Strategy

Opinion: Gambling’s biggest success and my worst prediction 

Consultant Chris Welch reflects on how bet365 has transformed from a small retail business into a global leader

“I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”  G. K. Chesterton

It was 2001, if memory serves me well, and the Betting Shop Manager of the Year event was taking place in some plush London hotel. I was marketing director for Coral and found myself seated with a family who ran a small chain of betting shops. They had just launched an online site and had big plans for the future. I listened politely and I decided to give them a little advice.

The internet is brutal I mused, to be frank most operators are losing money. Coral had acquired Eurobet and it was haemorrhaging cash, others were too. Perhaps they should consider focusing on the shops, probably a safer bet! They enthusiastically ignored my advice and said they would carry on. I smiled and inwardly feared the worst.

But I was wrong, very wrong. My fellow diners were the Coates family, their fledgling site was called bet365 and the rest as they say is history.

So how did this small family business end up in 2018 with a turnover of £2.86bn, making it comfortably the largest online betting brand on the planet?

A smart woman with a vision

Denise Coates was a first-class honours Econometrics graduate. It was she who had the ambition, drive and foresight. She persuaded the family to bet on her online vision and father Peter took out a loan from RBS. “We mortgaged the betting shops and put it all into online. We knew the industry required big start-up costs but…we gambled everything on it,” Denise told the Guardian. “We were the ultimate gamblers if you like.”  In 2005, its shops sold for £40m ironically to Coral and paid off its loan. The gamble was paying off.

Getting the product right

Development of its own tech platform from the start gave bet365 flexibility, agility and a USP. The firm sourced global sports content giving users 24/7 betting opportunities on football plus other sports many competitors weren’t offering. Key was live betting – bet365 focused on it, added streamed pictures and jumped into mobile betting while others slept. In addition, it was quick to add an online casino, a huge money spinner.

Go big or go home

Adopting a global strategy, attacking not only Asia, a huge part of its business but also the US (before pulling out in 2006), its UK credentials and great offer made bet365 a trusted choice for international punters while more conservative competitors watched on.

Buying your way to market share, new markets or new verticals is not the bet365 way. It has avoided being distracted by integrating new cultures, teams or technologies. Instead, the online operator has kept it simple and that simplicity is fundamental to its success.

Innovative marketing

In 2009 bet365 drafted in film star Ray Winstone as the face of its ‘in-play betting’ campaign, updating odds in real time and showing them during halftime – not only innovative but a game changer.

The company has seamlessly moved to become a star of the regulated markets holding leadership positions in Italy, Spain and a host of others. Only in Australia has the magic so far failed them.

With two US deals in the bag, a potential Argentinian licence and a launch in Mexico this year, the brand continues in its quest for global domination and who would bet against Denise and her teams’ continued success, not me for one. Lesson learnt!

Chris Welch

Picture: ©John Cassidy The Headshot Guy®

Chris Welch has spent over 17 years in the gambling industry at C-level including marketing director at Coral, MD Europe at Centrebet, CMO at PokerStars , CMO at PartyGaming, group director at bwin.party and CEO at PKR. While waiting for his next senior role, he acts as a consultant in the sector.

bet365 | Chris Welch | Strategy

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