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Kevin Smith

Q & A: Jo Jo Primrose,

31 January 2002

This year got off to a rocking start for the person-to-person betting exchange sector as two of its biggest players, and, merged. Following news of the merger, IGN chatted with Jo Jo Primrose, Betfair's head of marketing, about the direction of the new company and how the merger is going.

The new Betfair hopes to spread the P2P betting exchange idea throughout the world, something the original company did in Europe with a great deal of success. Primrose said the World Cup this summer will be a key element in the process as well as a great opportunity to solidify the Betfair brand.

IGN: First things first, how have things been going since the merger?

Jo Jo Primrose: Incredibly exciting. We have seen a huge impact on our turnover and our account figures. One thing that we didn't know about before the merger took place was at what level the crossover would be.

We weren't sure how many people were betting between the two systems and how many "users" would disappear cause we were essentially counting them twice. When we were going over the merger, we were guessing that we would get around £10 million a week, based on Betfair having 7 million and Flutter having 3 million. Well, that happened almost instantly, and now we are at £12 million a week and bouncing around the £13 mark every now and then. It has had a huge impact, and it has been great.

IGN: Have there been any changes to the site since the merger?

JP: At the moment the site is pure Betfair. There is a team working on integrating the two. It will still be Betfair, but we will take all the best from both sites and put them into one. One of the primary differences will be integrating is the Bet Manager.Right now we have it, but it sits separate to the betting screen. We are working on being able to see all of that on one screen, and that will keep people happy.

IGN: A big part of the merger appears to be so one main P2P site could penetrate the global market rather than the two of you competing against each other. Have you been able to get some sort of a game plan for that global approach?

JP: The sense of this deal was that we spent a lot of time and resources snipping at each other's heels. As exchange betting has taken off in the U.K, it still is really the only territory where it is a big thing. The big challenge now is taking the concept over seas, particularly in time for the World Cup, and both educate them on exchange betting and get them to start using it on a regular basis. The location of the World Cup, South Korea and Japan will make Asia a natural focus for us.

IGN: Betfair has a history of staying away from U.S. bettors. Will that stance change at all as you look for a more global presence?

JP: We are going to stay away from there at the moment. One option would be to approach certain partners and find someone who is prepared to take on that risk, but until there is a change in the legal structure, we will not be exploring the U.S. for customers. If the right partner comes forward, we would be willing to discuss options of licensing our product to them so they could tap into that market.

IGN: You have a unique challenge in your global approach in that you have to not only get new customers, but educate them on the whole idea of exchange betting. What kind of an approach will you take in doing that?

JP: We can really look at the U.K. as an example with that and see how quickly it caught on here. The product really took off. We launched in June of 2000 and in 18 months we have grown to being a £12 million a week business. So clearly there really isn't that much of an issue. In a way, it was actually more of a challenge in the U.K., because we use decimal odds with all of our bets and the norm in the U.K. is to use fractional odds. So there was a double challenge sort of, and it was overcome quit quickly.

When we start to go overseas then we will be using the norm for them. And one of the biggest assets the folks from Flutter bring to the table is their ability to educate users on the whole idea of exchange betting. We always recognized that they did a much better job in explaining the system and showing punters how the system works. I think you will see that the overseas Betfair site will have more of an educational angle to it. We still feel that what we will find, though, is people will be waiting for this product to come along.

IGN: That was something you guys found when you launched in the U.K. wasn't it?

JP: Yes. I can remember telling punters that I knew before we launched about the site and they all were very excited to try it out because they had been wanting to see something like it. While it appears to be a new concept, the big punters have been waiting for it for a while. They were the ones who were the early adopters to it and they are the ones that provide the liquidity in the system. From there on down it is kind of a trickle-down effect where people can go in and find out about it and then give it a go.

IGN: Is this a big reason why the system has grown to the size it has? You don't get to £13 million a week on small bets.

JP: We have made a conscience effort to never go after what we call the "Grand National Bettor." Half the country has a small bet once a year on the Grand National and we have never gone after that market.

A lot of sports books in the U.K. have taken the approach that the Internet will grow the betting market. We have never tried to grow the betting market. Our approach has been that the market is fine; we just want to scoop the top end off of it. We have been able to do that through a very targeted market approach with the Racing Post. The Racing Post is like the Bible with bettors in the U.K.

IGN: Who are some of your bigger partners?

JP: We have two sites that bring us a lot of traffic. The actual Racing Post site has Betfair integrated into the site. So wherever you are on their SmartBet, which is the betting arm to their site, you can click on "Bet Exchange," which takes you straight into our system, but has their branding.

Oddschecker, which is an odds comparison site, has been incredibly successful with us in getting that top-end bettor. We are starting to come down the pyramid a little bit, in that we are advertising in the national papers and sports sections, but it has been a top down approach. I still think we have just scratched the surface of that top-end user.

IGN: As you prepare your global strategy, are there any specific geographical locations the company will be focused on?

JP: Asia, as I said early, will certainly be a key area for us. The immediate focus, though, is on consolidating our system in the U.K. and then trying to branch out into Europe. South America isn't really a region on our radar screen at the moment. We offer Cantonese as a language and the functionality of doing multi-currencies was built into the system, so it is just a matter of doing it in whatever currency we want to put on there.

IGN: It sounds like there are some exciting things on the horizon. How do you see the site evolving in the next six months to a year?

JP: I think it will be pretty similar to what you see now, with maybe some satellite sites that will be either sports specific or foreign language-based. We hope to double our turnover from where we are know within the year, but that may be optimistic--to expect to go to £24 million a week.

I also think there is another interesting area with the change in the tax law in the U.K. Bookmakers are now legitimately able to bring their business through Betfair, which has a huge potential, both for them and for us. It is more turnover and it is high spending turnover, but from a bookie's point of view it allows them to expand their market. If he is a High Street bookmaker he may have people coming in to his shop and spending £400,000-£500,000 a week. By putting his prices out on Betfair he has access to punters betting £12 million a week. I think that is a huge opportunity and we will pursue that as well in a more business-to-business site.

The other thing that we haven't touched on is the telephone betting. We launched that recently and haven't really even marketed it. We don't even promote it to our users yet on the site; we have just run a couple of ads, and it is already doing about £150,000 a day in turnover. The point of it is to get more out of our user base. When these guys go to the races or to a football game, they are away from their computers. Especially with racing, it gives them a chance to be there, compare the prices, and then call a bet through with us. There is a huge audience out there among bettors and a lot of them haven't even gotten online yet, and the telephone betting may get some of them into our system.

Q & A: Jo Jo Primrose, is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith