While 32Red CEO Ed Ware presumably doesn’t count crystal ball-gazing among the skills on his CV, the decision to sponsor English Premier League (EPL) Swansea City back in 2009 when they were in the second tier of English football looks like being one of his most inspired since founding the online casino business back in 2002.
The casino operator recently singled out the heightened brand exposure and new players the shirt sponsorship deal provided last year as pivotal to the “increased and more effective marketing” that delivered explosive growth for 32Red in 2011, during which the casino business more than doubled its profits.
With Swansea having effectively secured its English Premier League (EPL) status for next season following a 3-0 victory at Fulham at the weekend, which also saw the team applauded off the pitch by the opposition fans for the style of football by which the result was achieved, 32Red looks certain to enjoy a further season of the truly global exposure that arguably only EPL sponsorship can provide.
This is of course the second time that Ware and his team have pulled off this trick, taking on a potentially risky and costly sponsorship of Aston Villa from 2006 to 2008 and working hard with the club to realise the benefits of the sponsorship on both sides of the equation.
With the Welsh club now standing on the brink of plying its trade on the European stage in next year’s Europa League via qualification through the Fair Play League, Casino Choice caught up with Ware to find out more about the deal that delivered so much for 32Red last year.
Casino Choice: You could have sponsored any number of teams. How did the deal with Swansea come about?
Ed Ware: We were negotiating with a number of clubs at the time but Swansea struck us as suitable for 32Red for a number of reasons, not least of which was the financial stability of the club and the footballing philosophy there.
Casino Choice: 32Red first signed the Swansea deal in 2009 when the club was in the second tier of English football, the Championship. Are you now seeing any return on investment (ROI) or is this simply an unrealistic benchmark for deals of this type?
Ed Ware: Not many realised at the time but we understood that the Football League TV coverage was going to switch to the BBC from ITV. This made a real difference to the level of coverage with the main highlights programme following straight on from Match of the Day. Our experience from sponsoring Aston Villa showed us that this slot and not necessarily the live Sky games are where the real eyeballs are. It’s very hard to justify something like this on a standalone basis – you need to add it to the mix and believe that it assists in conversion and so forth across the range of marketing disciplines we undertake.
Casino Choice: You mentioned the “heightened brand exposure” and “strong recruitment of new players” provided by the sponsorship in your recent full-year results. Would you be able to provide some examples or ball park figures here?
Ed Ware: You can see spikes in recruitment levels when Swansea are involved in a high-profile game but frankly our growth rate is so high at the moment that it masks lots of short-term and localised trends. I would add that we are now of a size whereby the coverage also has a good chance of reactivating dormant 32Red players.
Casino Choice: As non sports-betting brands, yourselves, Genting (Aston Villa) and Tombola (Sunderland) are distinct from the other gambling operators sponsoring EPL teams. How does this work in practice? Is it an advantage not having to compete directly with the other sports-led brands for viewers’ attention?
Ed Ware: Yes, although it makes it that much harder to pay off as the primary audience is the sports fan who is much more likely to have a punt rather than an evening at the tables. The key is to stand out and make the brand clear – I am obviously biased, but I think our execution is better than any of our competitors at the moment.
Casino Choice: 32Red recently received an Italian licence. How effective will the sponsorship prove in that country via TV coverage of the EPL? Italy after all has Serie A, of which bwin, BetClic and others are sponsors.
Ed Ware: The EPL is still a phenomenon in terms of its reach and coverage. I happened to be seated at lunch recently across the table from [FA Premier League chief executive] Richard Scudamore and the audience figures are still mind-boggling. At the very least, some prospective Italian casino players will have heard of 32Red thanks to Swansea and possibly even Aston Villa.
Casino Choice: How dependent is the extension of this deal on 32Red going into new markets, given that the boost to brand awareness and new player recruitment provided by this deal in the UK, where 75% of your business is, will eventually level off?
Ed Ware: We have a further two years to run on this deal after this season, meaning our association will be at least five years with the club. Next year is Swansea’s centenary and I think they are now pretty certain to be playing in the top league for that special celebration. That said this sponsorship is a small but very well formed and enjoyable part of our marketing strategy.
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