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London 2012 – How was it for you?

9th August 2012 7:55 am GMT
London 2012 was derided as a betting event in the buildup but has Great Britain’s gold rush prompted a surge to the bookies?Olympics fever has well and truly gripped the UK. I suspect it might be hard to feel it if you’re not here but trust me, the general public is mad for it. Everyone who did not get tickets is gagging to get their hands on some. Full on Olympics-sceptics have been converted ever since their neighbours and friends forced them to tune in to Danny Boyle’s surprisingly fantastic opening ceremony. Fears about the transport system collapsing have subsided as the cheery and helpful nature of (seemingly millions of) volunteers has made travelling round the Capital an unusually stress-free and sometimes even an uplifting experience - “people are being nice to me! On the tube!!” The incredible performance of Britain’s athletes has had a nation glued to the screens. Half the country (27m viewers at its peak) tuned in to watch the opening ceremony while Mo Farah inspired 17.1m people to watch him take gold. That was the biggest audience for a single event until Usain Bolt was watched by 20m.   Despite the fact that the Olympics has never been a big betting event, the natural inclination is to presume that all this must have translated into revenues for the bookies. By Day 13, with Saturday’s remarkable events (Golds for Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Farah) at the forefront of the mind, Ladbrokes was anticipating just £15-20m worth of bets to be placed for the entire event. That would make turnover four or five times higher than Beijing but no higher than the average Premiership weekend. That was the theme repeated from most of the big listed bookies. William Hill predicts about £30m. Betfair also thinks it will bring in the equivalent of a busy Saturday of football. But a Betfair spokesperson noted it’s not all about revenues. “What’s been interesting for us is that the volume of people betting has been double what it was in Beijing,” she says. The London factor means there has been a surge of people seeing an event and turning to their mobiles to place a bet. This was best evidenced by the appearance of Bradley Wiggins’ road race in Betfair’s top 10 events. “It’s not all about revenues,” says the spokesperson. “The more people use the site, the more people we would expect to retain when the Premiership kicks off.” As business development exercises go, London 2012 has been a pretty big one. William Hill claimed it was pricing up every single event. Betfair has some 6,000 Olympic markets, which covers most events bar the heats in some of the more obscure sports. But the UK-facing bookies had to price up all events. It would be a derogation of duty not to and any ambitious business would consider it as little short of a disaster if customers were to turn to a competitor because they couldn’t find the price of a particular event. Operators with less of a focus on the UK, priced up significantly less. I couldn’t find BMX biking on Bet365’s site but it did price up mountain biking, taekwondo and dressage. Even Asian-focused operators such as 188Bet priced up fairly obscure events such as modern pentathlon and water polo.However, water polo turns out not to be that obscure. A William Hill spokesperson says it was their fourth most popular in-play sport behind established favourites like football and tennis. Hills’ traders vowed to offer in-play betting on every event that lasted over 9.6 seconds, which must have been a challenge for the 110m hurdles, but the traders have reportedly enjoyed the challenge of turning their hands to Greco-Roman wrestling and the like. And while the revenues might not be all that, the feelgood factor in the offices is not to be sniffed at. All of those in our ad hoc survey report a happy workforce enjoying the events as much as the great British public. The success of British athletes and cyclists has also inspired Hills to increase their coverage of those sports in events other than the Olympics and Tour de France. You can expect to place bets on both in the World Championships and in more cycling events such as La Vuelta in Spain. The one company that was overwhelmingly positive (as opposed to just “pleasantly surprised”) was Sporting Index. You would expect its core customers to be pretty gung-ho about the Olympics given their proximity to the Games (in the City of London) but its number of bets taken were up nine times on Beijing. And revenues are miles ahead of the “busy weekend in the Premiership” that others are using as a comparison. Eighteen months ago Sporting Index took the decision to invest over £1m in the belief that betting volumes would be completely different to previous Games - and so it has proved. Of course, it is in the company’s interest to big it up given its alternative B2B guise as Sporting Solutions. It is supplying Olympics prices to a number of fixed-odds operators and it will hope to do so in future. “We’re loving it,” says commercial director Mark Maydon, “and weirdly for a bookmaker, we’re cheering on Team GB.” The company predicted 24 gold medals for Britain before kick off. The slow start meant a lot of punters predicting less than that. With 22 golds at the time of writing, and four days left to go, Sporting Index is sitting pretty on one of its most popular markets. It is now predicting 27. Sporting Index had taken bets on all 30 sports at the time of going to press, which is one up on Hills....although between us, the spokesperson and I couldn’t quite figure out which sport was the leper. Locog’s stringent marketing rules have meant slim pickings for affiliates and more of a challenge for many - Paddy Power aside. Even IOC chief Jacques Rogges’ pre-Games scare-mongering about match-fixing could have a silver lining. The International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) gave the Olympics a clean bill of health yesterday (August 8th). The only match-fixing uncovered was the Chinese, South Korean and Indonesian badminton players, who played to lose in order to engineer a better route to gold. ICSS head of integrity Chris Eaton criticised the Japanese women’s football team for playing for a draw against South Africa so that they did not have to move base for the next round. "It's only a short step from making a decision to underplay for the purpose of maintaining a position on a ladder to saying, let's do it now for a bit of money as well," he said. Maybe. But the lack of a betting scandal is another reason to be cheerful. However, if Rogges thought the legitimate betting industry was a threat before the Games he is unlikely to change his mind now. There was no evidence before London 2012 and there is none now.sah@gamingintelligence.com
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