Harry von Behr: Spotlight Sports Group accelerates US expansion

Harry von Behr, Managing Director (Sport) at Spotlight Sports Group, discusses the evolution of the company, the recent refresh of the group brand, key focus areas for 2021, and why it’s an exciting time to be involved in the US market – both through the provision of expert content for B2B partners and the successful rollout of customer facing website Pickswise. 

SBC: Let’s talk today about the refresh you’ve done on your group branding around three key service areas – betting content, media partnerships and trading solutions. Can you just explain a bit more about it – why have you done this? 

HVB: So we went through the exercise of doing a whole Group rebrand at the start of last year. We relaunched as Spotlight Sports Group in the build up to ICE 2020, which was really to reflect the fact that our business has changed a lot over the course of the last five years, we’ve made a handful of acquisitions and launched some new product lines. 

So it made sense to do that. But I think as with all businesses, shortly after that our focus very much turned to more pressing matters in March, April and May of last year. And so this refresh is really more of a continuation of that rebrand, but also designed to make sure that our value propositions are really clear for existing customers and potential new partners. 

SBC: Do you think this refresh was always inevitable off the back of the rebrand from the Racing Post Group? Or do you think what’s followed since has maybe highlighted the need for you to put a bit more clarity on the breakdown of your services?

HVB: I see this as an evolution. With rebrands such as this, you find out from talking to your customers, what they think and how they understand your offering. 

And so we did a piece of work internally, but also spoke to a lot of our B2B customers to understand what value they saw in the Spotlight branding, and then used that to refine it. So it’s clear for others who maybe aren’t as aware of us as a business, or not aware of us beyond the Racing Post heritage that we have.

SBC: Is it mainly about the website as a central resource? Or does it go beyond that in terms of messaging and marketing campaigns that are going to spin off from this? 

HVB: It’s definitely a lot more than that. A website is a place where you can house online information about a business, but it goes a lot deeper than that. It’s our messaging from a sales perspective, how we talk to the market, how we put campaigns together.

It doesn’t make sense to have an external message that isn’t consistent with how you act as a business as well. So it was about making sure it all ties together. Having a new website is obviously just one one element of that. But it’s definitely more than that. 

SBC: So if we go back just one step. What sort of challenges have you had over the last year moving away from the legacy Racing Post brand? 

HVB: It’s very important to recognise the heritage of the business, which has been built on over 30 years of expertise from operating the Racing Post. At the core of that is how we combine sports betting data, insight and opinion to help punters place more informed bets. 

The rebrand and refresh is really just an extension of the heritage that we have within the UK and Irish market. But the fact is, today, we cover every sport in over 70 languages. This was particularly important in the dark days of April and May 2020 when we were providing daily betting editorial on the likes of table tennis and esports.

The breadth of our coverage means it’s been less of a jump into the dark in terms of moving away from the Racing Post branding, and perhaps less of a challenge than we thought.

SBC: In some ways, was it a good thing then that you’d completed the rebranding before Covid took racing off the calendar?

HVB: I think it probably did help, yes. It was good that it was a proactive move, not a reactive one to the challenges. And it was just a better reflection of what we were already doing, rather than an overly ambitious change. It may also have helped with potential new customers, but our existing customers knew the breadth of what we were offering already. 

SBC: With your sport offering growing, we’ve seen you launch pre-play and in-play content over the past few years. What are the key areas of focus for 2021?

HVB: That’s right. Our content offering has definitely evolved over the last few years. Across all sports that now covers game by game betting, insights, verdicts, projections and stats-based content that helps to stimulate betting for operator partners. 

In terms of the focus for 2021 and beyond, I think there’s probably three key areas. Firstly, in terms of the breadth of sports that we cover, we want to make sure we can offer what our customers want. I mentioned the US sports offering is proving popular in terms of the four major sports, plus the college equivalents. It’s about evolving all the time. 

Secondly, ensuring that we are working in partnership with operators rather than it being a customer supplier relationship. We know very well the struggles that sportsbooks have with integrations and long roadmaps, so if we can create products that help to ease some of those challenges then that can only be a good thing. Linked to that, we’re looking to speed up how we can integrate our products to quickly improve the operator’s proposition.

