Interview

Odds on Australia: How FanDuel has benefited from Aus

Aussie and VP communications and brand strategy at FanDuel, Simon Kennedy, analyzes the similarities between US and Australian betting markets

The explosion of sports betting across the US has a few similarities to the Europe of 15 years ago. But a number of stark differences separate the two markets, not least consumer behaviors and the sports they follow but also the maturity of Europe’s long-standing bookies.

Speaking at June’s East Coast Gaming Congress in his US conference debut, Playtech CEO Mor Weizer said the gaming tech giant, which is currently awaiting licensing in New Jersey, was looking to Australia for guidance on how to approach the States.

Amid the panel of CEOs’ discussions on AI and the savvy American mobile user, Weizer’s Australia comment struck a chord with some in the audience and, after some thought, it seems almost surprising the comparison has not been made before.

However, it appears Paddy Power Betfair (PPB) shared a similar strategic approach to Weizer as part of its investment in FanDuel saw a handful of staffers relocated from its Australian Sportsbet business last year.

VP communications and brand strategy at FanDuel Simon Kennedy says that, although PPB saw the value in its Australian arm in establishing its New York operations, FanDuel’s overall approach to the US market stems from the influence of all three of PPB’s business units and their vast experiences in Europe, Australia and the US.

However, having relocated from Sportsbet last year, Kennedy agrees the Australia-US comparison is obvious when considering Australians are huge American sports fans. He takes EGR North America through some of the two markets’ main similarities and how PPB has approached both countries, particularly considering regulation, marketing and consumer habits.

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EGR North America: (EGR NA): How much do you agree with Mor Weizer’s recent comparison between the US and Australian betting markets?

Simon Kennedy (SK): To chunk it out into sections, the market from a customer perspective is very similar [in Australia and the US] and I think the major aspect where it is similar is the volume of sports available over here. I think the major difference between Australia and Europe – and what makes Australia more in line with the US – is that US sports are incredibly popular in Australia and that is in large part down to the time differences: the night matches in the US are on during the day in Australia for the NBA, NFL and NHL.

Therefore, a lot of the Aussie customers will bet on US sports and a lot of the betting companies will focus a portion of their efforts in marketing, product and technology around creating a great experience in US sports.

So, there is an inherent benefit in having teams that have worked in the Australian market coming out here. There are some early differences between customers in Australia and the US and I think that’s just down to the early stages of this market. We’re not yet seeing the range of adoption of different betting markets that we see in Australia.

So things like the first top scorer in an AFL match or the first try scorer in a rugby league match will take up a greater proportion of the market in Australia, rather than the first touchdown which will over here. The market there is still very focused on to win the game, to cover the spread and the total points in a match.

That will evolve in time and customers will see all the great different options there are. Fifteen years ago, in Europe, I’m sure punters were working on the draw/win market in a football match and now it’s who will score first. That’s just how markets evolve. I think the point about market evolution is a good one, in that in Australia when advertising was made legal, that coincided with the digital explosion and those two things combined drove growth.

As a business, we have experience in Europe and in Australia in navigating a changing and developing market, and we’ve also got the great advantage of the established US business over here providing incredible knowledge. That’s the power of combining the two businesses.

EGR NA: What was your experience in the Aussie market before relocating to the US?

SK: I was at Sportsbet in Australia from 2009, just prior to Paddy Power coming over to Melbourne. The easiest way to think about it is when I started there may have been around 70 people in the whole business, including customer services.

Now there is something like 700 in the Australian business. Exponential growth. My first job at Sportsbet was organizing the front page of our desktop site and that was before any mobile apps. Now there would be a team of three or four focused on optimizing the mobile app and that’s effectively the same job.

EGR NA: How much of an influence has the Australian business had on FanDuel’s strategy and success in New Jersey?

SK: I don’t think it’s the pure influence of the Australian business. Rather I think it’s the power of all three of our business groups coming together and being able to take the European business and some experience from the Australian market and combining it with the fantastic team out here on the FanDuel and existing Betfair and PPB sides.

From a people perspective, it’s great to be able to have a range of backgrounds and experiences. Some are more relevant than others, so trading and product has been built globally so those guys are already well-versed in some of the key areas they need to delve into over here like marketing and branding. I needed to learn about the customers in the US just as much as we do about the customers in Australia.

“A lot of the betting companies will focus a portion of their efforts in marketing, product and technology around creating a great experience”

EGR NA: What are some of the similarities from a regulatory and advertising perspective?

SK: State-by-state regulation is something we’re definitely used to in Australia. Things like promotions and special offers, and having varying advertising restrictions, call for flexibility and agility to be built into your marketing functions.

We’re taking a fairly similar approach [in both markets]. It’s a lot of long-term planning and understanding key events throughout the year ahead of the sporting calendar. Working on building a team that is capable of delivering a great product, great marketing and great technology to customers.

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