While attending BAC 2016 several weeks ago I bumped into my old friend Anthony Hodgetts, an experienced affiliate manager who has been working in the iGaming industry for over a decade. Now with The Rank Group PLC, Hodgetts is has transitioned from hard core sports betting affiliate management to Rank’s Grosvenor Casino and Mecca Bingo affiliate program, bringing a welcomed new challenge into his career.
At BAC Hodgetts told me how Rank will soon be launching a sports betting product targeted to a UK audience and how having an established brand presence on the high street will provide a distinct advantage. He explained how there will be an opportunity to combine live betting with local events in a way Rank’s competitors are unable to do, such as their Goliath Poker Tournament Series where players are able to qualify online at GrosvenorPoker.com, play live in a local Grosvenor casino and bet on the event with GrosvenorSport from their mobile, all within the same single brand and wallet.
We then started discussing how his career has developed and changed from his time with Gala Coral to his current position with Rank. I enjoyed this conversation greatly and learned a lot from such a seasoned professional in our space, therefore I wanted to re-create the conversation for our readers in the form of the interview below.
Becky Liggero: Thank you for joining me Anthony, its always a pleasure. You were tasked with relaunching the Gala Coral affiliate program in 2012, looking back, what were some of the biggest challenges and rewards in doing this?
Anthony Hodgetts: Coral had restructured its business to separate Retail from Online and this was one of the keys to finally delivering a dynamic digital business that was lean and flexible enough to execute campaigns efficiently, so much of what I needed was already in place. As only the 8th employee of Coral Interactive, we were like a start-up with all the energy and excitement that goes along with building something from scratch. To begin with the biggest challenges were getting enough furniture and office equipment as we were expanding so rapidly!
Other rival affiliate programmes had the benefits of more resources and bigger budgets so we had to decide how we would compete with just an affiliate team of three people. We identified a gap for a programme to communicate openly and frequently with its partners. Rather than hide behind a brand name, each of us was encouraged to get out in front and talk to affiliates not with a single corporate voice but with our own personalities. I think this was one of the ways that we were successful in turning around the affiliate reputation of Coral by letting affiliates see exactly who we were and then building on that essential trust in a genuine business relationship.
Probably the biggest reflection of the success and growth that we were able to generate was winning the iGB award in 2015 for the best Sports Betting Affiliate Manager. Although an individual award; it was actually more an indication of the quality of the affiliate team we had and certainly would not have been achievable without the hard work of Sarah Caskie and Debbie Blood.
BL: I love it and I especially love how you made the best having a small affiliate management team. I know most of your experience is in affiliate management on the sports betting side of the industry, can describe the transition of moving into more of a casino and bingo brand?
AH: Well the time was definitely right for a move. I felt that I’d taken the Coral Affiliate Programme about as far as I personally could since the re-launch. By then I’d also been involved with Sports betting programmes for around 10 years, learning a great deal as I went along. It felt as if I knew almost every single sports brand out there; what their affiliate reputation was; what I thought they would need to do to improve, so going to another sports programme didn’t feel as much of a challenge, certainly not the kind of change I wanted.
Moving into Casino & Bingo turned out to be exactly what I needed. Suddenly I was in a situation where I knew the fundamentals but knew almost nothing about the nuances of the product or player behaviors. It was really liberating after a decade in sports to be challenged to have to learn so much so quickly.
The biggest single difference I’ve noticed is in the turnover of affiliate offers between Sports and Casino/Bingo. At Coral we became very adept at turning around big affiliate betting offers on an almost daily basis so that partners would have everything they needed in one single email in advance and were ready to launch in unison with the Coral homepage, display media and TV campaigns. Sports offers would come thick and fast and yet still be susceptible to last minute changes so that we all became very flexible and ready to adapt like a well-oiled offers machine.
Now with Casino and Bingo I know my promotions calendar months in advance so I’ve been able to focus on delivering quality over quantity. The experience from Coral has taught me much that I still use now to deliver effective campaigns but the extra time allows me to get much more aligned with the Product Teams and also seek out new affiliate sites and recruit them on the basis of upcoming promotions I have.
BL: Really interesting Anthony, thank you for sharing and I agree, its always good to be learning and experiencing new challenges at work. Seeing as we’ve just returned from the BAC, from your perspective, what was one of the hottest topics discussed at the event and why?
AH: The one topic that really stood out for me was that of Mergers and Acquisitions. What’s fascinating to me right now is that the topic is just as much on the lips of operators and it is for affiliates in this industry. The effects of increasing market regulation and, especially in the UK, the POC tax has driven a lot of players in the market to try and shield themselves through consolidation or M&A activity. Perhaps this immature industry is finally hitting puberty and we all know how rough that can be!
All markets inevitably have an ebb and flow between multiple smaller actors in some phases to fewer, larger actors in others. That pendulum has barley even started to swing in iGaming and, after what I remember in years gone by as being a bit like the Wild West, I actually welcome any regulation that drives out the bad actors. M&A offers opportunities on both sides of the fence for delivering greater scale and the repetition of effective and reputable practices. What will be more difficult is maintaining that sufficient level of diversity that we will all need to maintain what feels like a vibrant and creative industry.
BL: Diversity, vibrance and creativity are all important for driving our industry forward, I agree. Where do think we are we going to see the most innovation in the iGaming affiliate industry over the next year?
AH: Aside from more M&A, I think the story will continue to be Mobile, or rather the ‘ease and convenience for the customer’ which is currently being delivered most consistently by Mobile. We used to categorise Mobile and Desktop customers differently but that’s largely redundant now with close to 70% of iGaming transactions made on mobile devices. It’s less about customers ‘choosing’ mobile and more about the fact that a mobile device is now an extension of ourselves and our actions, being used for everything from banking to betting to buying a round to switching on your boiler.
To continue to succeed we need to offer customers the ability to act quickly and instinctively. Providers need to have services that are light on data consumption and simple to transact with. Our customers increasingly want to gamble with speed and security in the moments that they chose: waiting for the bus, standing in the lift etc and especially in ways that compliment where they are and what they are doing such as…. Looking for somewhere to watch the boxing? Get a special menu, a beer and a freebet if we watch the fight at the Grosvenor Casino down the road?… GET IN!
BL: YES! I like it. Thank you so much Anthony for sharing your insights with me today, I always love having a chat with one of my oldest friends in iGaming. Catch you at the next event and best of luck with your new venture.