And then thirdly, I think ensuring that we’ve got the right content for the right format. If you take retail for example, we’ve been the market leader in terms of retail content for the UK market for decades, which started with racing but has seen our sports product rollout across the Entain brands, Paddy Power from Flutter, and Betfred as well over the last two years. 

Making sure that we’re tailoring the content to the right channel is really important. I think that applies to us as we look internationally as well as just the UK. So I’d say that those are the three main areas. I appreciate they’re pretty broad, but I think equally important. 

SBC: Okay, so let’s pick up on the US, which is obviously a big focus for you. Where are you at the moment in terms of how you supply your partners out there?

HVB: It’s a very exciting time to be involved in sports betting given the activity in the US. From our perspective, we’ve seen very significant growth through our US affiliate site Pickswise, which offers daily predictions, previews, and all manner of sports betting content for the US audience. We’ve been delivering good customer numbers to our bookmaker partners in the US through that site.

The other side of the coin is the B2B content offering that I mentioned previously, which is essentially looking to replicate the bet stimulating content that we provide in the UK and also other international markets to cover the most popular US sports.

In the same way that our European facing business has been built on providing independent premium content to operators that helps them to engage their bettors, we follow that same model in the US, and we’re confident that we will see similar results.

SBC: On the betting content, you talked about making sure you get your betting offer right? Is this something that you’re learning as you go along?

HVB: Absolutely. It would be naive to just assume that what works in one market works in another. Fortunately, we’ve got the experience of operating in a number of different territories already. I think you put it very well, it’s definitely a learning exercise. Some things work well with US sports bettors that perhaps don’t in other markets, and vice versa.

One of the benefits for our business of having both the customer facing websites such as Pickswise, as well as the B2B model, means that we can learn from one to inform the other. In essence, that’s been the real strength of Racing Post in the UK. And then, the acquisitions we have made around the European market means we’ve been able to refine that.  

SBC: When did you start to really focus on the Pickswise brand?

HVB: It’s been around probably about two years now. We started looking at the US market a few years ago as everyone else did. Then when PASPA was repealed, Pickswise started as a test to understand more about the market. We threw a few of our best people at it, and we’ve seen really great traction with it, both in terms of the audience but also feedback from the operators in terms of what we’re driving through to them. 

We’ve really been going at it full steam ahead for the last 12 months or so. It’s evolved from us having an opportunity to learn about the market to actually being a real flagship destination for the Group.

SBC: But would you say this is your first major push around the Super Bowl?

HVB: It was around last year but a much smaller, more basic version of what it is today. So we were still, it’s fair to say, trying to learn more about how to drive an audience to the site and how we can keep that audience on the site, engage and then eventually convert them.

Obviously there were just a handful of live states last year for online betting, whereas now we have the affiliate licences and vendor licences in all relevant states.

SBC: And just one final question about the US. I won’t ask you to predict how many states will regulate betting, how much money will be made or anything like that. But what do you expect to be the key engagement driver for operators in the US? 

HVB: As you say, there’s lots of people better placed than me to estimate the number of states that will be open in the next few years. So I certainly won’t be doing that. I think what you see at the moment is significant competition in terms of signups and acquisition, which I think is what you’d expect in any new market, and especially one that’s in such a land grab stage as new states open up. 

As each state matures, being able to differentiate your product becomes even more important. You can see that in the UK, and in other mature markets such as Australia or a number of the European mainland markets as well. 

I think that that’s what really excites us as a business – being active in a market where having unique differentiated products is what means you win in the long term.

SBC: And let’s close with some final comments on the situation here in the UK. The struggles for racing have been well documented, but what can you do as a supplier to improve the situation for operators?

HVB: There’s certainly elements of it that unfortunately are out of our control. Betting shops being closed is obviously a huge hit to the industry and the lack of crowds has an impact on the courses and therefore the prize money. So unfortunately, a lot of that is outside of our control. I think what we can do, as the mouthpiece for the industry and racing punters, is make sure that we keep providing as engaging content as possible. 

So when the racing is on, which people are following on TV, through bookmakers’ websites or via our app, there’s something for them to engage with. This should mean that when we’re allowed back on racecourses and able to visit the shops again, the interest is still there and activity will pick up again. 

In terms of the medium to long term value that we can provide, I think it’s really important to the racing industry, and we’re very focused on it as a business.

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