Q&A: Stuart Simms on FairPlay Sports Media’s future following OGM rebrand

CEO details the origins of the rebrand strategy and how SuperScommesse acquisition could lead to more deals across four key fields  

Having joined Oddschecker Global Media (OGM) as CEO in November 2022 from XLMedia, Stuart Simms has set his sights on change. After getting stuck into a depth of data and tech that allowed him to flex the muscle memory he had garnered at Microsoft and cloud solutions firm Rackspace Technology, attention turned to how position the business.

That positioning question has now been answered, with OGM rebranding this week as FairPlay Sports Media. That rebrand, which Simms says will be led by the group’s BetTech capabilities, will also usher in a closer working relationship between the group’s previously siloed entities.

The oddschecker brand will retain its name, as will the recently acquired SuperScommesse from Catena Media, but the new parent branding of the Bruin Capital-owned firm is set to bring about a new era.

Speaking to EGR ahead of the launch of the rebrand, Simms explains his thinking behind the project, why he was “pleasantly surprised” upon joining the business and how the US race is a far away from finished.

EGR: How have you found settling in since joining as CEO? Was it what you expected or have there been some surprises?

Stuart Simms (SS): You always come in with a bit of a perception. And then there’s always a dose of reality that happens over a period of time. But on the whole, I’d say that I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

I think that’s part of the rebrand to be honest. I was shocked at how much technology, data and capabilities the company had built over its history, and I was really excited.

Oddschecker had a bit of everything which was really fascinating, and the quality of the technology and the platforms was unbelievable. If you look at the amount of processing power and capability that we’ve built over the years, I think we do about half a billion transactions a day of price movements globally and we could pretty much map 60% of the world’s odds at any particular moment.

I got excited about that. That led to some of this thinking around rebranding because oddschecker is very much in the hearts and minds of UK punters who use it on a daily basis for horseracing, but actually our technology capabilities really got me thinking on how we take that more global.

EGR: What has it been like moving from a public company in XLMedia to a private firm? And how is that relationship with Bruin on a day-to-day basis?

SS: I still have a shareholder that I report into but it’s pretty different. The public markets come with a huge amount of overhead in terms of governance, whether it’s quarterly or every six months, you’re doing updates.

Running a private company is quite liberating and fun because I get my hands into the operational day to day probably a lot more than I could do when I was at XLMedia. And also working with Bruin has been a breath of fresh air. They’re heavily into sports.

They know the sports industry really well and they’ve had a bunch of very successful companies that they’ve worked with. That for me was a key part of my decision of coming to what is now FairPlay.

They’re willing to invest and grow the business, even when times are tricky. You could argue the US market is a challenging environment for quite a few of the competitors but they’re rock solid behind us in how we’re looking to tackle that market and grow.

EGR: How was 2023 for the business? There was plenty of tough macroeconomic conditions so were there any difficult decisions that had to be made?

SS: We made some changes to the business in the first half of last year that were quite tough to make to be honest. But I felt at the time that our US strategy and team were not necessarily structured in the way that I would expect for a business like us that’s focused on BetTech and building out a network that we can then operate globally.

We made some pretty important changes to structure, personnel and how we went to market across all of our territories so I think we probably were one of the early ones to really start to make the changes before some of the other companies did. But again, as a private company, we get a lot more latitude to not have to explain some of those changes and just crack on with it. So, the speed at which we can operate and the innovation we can deliver. It’s really exciting.

One of the changes we have made was centralising the product and tech to make sure that we build out platforms that can work anywhere in the world. I wanted to move from being multiple brands in silo to being a tech-driven platform business that can run globally.

EGR: What was the thinking behind the rebrand, and while oddschecker will retain its name as an individual brand, is there any apprehension in shifting away from such a recognisable name?

SS: I came into a business that operated VIME, an operator services business and had a network of 30,000 publishers. We then had Oddschecker [the group] operating across multiple different territories that we could potentially take global. We had these sets of platforms and technologies that we were trialling with media partnerships, but not really fully investing in.

I came in and saw all of this opportunity and thought if we carry on with just the Oddschecker name, we’ll keep getting pigeonholed back to the core capability of the website that operates predominantly in the UK.

I would argue the rebranding gives us a better definition on what Oddschecker does and allows us to take that brand global as quickly as possible. FairPlay allows us to tell that group story of BetTech to then support each individual brand a lot more successfully.

In terms of apprehension; in some ways, you’re right. We took this decision over quite a long period really. I knew quite early that I probably did want to rebrand but we wanted to make sure that our operator customers were not put off by moving away from the Oddschecker name and that it would deliver enough value to reposition the group.

I don’t think we’re going to alienate any of our core loyal customers in the UK. We’ve got this amazing, loyal customer base. We’re not rebranding Oddschecker, the website, we’re purely looking at how we look at the network that we’re trying to create and tell a story through that lens.

EGR: Can you explain more about the BetTech approach and how that will manifest in the future operations of the brand?

SS: I’ve always been in technology waves that have affected business, whether that’s smartphones coming online, at Microsoft with cloud technology, or when I worked with Rackspace, and now we’re firmly in the age of AI, computing, data and machines.

