Affiliate profile: Richard Moffat, OLBG

By Robin Harrison

We talk sponsorships, compliance and the outlook for the affiliate space with OLBG’s Richard Moffat, chief executive of one of the UK’s leading sports-betting affiliates

iGB Affiliate: How did you come to enter the gambling affiliate space?

Richard Moffat: In 2002, I was looking for a tipster competition where I could enter my horse racing tips and I stumbled on a very early version of Online Betting Guide. I was one of the first to place a tip on the site; in fact, there were so few users back then that I even managed to win a prize. Then the forum opened and I enjoyed chatting with like-minded people. From there we started to grow a nice community.

At what point did you decide to give up the day job and focus full time on igaming affiliation?

I was building a career as a financial advisor at the time, which was in essence affiliate marketing. I did some content assignments for Antony [Portno, OLBG’s founder] and we got to know each other. By 2005 the business had grown and there was an opportunity for me to join. It was a bit of a punt for both of us – fortunately it’s turned out a lot better than some of our bets.

How is the business structured now?

We have a well-resourced and highly talented development team, which does take up a large proportion of our investment. But we’re as much a software company as a lead-generation business so at times more than half of our team can be working on development of new products and features. Perhaps this is where we differ from other affiliates, having invested heavily in IT and product for many years.

As sports bettors ourselves, we’ve enjoyed building products that first and foremost add value for the user – products that sports bettors will want to use on a daily basis.

Where do the opportunities lie for big sports-betting affiliates such as OLBG in the newly regulated markets?

The US is an exciting opportunity for any affiliate that can build English-language sports-betting content. As a well-established English-language site we already get traffic from the US and cover the major sports there, including US horse racing, through our tips provision. What’s interesting for us is that US sports bettors who bet, or will bet, online will be doing so using apps; that seems to be the way in the US. With our experience in app production and app marketing, combined with our ready-made content-provision platform, we could be very well placed indeed. However, it will be some time before the grass is really greener for remote betting. We are fortunate in the UK; we operate in such a huge market that is continuing to grow. Latest figures show the GGY for the online sector in the UK at £4.9bn – that’s about a third of the entire European market.

How is your audience and traffic split between football and other sports?

Football and horse racing are the staple, year-round popular sports to bet on in the UK and we see a fairly even balance between them. Many of the other sports are seasonal but they typically make up around 20% of interest each month.

We find that most sports bettors in the UK bet on a range of sports. Some like the challenge of betting on a sport in which they are highly knowledgeable but they may also enjoy placing a bet on a popular sporting event where they don’t have much expertise. That’s where our tips product comes in and it’s why our app has been so successful. People looking for a recreational bet can use the knowledge of our tipsters, who have done all the research for them. We now cover 25 or so sports, so we can provide users with help to choose their bets whatever they’re interest may be.

OLBG users can bet without leaving the site or the app. How popular is that among your punters?

Making it easy to place bets has helped us to build a loyal base of daily users, to the extent that some of them have told us that they place all of their bets through our products. With multiple bets growing in popularity in recent years, the ease of placing them has become more important. We’ve developed the technology to build slips for multiple bets prior to a user choosing the bookmaker to place that bet with. That makes it a very smooth process for the user, who chooses bets within our products and then – when they are ready to bet – we show bookmaker options with different pricing and carry the bet slip through for them. While we aren’t known for odds comparison specifically, it forms a large part of our overall offering.

The result is that we’re driving thousands of bet completions every day. Some affiliates have been charging operators for bet placements for some years; that practice will grow in the UK, especially as the larger operators will want to hold onto their market share and look to affiliates to assist more with retention as well as acquisition.

You sponsor mares’ hurdles races during the UK National Hunt season, including the Cheltenham Grade 1 in March. That can’t come cheap, so how do you measure the impact and ROI of this kind
of sponsorship?

This will be our eighth year of sponsoring the OLBG Road to Cheltenham, which has gained our brand a huge amount of awareness among regular UK sports bettors. Betting on the Cheltenham Festival and the need for good tips go hand in hand so for a brand that supplies great tips there was no better match. As an affiliate you have to make your money go as far as you can, though, and it is a challenge to compete alongside bookmakers, who have much larger budgets and operate to a higher margin.

When we started our sponsorship of the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, it was a Grade 2 race that wasn’t shown on terrestrial TV and didn’t have a supporting programme. We put a lot of work into creating a series of races, which has become the OLBG Mares’ Road to Cheltenham. Now it includes six supporting races – five of those are covered live on ITV – and it culminates in what’s now the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at the festival. To go from a race that wasn’t televised to one that was the most-watched race on the first day of the festival two years ago has been a huge achievement. More people watched and bet on our race than others that would have cost far more to sponsor.

We also wanted to make a difference to the sport that we and our users love so to play a part in improving the Mares’ programme in the UK has been very satisfying. It is important to the whole industry that National Hunt mares have the opportunity to run for black type in the UK.

The regulatory and compliance environment in the UK has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. What are you doing to stay compliant?

We are blessed with a talented development team that has plenty of resources. They have invested a lot of time in the changes that were necessary and so, aside from paying a few legal bills to make sure we had everything spot on, the challenge hasn’t been huge. Moreover, we’ve always been keen for standards across our industry to improve and we want to play our part in helping affiliates to keep raising the bar.

How much of your traffic is now coming from mobile, compared with desktop?

Mobile traffic is continuing to grow, although with our big app presence we may be seeing this more than SEO-only affiliates. We hope to hit one million installs of our sports-betting tips app within the next year, which is significant because much of the younger demographic is betting almost entirely within apps.

Our development team is looking to make sure our content is as effective as it can be on a smaller screen. Initially, perhaps as older users switched from desktop to mobile, conversion was a challenge but we are seeing improvements all the time. We’ve just completed a split test for a new design on one of our key mobile pages, which saw an uplift of 15% in conversion.

The busy World Cup period has just ended. Were bookmakers better this time at getting their new punters to reload and continue to bet, having burnt through their acquisition bonus?

RM: I think UK punters especially enjoyed betting on this tournament but it’s too early to tell if bookmakers improved in that area. One benefit of the next World Cup being played in the winter is that there won’t be such a gap between its climax and the next round of Premier League matches. I expect that plenty of bettors had success because there were lots of goals and many of the goalscorers were popular players. The games were very entertaining and I expect many people from the UK who enjoyed betting on the World Cup will enjoy betting on the Premier League once it’s back in full flow. It will be no surprise to see lots of bets placed on Harry Kane to score.

Our recent survey of affiliates and operators showed a drop in confidence regarding the outlook for the affiliate space. Does that tally with your outlook?

There are more than 80 sportsbooks licensed in the UK for remote gambling, with new ones starting up almost weekly. Many of them are well funded but they won’t get far without the support of affiliates. We have seen how some have tried to grow market share through predominantly above-the-line marketing, without success.

The reason we haven’t seen programmes closing completely is that a well-managed affiliate programme is still the most cost-effective way for operators to grow their business. For sure, it won’t be like it has been in the past, with almost anyone being accepted onto a programme and operators trying to manage thousands of affiliates with one full-time manager. But 20 or 30 good-sized, quality affiliates may well be enough to assist a UK sportsbook with its growth, especially if the value of affiliates is truly recognised. The billions of brand impressions, millions of bet completions and thousands of untracked accounts all add up to a huge amount of value that isn’t directly attributed to the affiliate. For example, as many as four out of every five accounts that an affiliate helps to generate aren’t tracked to the affiliate because there is rarely a need for the customer to click on the specific link.

I can see a number of constraints in other areas where operators currently spend their UK marketing budgets. The waiving of the watershed for TV advertising around live sports, for example, will continue to come under scrutiny. Imagine the millions of pounds spent there which may well have to be invested elsewhere. Having run TV campaigns in the past ourselves, we know it won’t all fit after 9pm. We can also see pressure on high-street betting shops and the continued move from bricks and mortar to online. So the affiliate industry is suffering from some negativity, brought on by some bad journalism, some small rogue affiliates and some very badly run affiliate programmes. But I’m confident that operators need affiliates more than ever in an industry that’s not losing any of its competitiveness.

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