In a recent interview, Gaming Eminence had the opportunity to speak with Matt Howard, CEO of OrbitalBet. During our conversation, we delved into the challenges within the outsourced sportsbook technology sphere, covering key topics such as differentiation, prioritisation, and performance optimisation. We also explored the allure of building sportsbook products from scratch, acknowledging its appeal while recognising the scalability and expertise challenges it presents. Furthermore, we highlighted the importance of collaborative tech development in clarifying visions and navigating regulatory complexities. In addition, we discussed the necessity for operators to address performance bottlenecks, enhance management tools, and improve front-end personalisation to stay competitive. To conclude, Matt Howard provided valuable insights into OrbitalBet's long-term business goals.
GE) In the sphere of outsourced sportsbook technology, what intricate challenges do operators grapple with as they seek to enhance their offerings? How can a comprehensive technology approach, akin to full platform code, potentially revolutionise the way operators navigate these challenges, ushering in a new era of tech-driven excellence?
MH) The main challenge when you work with a turnkey supplier will be differentiation and prioritising your development requirements. There has to be an acceptance that working in a pooled resource, at operations and development levels, will lead to significant risks and lack of personalised work. In the modern sports betting world, particularly in regulated markets with Tier 2 competitors, this will seriously hamper the chances of success. It's exceptionally challenging to acquire, then retain, customers against these brands. As a team who've worked with all stages of sports betting companies across operations and development, we truly feel the only way to really make an impact is to offer customers a better user experience than the brands you compete with.
GE) From your perspective, what complex hurdles arise when operators embark on the journey of building sportsbook products from scratch? How might an outsourced tech solution, particularly one that encompasses a comprehensive tech foundation, transform these challenges into catalysts for innovation and streamlined product development?
MH) The idea of starting from scratch makes a lot of sense initially, but one must carefully consider the significant investment in terms of both time and money, as well as the risk of not getting it right. Few have successfully brought an in-house system to market in less than five years without incurring substantial expenses for both product development and team building. Many have faltered before even reaching the market.
I would say the biggest challenges in this endeavour can be summarised in three key areas: performance, management tools, and differentiation for customers. Interestingly, these three factors are also the most critical ones to address successfully. Sports betting systems need to handle vast amounts of data, often at sub-second intervals, which becomes increasingly challenging as operators expand their offerings. If a platform lacks scalability, it will suffer both short-term and long-term performance issues, necessitating significant development decisions and revisions.
Additionally, sports betting requires a unique set of tools to manage core trade and risk functions. Unfortunately, there is a scarcity of industry professionals with operational backgrounds who can impart this essential knowledge to product and development teams. Consequently, inadequate tools are often employed, limiting management options and, in extreme cases, resulting in financial losses due to insufficient adaptability.
The final point, differentiation for customers, is perhaps the most compelling reason to have ownership of your own technology. However, it is also the most challenging, as it demands a clear vision of your brand, your existing customer base, and the customers you aim to attract. Many operators either change too little, leading to insignificant differentiation, or change too much, causing confusion for customers. Striking the perfect balance is difficult and requires a deep understanding of the ultimate goals, which is often overlooked in the rush to get started.
Outsourcing technology management could potentially offer a solution, especially if the provider includes consultancy services in the package. This arrangement would enable clients to fill gaps in their knowledge and receive assistance in defining the product and roadmap. Given the limited pool of sports betting product expertise within the industry, partnering with a provider offering such expertise can instill confidence in the investment required to own and operate the technology.
GE) The promise of tailored sportsbook products is enticing, yet often riddled with complexities. What are the primary challenges that operators face when seeking to align their offerings with unique visions and demands? How might a collaborative approach to tech development address these challenges, ensuring greater customisation and user-centric experiences?
MH) As mentioned in the previous response, I believe that operators often lack a clear vision, which can lead to significant problems and wasted time in the future. It also increases the chances that the final product doesn't truly align with their objectives. The introduction of regulatory requirements in many markets can disrupt workflows, making it crucial to have a strong vision and roadmap in place. Without these, the impact on the business can be substantial, leading to a loss of focus.
In our opinion, product development should align with the business's goals, targets, and customer needs. This approach necessitates a long-term perspective to understand the business's overarching objectives and the products that need to be developed to achieve them.
