Simon Burrell, MD of one of Africa’s largest affiliates, LiveScore, opens up to SiGMA News and shares his thoughts on pertinent industry issues while giving insight into what can be done to encourage growth and online adoption
The retail heavy markets in Africa such as Uganda or Cameroon, understandably, were hit harder by the pandemic than some of their more advanced, more digitally orientated counterparts. But, in a culture where retail is so engrained into the fabric of betting, can attitudes ever change towards online and what role will affiliates play in future growth?
How has the impact of the pandemic changed the market’s attitude towards online if at all? Has retail’s role in the customer experience changed?
It’s important to understand at the outset that the markets are already different in each country and that there are underlying socio-economic and demographic factors which impact customer behaviour. In sub-Saharan Africa (with the exception of South Africa), Nigeria has a predominantly land-based gaming industry while Kenya’s is driven by strong technological infrastructure and thriving digital economy. Invariably (and in general) online and retail service slightly different markets. Online requires financial investment to obtain the hardware and connectivity while retail and points of sale on the street are cash only and tend to be located in areas of busy footfall such as markets, bus stations and trading areas.
Without any doubt, the pandemic has significantly affected those markets where retail had previously been thriving – the likes of Uganda, Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania amongst others. These shop estates are often social hubs, a place where friends meet and will play virtual games during the day while discussing their proposed bets for the afternoon or evening’s fixtures and they also have acted as viewing centres where those with little or no access to subscription TV channels are able to watch or get a glimpse of matches from all over Europe. Obviously as sport was suspended in March last year, footfall was affected and eventually many local lockdowns forced shops to close at least temporarily. I don’t believe this saw a seismic shift away from retail and onto digital platforms as the over-riding circumstance was driven by factors beyond anyone’s control – i.e. no live sport. It also has to be remembered that many of the customers who would have frequented their local shops were also affected in terms of their ability to earn a living so their potential disposable income was diminished.
As the situation has eased and shops re-opened, less shops have come back into business and their reliance upon strong virtual offerings remains. For the online operators, just as their western counterparts looked to alternative gaming products and ‘staged’ events, there has been some innovation – virtual football without graphics proving a major success in markets such as Kenya and Nigeria where there was already a real digital footprint.
LiveScore is one of the largest pan-African affiliates in the market. What can be done to encourage more operators and publishers to create sustainable affiliate partnerships? What needs to be done in order to reach the levels of the European affiliate market?
There is an ever-growing affiliate eco-system in the mature markets in Africa. The likes of South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana are all well served by international publishers such as LiveScore (for instance we have over 20M UU per month in Nigeria alone) – ‘normally’ we would expect local publishers to drive this (both traditional media companies and local content providers). There are a handful of localised publishers who have built strong and loyal audiences and these ‘hidden gems’ can be incredibly good sources of sign-ups but without investment and better commercialisation they will struggle to compete with the bigger pan-continent providers.
It’s fair to say from an operator perspective, again it is the more mature or market leading companies who are driving the sector forward as they look to extend their reach. They often have the financial clout and the expertise to maximise their CPA’s through centralised processes and mechanics and this is an area where many smaller local operators have struggled to compete previously. One thing that many of these markets has shown is that local operators will often find enterprising solutions to their challenges which differ significantly from European approaches. I believe that the next couple of years will see more organic publishers in the maturing markets as well as different approach to affiliates which shifts slightly from the ‘traditional’ publishers and is much more social and mobile based.
From speaking with Simon, it seems that although the pandemic has caused severe disruption to some key growth markets in Africa, there hasn’t been a seismic shift to online from a customer standpoint. Retail channels are not just Points of Sale but rather ‘social hubs’ that provide an experience that is difficult to replicate via online or mobile.
However, the growing affiliate market offers a great opportunity. As Simon says, certain African markets such as Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa are already relatively well serviced by the more mature, pan-continent affiliate providers but there is still a massive opportunity for social and mobile publishers with localised content. This is where the online growth has the biggest potential.
In part 2 of our conversation with Simon, we discuss what else can be done to encourage the online revolution and which regions are showing the most promise.
Interview held by Curtis Roach
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