interesting from a bookie’s perspective, with a new Commission etc.”

Despite this, he did share a view expressed by some other stakeholders – such as Fitzdares CEO William Woodhams – that the White Paper’s numerous proposals for further consultations haven’t provided the clarity many were hoping for. SBC News Don’t go global, go local: McBookie waving the flag for ‘regional’ bookmaking

For example, the promise of ‘frictionless’ affordability checks and the financial parameters behind these have been made clear, but how these checks will be implemented has not. Petrie emphasised that this will be a ‘difficult’ process, and the industry needs more information.

“We are still all over it in terms of knowing how important it is for the brand, but because there’s still the consultation period to come, It does seem like it’s been pushed further down the road. 

“What’s the point in having a white paper and then saying we’re going to consult about it? It all seemed like a pointless exercise. I think most of what was said, the industry knew it was coming but what needs to be established is how it’s going to be implemented.”

For the smaller operators, the White Paper may present somewhat of a stabiliser from a marketing perspective, however. As Petrie put it, the less marketing availability, the more firms are pushed to focus on their brand, service and product, instead of just advertising.

McBookie has been offered high-level Scottish sports marketing opportunities in the past, but a potential deal with Sky saw competition for betting ad slots and a potential deal with SPFL giants Celtic was a costly endeavour.

Although Scotland is not following its English Premier League counterpart in withdrawing shirt sponsorships, Petrie remained confident that any such moves north of the border would not impact McBookie.

“If they take the LEDs away, it wouldn’t be ideal but we would find other ways of marketing ourselves. It would be disappointing if we couldn’t sponsor the lower leagues too, but again we’d find other ways to market ourselves.”

New owner, new focus

A development more directly impacting McBookie, meanwhile, was the firm’s sale by FansUnite. Looking back on McBookie’s tenure as part of FansUnite, Petrie highlighted two key things the Canadian firm ‘brought to the party’.

Firstly, FansUnite brought an increase in marketing spend and further development of marketing infrastructure, enabling McBookie to fine tune its regional approach. Secondly, the company brought additional trading expertise to the operator.

What McBookie had was a deep knowledge of the Scottish market, as Petrie explained: “People in the rest of the UK don’t understand Scotland, let alone people in Canada! It’s something as simple as knowing that there is a difference between Dundee and Dundee United.

“You don’t want to make that mistake as a brand, but these are the sorts of mistakes that some UK bookmakers are making all the time when they’re getting involved with Scottish football or aren’t localised on it at all.

“The new owners know that they need to use our expertise when it comes to understanding the marketing in Scotland. What you’re allowed to say and not allowed to say. You’ve got to know your target audience, and we will retain control, we know what phrases and images to use, what teams are involved. 

“We’ll still have complete control on that, the guys will continue to put in the increased marketing spend and use their infrastructure to make sure we’re doing that better.”

Something else Petrie believes McBookie brought to the table for FansUnite was knowledge of the interconnected nature of a B2C betting business. 

From a bookmaking point of view, as Petrie pointed out, understanding how a decision can affect customer service, trading, compliance, and marketing, among other areas, is key.

With a new owner comes a new opportunity, however, and as FansUnite – which has now sold its Chameleon sportsbook platform – looks to readjust its business model, McBookie now has the chance to renew its focus.

“There were gaps in the market we needed to take advantage of and things we needed to do better that there just wasn’t enough time for,” Petrie summarised.

“With the new owners it looks like the focus will be on McBookie and growing the business, like development of a bet-and-watch service. We can now get back to focusing the mind and growing McBookie.”

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