Speaking to Casino Review, Parimatch CEO Sergey Portnov explains why UFC represents the ideal partner as he looks forward to meeting the operator’s two new ambassadors: Conor ‘Notorious’ McGregor and the Aleksei ‘Boa Constrictor’ Oleinik.
Casino Review: How did your partnership with UFC begin – what attracted you to the sport and how much research did you undertake in terms of the fit between your brand and the sport?
Sergey Portnov, CEO: Mixed Martial Arts has long been a passion and a way of life for me. I have a real love for the sport. On top of that, the rise of popularity of the UFC has been meteoric and is going to continue to grow, so we wanted to be the first in the industry to capitalise on this wave.
CR: The partnership between Parimatch and the UFC has been described as strategic and longterm, what are the main aims going forward into 2020 and beyond?
SP: To ensure MMA and Parimatch are synonymous. Parimatch wants to be the alpha-brand. We want our brand to become more and more connected with the UFC. There are many similarities between fighting and betting. A fighter’s spirit has the ultimate freedom of choice, a freedom to dare and take risks – much like betting. UFC reinforcers our brand positioning. It is a top league with ambassadors like Conor McGregor who embody the fighting spirit.
CR: You recently signed Russian heavyweight contender Alexey Oleynik as your latest Brand Ambassador, how is this tied into your wider strategy of expanding the UFC’s presence in Russia and the EMEA?
SP: We want to help Russia fighters like Oleynik raise their profile and with it Parimatch’s popularity. UFC is growing rapidly in Russia, and we want to be aligned with every fighter from the region that represents MMA at a national level.
CR: What is unique about UFC that makes it a different animal to other competitions? How does this change your approach to it as a sports betting operator?
SP: MMA betting differs from other sports as it doesn’t have the same consistency and regularity of events. Thus, it is hard to drive huge volumes there. It’s an event-driven business where we create hype when big fights are made.
In English Premier League every week you generate betting turnover. In UFC, only when Conor and other stars fight. These happens two to three times a year. But the amount of hype we get from these rare events yields necessary results, which no other sport can do. Our brand recognition, brand hype, new registrations peak at those moments. For example, for the Habib vs. McGregor fight last year, we received more bets from new players than any other sporting event. Only the Champions League final delivered a higher turnover of bets last year than that final.
CR: A lot of focus is being put on US sports betting currently, by focusing on the EMEA what are the wider benefits to the sector and its growth internationally?
SP: The U.S. betting market is a game for giants. The American dream is undeniably an exciting one but it is too complex and too expensive for us to enter. We would rather focus on smaller markets while letting the big guys fight it out in the U.S. Betting in the U.S. is still behind Europe, it will take five years to catch up.
CR: How have you found working with Conor McGregor?
SP: We are going to shoot our first commercial with him soon, so I will be able to tell you more after that. His Management team Paradigm Sports and manager, Audie Ottar have been excellent when helping to organize our engagement with Conor. We are excited about what’s yet to come with our partnership.
CR: What are you doing in terms of identifying ‘the next big thing’ in sports betting? Have you found it and when will you let the industry in on the news?
SP: Trends are easy to spot. There are millions of ways. From google trends tools to blogosphere mentions, you can identify what’s relevant today. It is harder to determine which trend is sustainable. Remember Pokemon GO? Quick success and then disappearance.