Paige Thomas: Sporting Group’s ‘Big Rethink’ on industry data & pricing dynamics

Paige Thomas – Sporting Group

Paige Thomas Partner Integration lead for the newly rebranded and realigned Sporting Group (Sporting Index + Sporting Solutions), speaks to SBC on building and developing standout industry data and market pricing capabilities amid changing consumer demands and more challenging business conditions. 

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SBC: Hi Paige, great to catch up. The Sporting Group has completed a busy six-month period in which it has rebranded and realigned its corporate assets. Why was this strategy undertaken and how will this help your company’s organisation and structure?  

 Paige Thomas: Sporting Group” evolved from an overall desire to have one business that promotes the same core strengths of its two main units – Sporting Index and Sporting Solutions.  We felt that Sporting Group better reflected our passion and understanding for sports, our trading expertise and over a quarter of a century of betting innovation.

In many ways, changing the logo was quite a personal thing for a lot of the people that work here as many have been with the business for a long time, but everyone had the opportunity to have a say on the outcome through internal surveys and focus groups.  The reaction both internally and externally has been really positive and I think the changes much better reflect the type of fresh, modern business we are.

 SBC: As an industry stakeholder, the Sporting Group has standout capabilities in industry data management and market pricing provisions. However, in 2017 market dynamics have changed within the sector’s value chain, in terms of its services how has Sporting Group adapted to new business conditions?  

PT: It is true that the current industry backdrop is one of fast-paced change, increasing cost and added regulatory complexity, but it is worth remembering that Sporting Index went live 25 years ago, during which time there have been so many changes in the industry it is almost unrecognisable now.  The businesses that have been successful in that time are the ones that are built on strong financial foundations, have the technology to execute on opportunities quickly and, in most respects, have the innovative spirit to be the agents of change themselves.

In what is now a very competitive and crowded market Sporting Index remains a world leader, and if you look at the products that an operator needs to be successful in the market today you can see why we are regarded as the world’s first “modern sportsbook”.  We have been betting in-play since 1992; cash-out has always been a core feature of our product set, as has an extended market offering and topical “specials” bets.  We were first to market with a downloadable mobile app in 2004 and we introduced the concept of “backing” and “laying” in every market on every sport we offer, (giving our customers an unsurpassable level of choice.

These core competitive skills around pricing, trading, risk management, innovation and customer choice are the ones that underpin the Sporting Solutions B2B offering today, and we feel are the most relevant attributes you need to be successful in supplying today’s modern sportsbooks.  In many respects, the prevalent business pressures of today – how to operate successfully in highly regulated (rather than grey) markets, how to differentiate your offering, how to stand out with a distinctive tone of voice, how to innovate through new technology and how to become and remain a market leader – are the business conditions that Sporting Group have always encountered.  It is this unique experience and relationship between our B2C and B2B businesses that ensure our partners can also survive and grow against a backdrop of increasing cost, regulatory uncertainty and complexity.

SBC: In 2017, we have seen a number of operators rethink and re-evaluate their market pricing propositions. What factors have led this rethink, and what do operators ultimately want from pricing and data modules?

PT: With the increasing costs of pictures and data, increases in taxation and the overheads of conforming to local licensing regimes (such as POC) – plus the need to maintain a high marketing spend to compete on a brand level – it’s easy to see why so many industry participants are looking to change their business models to survive.  Similarly, our partnerships with lotteries have been driven to by their need to compete effectively against new competition in a (semi) liberalised domestic market.

Ultimately there are two main elements that every operator requires from their sportsbook suppliers.  Firstly, they want to work with a partner that has the necessary product set and ethos to fully support their brand proposition, and which aligns to their own value chain.  As a result, the service must be flexible so that the operator can use it to differentiate in their local markets and across different channels.  Game state data needs to be broad, non-latent and official.  The selection of markets needs to be deep, with a bias towards higher margin and quick hit offerings that engage and generate fast customer recycling of funds, promoted by a range of front-end engagement tooling.  The service must be underpinned by integrity, the supplier’s technology must be as stable as the operators own core systems and the overall service must be delivered against the tightest SLAs.

Secondly – and it is strange how much this is often overlooked by suppliers – operators require an improvement in their margin.  Buying-in “commoditised pricing” or an offering based on scraped market averages may reduce operating cost but it isn’t an answer to the sort of competitive pressures described above – ultimately this ends up damaging rather improving the bottom line.  Costs are higher than ever but theoretical margins are at an all-time low, meaning that operators need to trust their outsourced pricing to suppliers who come with a deep level of pricing and trading expertise, based on sound objective analytics and underpinned by best of breed algorithms.  Coming back to the need to align to the value chain, increasingly operators are turning to suppliers that have experience of running their own “book” and a knowledge of how risk alters pricing.  Having worked for a betting operator previously I know how important it is to work with suppliers that have expertise of how to run a sportsbook, rather than just supplying content to one.

SBC: Whilst pricing integration is important, how does your team maintain its relationship with clients to ensure best practice and optimisation of pricing modules…why is this an important dynamic for all stakeholders?

PT: I’m just one person in a large team of people that deal with our partners on an operational basis – whether that is from integrations, account management, relationship management, trading, product or helpdesk support.

It’s not unusual for suppliers in this space to just focus on the initial sale and only stay engaged with their clients if the contract has an upsell.  However, we feel our operational expertise and relationship building is often a key purchasing criteria for top-tier operators and lotteries, and these are the partners we generally work with.  We give all our partners the assurance that we will manage their business with the same high standards of professionalism and expertise with which they manage it themselves.

We will only provide our partners with the products and services that we are happy to put our own name against, and we are kept true to these values by the fact that Sporting Index consumes all its products from Sporting Solutions – just the same as any external partner does.  Whilst we are a modern technology company we are founded on a Sporting Index heritage of strong ethics, integrity and fairness and this will always be in the fabric of everything we do.     

SBC: As a technology team and industry stakeholder, what new/future technologies and consumer habits do you feel will have the biggest impact on Pricing modules and trading?

PT: It’s probably not surprising that personalisation and bespoke pricing feature highly on most partner roadmaps, and there has been a lot of coverage around the growth of “request-a-bet” recently.  However, coming from a technology background, you can’t underestimate the importance of building your business on scalable, modular, extensible technology to get to market quickly and keep up with these new customer demands.  However, most sportsbooks are still built on technology and architecture that pre-dates in-play and still struggles to handle the sequential processing load that the busiest betting windows now generate.  A lot of the “bespoke” solutions available in the market currently are heavily manual and generally piecemeal, and what is currently available in the market is only going to be scratching the surface of where the industry will be in a few years.  Time spent on technology for the long-term is probably a wiser spend than trying to compete with a substandard offering now.

SBC:  You will be exhibiting at the upcoming boscon2017 conference. What do you want attending delegates to take away from Sporting Group products and services?

PT: I think we are well known for our best-of-breed risk management, software and technology capabilities within the industry, and you can clearly see why once you’ve had a demonstration of our products.  We cover more of the premium content that truly drives operator profits – for example we’re capable of covering more ATP and WTA tennis matches than other suppliers, as well as carrying all the official premium football data – and deliver it to partners in a way that allows them to differentiate their brand.  We are here to support and grow our partners’ businesses, not dictate to them how they should be run.

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Paige Thomas Partner Integration Manager Sporting Group

Sporting Solutions can be found at Stand E2 next week at Betting On Sports