Machines and AI are having a profound effect on the world but, more importantly, in the environment that we operate in it’s going to have a profound effect. Cost computing has come down, consumers can now benefit from machine-driven prediction tools or odds comparison sites. Consumers are getting access to the same kind of technology that operators have had for a long time to set their prices. It’s a really interesting market to look at technology that is then changing and levelling the playing field where consumers are getting access to this technology and capability at the same scale and the same kind of capability as the operators and see how that then affects the market.

EGR: You snapped up Italian brand SuperScommesse last year from Catena Media. Could you talk about how that came about?

SS: We have always operated in the Italian market. We work closely with Gazzetta dello Sport so it’s a market we’re very familiar with. We have a unique position because we’re predominantly an odds comparison capability that works well with the regulations in Italy. It’s the second largest betting market in Europe. It’s slow to digitise, so it has long-term upside potentially.

When we heard that SuperScommesse was on the market, it was a really natural fit for us because it doubles down on the market we’d already invested in. We had two TV partnerships there already. We were then building out design partnerships to look at how we could help them with live streaming.

It was really a natural extension, especially as SuperScommesse came with a great customer service approach where they help consumers sign up across multiple operators and educate them on how to make the most value out of betting. It was a beautiful piece of the jigsaw puzzle that was missing. We were approached, and it was [a case of] let’s get it done as quickly as possible.

EGR: What is the M&A pipeline looking like for you following the SuperScommesse deal? And which businesses would you be targeting?

SS: We think of the business through four things in effect. I think of anything that can get us access to a bigger audience. SuperScommesse ticked that box in Italy, and we’d look at further audience magnets globally, if we felt that we could power them successfully with our core products and technology.

Then we’ve got the insights and the professional services/operator services business that we’ve got through VIME that we may want to enhance with further technology, whether it’s related to pricing, behavioural insights or analytics, that’s an area that we’re really passionate about.

The third thing is BetTech, which is platforms, components and products, so anything that enhances any of our offerings that we can take to market. Finally, it’s the network piece. We didn’t see in the market a network that we could acquire so we built our own which is the Confido Network.

Confido is our step towards allowing operators to go globally as quickly as possible and figure out which publishers are very successful for them. Anything on the network side that could also help us get more scale and reach into some of the markets we talked about earlier would make sense. So, that’s our ecosystem that we’re looking to build.

EGR: Given you’ve strengthened your position in Italy, what is the play here for the business in terms of splitting its efforts between Europe and the US?

SS: I think Europe represent value. I still think regulation is a friend of a company like us because of the skills, expertise and technology that we’ve got. Europe is definitely a continued focus for our business, undoubtedly, and why not?

We’re very successful in Europe, and we’ll continue to build out compelling products for that market.

The question could be where does the US fit into our strategy as well because we’re going to continue to build out our European business? I’d change the narrative slightly that the US is still relatively immature from a consumer standpoint, and there’s still a bunch of big states that are yet to regulate.

I’d argue that in the first phase of the US market, which has already happened, we weren’t really well-suited in terms of our capabilities to meet the demands of that market. It was heavily acquisition-focused, a lot of people burning brightly through media partnerships to get as many people as possible across to the operators and then ride off into the sunset having made a bunch of money.

That isn’t us. We are about creating a loyal customer base, value and educating consumers. I think we’re really nicely positioned for the next wave in the US to deliver technology and value both to the operators and consumers, and that environment is starting to shape up. The US has been a slower burn for us than perhaps some of our competitors, but it’s one that is going to be a really important market.

EGR: Who do you see as the main competitors in the US when talking about this second-mover advantage?

SS: I think we’re at the start line of that second wave. It’s hard to say who’s really invested. I think Better Collective did a good job with Action Network. They are a company that I admire, and I think they did a really nice job in engaging consumers and that’s a business I could see us being able to compete with.

We’re a provider in the US; not just a brand. I do expect to build the oddschecker brand successfully in the US and we’re seeing good traction in that market. But also, our approach in the US is indirect where we take our tools, technology and products to market, and empower publishers and media groups across the US, taking more of a SaaS approach.

We’re starting to see that happen, where some of the big media companies are now looking at how to provide a better consumer experience to get people coming back to sites to give better revenues on advertising.

We can play a part in that by giving them the tools and the technology to support that consumer experience. I don’t see all of our competitors necessarily investing to be able to deliver that so it is definitely something that we’re quite uniquely placed for.

EGR: What are three key things you hope to achieve with the business in 2024?

SS: Expect us to come up with some really innovative technology and products. We’ve got quite a significant cadence planned for delivering new technology over the year. As we move from being just perceived as a brand to being a BetTech provider, you’ll see us deliver new products and services to support that mission.

I think continuing to build out network strategy and be able to inform people about that, whether it’s how we deliver our tools, components and technologies through the publishers and network is going to be really important to us. So, hopefully we’ll see some further announcements on that side.

And then the third thing is relating to deepening relationships and adding more value to the operators that we work with today as FairPlay Sports Media. We haven’t necessarily packaged or promoted the technology that we sit on as a company that supports operators and many of them already consume a lot of our services. So, expect the next year for us to be a lot more precise about the value we’re delivering for operators and how we talk about those products as well.


​EGR Intel


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