Through our collaboration with clients, we aim to provide consultancy services covering all aspects of sports betting, if desired. As a management team, we collectively possess over 80 years of experience in sports betting, spanning B2C, B2B, startups to tier 1 companies, global regions, niche areas, and various business functions. Our goal is to assist our clients in delivering exceptional products to their customers and continuously improving them. This requires comprehensive long-term planning.
While the initial product launch must meet specific requirements, it should also be developed with an eye toward the future. This foresight ensures that ongoing work can enhance the user experience at an appropriate developmental pace. An effective plan also facilitates the acceptance and management of changes, as they can be aligned with the previously defined strategy. This approach enables the business to understand the impact of changes and make well-informed decisions based on this knowledge.
GE) Each operator's sportsbook vision is unique, yet realising it fully can be intricate. What inherent technological challenges do operators encounter when translating these visions into fully functional, high-performance platforms?
MH) Performance is a significant challenge for many individuals. It's easy to underestimate the strain caused by the volume of betting content, which is constantly updated, as is the case with any reputable sportsbook.
In the back office, finding individuals who comprehend the necessary tools for managing a sportsbook is rare, resulting in these tools often being both underdeveloped and underutilised.
Sportsbook management tools serve multiple functions, and visibility is often crucial to their effectiveness. Frequently, we have witnessed only the bare minimum being provided as management tools, often in a manner that renders them too rudimentary to be improved; they may require complete rewriting. Our backgrounds as operational senior personnel who have transitioned into product roles provide us with a unique perspective on what is necessary and where these tools could be enhanced and potentially automated. This could lead to the integration of technologies like machine learning and AI in the future. However, for learning-based models, such as ML and AI, to be introduced, these tools must capture sufficient information and offer adequate management capabilities. Returning to the topic of the industry and its workforce, this experience and skill set are rare. Understanding tools like fieldbooks, liability monitors, overask functionality, and player risk management is not an easy task unless you have used them extensively across multiple systems for an extended period.
On the front end, personalisation has been slow to develop within our industry, and the differentiation that customers positively respond to has also been infrequent.
One of the reasons for this sluggish progress is once again the lack of experience within the teams responsible for defining the front-end requirements. At its core, betting should be a quick and straightforward process for most customers to find and place the desired bet. While factors like registration, cash-out, and bet builder type products also come into play, the overarching theme for all of them to be successful is simplicity. It's challenging to understand these complexities if you are not a bettor or a regular user of betting sites. This often leads design teams to either imitate large, successful companies in the industry (which, in some cases, is a reasonable starting point but problematic when overdone) or to attempt radical innovations that make it difficult for mature customers to navigate and confuse new customers. Establishing this foundation correctly is critical because it largely influences how you can implement customer personalisation on top of it. This means, at a fundamental level, the code itself needs to be adaptable to work with rulesets and data to cater to different users. Moreover, the design and product teams must understand their customers and target audience to create features that customers want to engage with.
At OrbitalBet, we are also highly interested in social sports betting, particularly in terms of fostering community and interaction, not just offering free-to-play options. We believe this approach is the most effective way to encourage customers to view a betting site or app as a place to spend time, thereby increasing engagement and naturally expanding the customer base. This concept remains under explored in the gaming industry, especially in sports betting. We have developed some modules that we believe add significant value if used correctly in this context.
GE) OrbitalBet's team boasts expertise in sportsbook technology. How does your outsourced tech service approach empower sportsbook operators seeking to optimise their product development? Could you elaborate on the unique advantages this approach offers in terms of leveraging your team's proficiency to enhance performance and tailor the platform to meet precise customer demands?
MH) We have consulted for well-funded major operators in the past, and often have been asked, “What should we do about our platform?” The answer is often that ideally, they would purchase a good technology core, and build on top of it so that it fits their business. But , this didn’t really exist without huge cost or significant risk. Orbital aims to work alongside our clients to build sports betting platforms and products which allow them to grow and serve their customer base, at a cost we think is within reach of many. We can help understand what a move from a managed sportsbook looks like and architect and develop to suit operations requirements and also end-customers' brand focused requirements, too.
About our contributor
Matt Howard is a 17 year sports betting veteran. Starting life in trading and risk management roles, he latterly moved into product and has spent most of the last decade as a consultant, predominantly in this area. Having worked with operators and suppliers of all levels and across the world he co-founded OrbitalBet to solve the regular issue he came across of operators lacking the option to buy proven core code and then develop this according to their own roadmap. OrbitalBet was founded in 2021 to service this part of the sports betting market. Visit https://orbital.bet/