Paruyr Shahbazyan: I am at SiGMA to look for partners in Europe and Latin America for Bookmaker-Ratings.ru
Hi Paruyr! You started the website Bookmaker-ratings.ru 6 years ago. Tell us more about it.
We are the first Russian website to rate bookmakers: ranking companies by clear and open criteria, rather than by advertising revenue they can give us. Our criteria are based primarily on customer reviews and complaints. We like to focus on how the company treats its customers.
We are also the first Russian site to attract famous journalists and football legends who give betting tips. That helped us a lot to become a market leader.
How did you start Bookmaker Ratings?
The idea was born in the summer of 2011 when I stopped dealing in arbitrage betting. As I was already a professional gambler, I knew there were no sites of such value in Russia. As I had free time, I developed my own site and started work in that summer. In March 2012 we launched the site.
The major milestones of our development are certainly worth noting. Firstly, players noticed us. They saw that our ratings were not like everybody else’s – ours were transparent and objective. These players began to talk on forums and social media about a site that gives information on bookmakers and helps with resolving complaints.
The second point was when the first traffic appeared and I agreed a sponsorship deal with William Hill at a conference. I invested everything I earned and the budgets grew.
The third step was the involvement of the first famous tipster – Tash Sarkisyan – a big sports fan and host of Russia’s largest comedy show. After him, the standard of our experts took off. When we attracted stars to the team, we started to be quoted by major sporting and mass media outlets. The references increased when we started to write about match-fixing – helping us both in terms of SEO and brand recognition.
After that, we launched new products such as the Match-Centre which was developed on the Sportradar feed. Nowadays we have an odds comparison section, where players usually look before anywhere else. We had tried to launch the Match-Centre twice before, and it was only on the third attempt that we got the result we wanted.
Now we are working in partnership with talented Russian programmers to create a neural network which will generate previews for sporting events. This product has yet to be officially launched, but we already have the initial results with the percentage of mistakes currently reading at less than 10%. The use of this technology can improve the speed of writing previews of high quality. We calculated that, if our authors create previews using the neural network programme’s content as a base, then even now their work rate would increase from between three to fivefold. And that’s only the beginning.
What do you think users consider to be the most interesting aspect of Bookmaker Ratings?
The coolest thing for our users is the rating and review system because you cannot find such detailed reviews anywhere else. Our competitors try to copy our system but they will never match the original version as they do not have the resources or dedication. Usually, competitors think about SEO and clicks whereas we have a different and more complex approach – making us stand out.
After that I would single out our tips. Bookmaker Ratings has a really cool team of tipsters. Nobody else has managed to bring together such a high caliber of people to one site.
What are your income sources? How much did you earn in the last year and what are you expecting from 2017?
We earn our income through partnership programmes and advertising. In 2016 we were banned from advertising off-shore bookmaking sites and in September of the same year we were blocked by the Russian internet regulator for a few days. Naturally, because of this, the revenue dropped by 60%. However, by April 2017 we had restored our levels of revenue and they had even managed to grow. I expect a revenue of around $4M for 2017.
How large is your site compared to your competitors in Russia?
We are the largest site about sports betting in Russia. Our peak figure is a million unique visitors per month and our average figure is 800,000 unique visitors per month.
How did you find out about SiGMA 2017?
I had heard about SiGMA a number of times from my colleagues and affiliates although I had never been to SiGMA myself. However, I had wanted to visit for a long time.
How did BR become a partner of SIGMA? What will you be doing together?
A Sigma employee wrote to me and asked if I knew about this exhibition. We got talking and came to the conclusion that we would like to form a partnership. Regarding the exhibition – many people in Russia know about iGB conferences because we often write about them on the site, however, little is known about Sigma in Russia. But we will fix that!
Do you plan to visit SiGMA 2017 this year?
Yes, I plan to. I want to meet people to discuss expanding Bookmaker Ratings into different countries. We already have experience in this with our Ukrainian and Armenian versions of the website and we also have a Spanish version which will soon be launched. I want to meet people from different countries, for example, we are looking for partners in Germany and Italy. Western Europe and Latin America also interest us greatly.
On what terms will you be prepared to cooperate with a partner in a joint venture?
We offer our product to the partner and they in turn need to localise and launch this product and determine the most relevant content for their own country.
We keep back 25% of our capital and give the majority to the local partner. We like the local partner to see this project as their own and be fully involved in their investment.
I rely on the experience and market knowledge of the local partner. We had experience of entering the market in Great Britain but it was unsuccessful because we did not understand the level of competition or specifics there and, most importantly, we went in there alone. People who worked on this project and held managerial positions simply received their salary and did not develop the project. This experience made me realise that if you do not directly manage the project, then you should give the majority stake to your local partner. So that they consider the project their own and develop.
Out of the already implemented and developing foreign language versions of the site, which is the most promising?
The Spanish project has been started up and they already have started the translations. I think it looks promising because our partners in Spain are a large media holding. More than 70% of websites in their portfolio are sports related and their media projects have more than 20 million unique visitors.
Is the main feature of your foreign sites still the sports stars and TV personalities giving tips? Are there other features in local markets outside of Russia?
The main PR will continue to be the stars and their content. The second aspect which will attract the audience and add value to the project is the aggregation of reviews. We noticed that, in a lot of markets, there is no clear compilation of reviews of bookmakers and complaints from players.
Are you expanding abroad because you believe you have already accomplished everything you can in Russia?
Yes. We conducted a poll and found that 30% of people who place bets in Russia know about our company. That is quite a lot! Of course, we need to grow and we are planning to do so through the creation of new projects in Russia. However, it is already clear that the possibility of vertical growth for Russian BR is limited. We could grow up to 50% but it is difficult as the policy of search engines and general practice dictates that it is impossible to have a monopoly if there are no barriers to entering the market. This lack of barriers means that anybody can open a similar site. Everything is decided by healthy competition. However, horizontal growth is still possible in Russia.
Experienced people in different countries tell us that, in many European languages, there are no sites of this quality. And therefore, I can see Bookmaker Ratings expanding into foreign markets.
Contact Paruyr Shahbazyan to discuss partnership via: email@example.com
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