SIS: meeting insatiable operator demand for high-quality contentBy Lewis - 29 April 2021
For over 30 years SIS have been a trusted partner to retail operators globally. Paul Witten, Commercial Director at SIS, offers his expectations for the retail sector in the months ahead and explains how the company is responding to insatiable demand from operators for more high-quality content.
Strategically, how has SIS navigated the last 12 months in the general absence of retail? Where has the focus been?
There’s no question that it’s been a challenging time. It’s easy to take a singular view, but if you look from a global perspective, we’ve seen a variety of lockdowns at different times and in different parts of the world.
In one sense that’s positive as it spreads the impact but it’s also incredibly complicated when attempting to manage a wide portfolio of products in very difficult times.
We recognised a number of years ago that being over reliant on a specific channel brings its own risks, and we’ve been focusing on our diversification programme for a number of years to make SIS more international and digital.
That’s been really successful and while the lockdown closures within the retail sector have been very challenging, it’s lower given how the business has internationalised and digitised itself.
Clearly in a world where retail has closed there has been a shift to the online space. In the early parts of the pandemic, there was very little live sport or racing, which presented even bigger challenges as customers were still looking for content.
Fortunately, racing was one of the first major sports to return, albeit behind closed doors, and we were able to leverage that on a global scale.
It’s provided some interesting trends as a result, with territories where racing came back early and which wouldn’t previously have formed part of our service, such as in Hungary, that content filled a gap at the time but has since remained popular because of the quality.
What are your hopes and expectations for the return of retail in the months ahead?
Certainly, within our business everyone is positive about the return of retail shops. We’re encouraged by the UK government’s roadmap, which is robust and well considered. It does look however that we might be entering a period where there will be similar restrictions to what were imposed following the previous national lockdown.
Betting shops have fixed and variable costs, and when an outlet is restricted in how they can offer content to their customers, that’s difficult to manage given the much lower expectation of revenues and profits.
We work very closely with operators in the UK market, and we have to find ways to balance the services that they take from us, including what’s affordable and manageable, as well as how to keep customers engaged.
We have to consider that during these restrictions where customers are only engaged for around 15 minutes a day, it’s unusual behaviour. Hopefully, it’s a short-term measure and we can return to some sort of normality later in the year.
There had been discussions on whether to delay the Grand National by a week to coincide with the reopening of betting shops in the UK, but in the grand scheme of events it’s best for the industry that it remains in place for the April 10.
The last thing we want to see are large groups congregating by betting shops so soon after the reopening, and we should aim for an ordered return, even if it’s not as profitable.
How are all-round sales across the spectrum of SIS’s portfolio – retail, online, and trading services?
Despite the challenges we’ve faced, SIS has done remarkably well in the previous 12 months. Although travel restrictions have impacted the ability to meet with customers face-to-face, the growth of video conferences means we can do more in a shorter space of time, which has significantly helped our international expansion.
We’ve had a record year in terms of volume and new business from around the world. This is particularly the case in regions where we haven’t previously had such a strong footprint, including Latin America where we have secured 15 new customers across the whole of the continent for both retail and online.
Not only does this cover racing content and our 24/7 Live Betting Channels, but also with a view to launching Competitive Gaming later this year. In a difficult year we have done extremely well, partly because we are so geographically diverse in terms of team members being based on the ground across multiple locations.
It’s also driven by the effort over the last couple of years to really understand how our product set can drive consumer behaviour.
Since the turn of the year, SIS has secured distribution and rights agreements with Greyhound Racing Ireland, the Saudi Cup, Sportsbet and RPGTV. How important are these types of deals for future proofing the greyhound and horse racing sectors?
There’s an almost insatiable demand from operators for more high-quality content. We really focus our attention on making sure we deliver appropriate products into our 24/7 offering. Quality is really important to us because that’s what drives engagement and profitability for operators.
When we approach any international rights holder, we can add a layer of services to the raw material that makes it more appealing, such as trading, data management, and video production, which helps them monetise the rights. We’re always looking out for more content and have enjoyed success this year in acquiring new rights.
What markets and regions are on SIS’s radar for greyhound and horseracing content?
From an operational perspective, we’ve had great success in penetrating Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Asia. It’s allowed us to greatly spread the reach of our channels into various markets across the globe. We’re live in at least seven territories in Latin America, with customer agreements lined up across the Baltics in Europe too.
From a rights perspective, we’ve been able to achieve similar levels of expansion and having staff based regionally has helped significantly. Working with racetrack holders on a local basis with those staff who understand their needs has been very valuable.
SIS distributes content from nearly all parts of the world, yet we don’t take everything that’s offered to us because of the balance of quality that is required. At present, we’re speaking to potential rights partners from key time zones, with the aim of securing more content from these regions into our portfolio.
Why are areas with little to no greyhound racing heritage taking more of an interest in the short-form betting opportunities greyhound racing has to offer? Why now?
It’s an appealing betting product in many ways because it’s so accessible. There’s a consistency with greyhounds and it’s easier to understand than perhaps horse racing. The betting proposition is exciting, quick, and frequent, which allows bettors to become familiar with the experience within a short space of time.
From our perspective, our greyhound offering is also underpinned by a huge amount of quality and integrity. The racing is presented in a way that is appealing to a wide audience, such as those who want to dig a little further into the sport as they can discover statistics and form lines, as well as for recreational bettors who simply want to enjoy a fast-paced form of entertainment.
In order to deliver our greyhound product to new markets, we have to ensure we get the right message across to the operators. Once they see the races in action and understand the consistency involved in terms of racing and margins the product delivers, it becomes a very attractive proposition.
It’s almost the perfect sports betting product, as it crosses over to users who perhaps aren’t sports fans but enjoy a thrilling experience on a regular basis.
Greyhound racing has not been as popular as it is now for some time, and of course success breeds success, which means the increased revenues that SIS is generating is going back into the sport and support the infrastructure. That will only improve the product going forward.
Last year, SIS signed what can be described as a ‘breakthrough’ deal with bet365 to bring SIS Competitive Gaming to a new online audience. How has the esports product performed since launching with the operator?
SIS Competitive Gaming has performed very well for bet365. To launch the product with one of the world’s leading operators really demonstrates the quality of our esports betting service and how it’s appealing to sportsbooks.
Our product is well presented, competitive and underpinned by unimpeachable integrity, which is allowing bet365 and other international operators to offer the industry’s best esports betting experience.
Our relationship with bet365 goes from strength to strength, and we have since delivered an additional channel of esports content to the operator, which takes their offering to 24 hours a day. The feedback from bet365 and other operators on SIS Competitive Gaming has been very strong and we’re looking to enhance our service even more over the coming months.
Since the deal with bet365, what has been the take-up from other operators? Has esports interest spiked since the agreement?
Absolutely, esports’ popularity has grown tremendously in the past year and that’s continuing as bettors continue to enjoy the product on offer. SIS Competitive Gaming is live with operators in Central and Eastern Europe, with further launches planned in the coming months across Australia, Latin America and in the UK.
It’s now perceived as a global product and an important part of the offering for sportsbooks, particularly during a global pandemic where sporting events can be suspended at any given time.
Behind the scenes, are there any products in development you can shed some light on? What is the next big innovation?
After acquiring 49’s last year, a lot of the work has been done behind the scenes to evolve the product with new products set to be added. 49’s is a well-known brand that is appreciated in the UK, as well as other parts of the world in particular it has very high level of engagement in South Africa.
We’re looking to maximise the value of that brand, which will see some new products created and extensions to others. We believe operators will be very pleased with the new 49’s offering that will be unveiled over the next six months.