Finding opportunity in adversity

30 March 2020

Since Sergey Portnov became CEO of Parimatch Holding in 2015, he has transformed Parimatch from a bookmaker trading out of physical stores into a cutting-edge online sports betting platform and recognized international lifestyle brand.

Sergey's primary responsibilities at Parimatch include: the development and implementation of high-level strategy, making major corporate decisions, managing overall trading operations and resources, and acting as the main point of contact between the board of directors and the wider business. Under his leadership, Parimatch has become a united team with shared values of unity, integrity, and responsibility.

Parimatch, an international sports betting company, is no stranger to the challenges many operators are facing in the face of worldwide live sports cancellations.

Reporting a turnover drop of 30-40%, Parimatch and many other bookmakers are naturally finding themselves heavily impacted by COVID-19, but Sergey Portnov, CEO of Parimatch sees plenty of opportunity.

He says: “This crisis has affected the whole world and influenced all business areas, including bookmaking. The number of sports events to make bets on has significantly declined. Now users are betting on some inferior leagues.

“In addition, there’s a microeconomic panic about exchange rates and trading exchanges. Depreciation of local currencies is also one of the reasons for a turnover drop in dollar.”

A change in culture

As many of us likely understand while we carry on with our lives at our remote working desktops, the world of COVID-19 is a confusing and unique one to live in.

This is no different for the employees of Parimatch, who Portnov says are getting used to their new way of life.

“As a company that focuses on people, Parimatch is doing everything possible to keep people calm. Communication within the company has significantly intensified, workers stay in touch all the time, we encourage people to work remotely – communicate in zoom, chats; people can take the necessary technical devices to work at home.

“We consult people on different aspects regarding this situation: insurance, medical services. We take all measures that can help protect people from the virus. Now there’s also a major informational threat that makes people panic.

“We communicate closely within the team, and it distracts us from the theme of the virus and allows us to continue to perform our work. Everyone in the company cheered up, and we can even see an increase in productivity and effectiveness of the work of the company.”

Ways of working

For the foreseeable future, the industry will feel the impact of live sports cancellations - and not just as a result of decreased betting opportunities for punters.

Portnov says: “I think that the current situation and uncertainty of the future have changed the plans for the year of every business in the world.

“There’s no clear understanding of what the world will be like, how this situation will affect digital, consumer behavior and the main focuses of the world, which is why a long-term planning is suspended, but in short-term we continue to develop a roadmap, which helps us to achieve the goals aimed at improving our company regardless of the current uncertainty. We are growing accustomed to working in limited conditions and will develop our roadmap on this basis.”
Companies must also account for wasted investment in supporting departments, says Portnov: “IT tasks that we completed last month are no longer relevant, and we are starting completely different tasks.

“The same goes for marketing, all our marketing campaigns for Euro 2020, with grand filming and celebrities, are suspended.

“Generally, everything has changed: our approaches to work, our marketing campaigns, all technical tasks and features. We will see which way the wind blows. We stick to adaptive strategy, and it’s not the right time for long-term planning.”

Innovation means survival

In his eyes, the future for any company is simple - “the strong ones will survive and those, who weren’t ready to adapt, will try to get out of the financial crisis resulting from inefficiency of the whole structure of a company.”

His warning to those unprepared to take a proactive approach is stern: “Such companies will be on the verge of bankruptcy. Their share price will be extremely low, and they will be in debt.

Despite the upheaval, he says, new opportunities are already coming to the fore. For example, he suggests traction in fast sports, like table tennis, bets for FIFA and esports.

“For now, people seem to enjoy these sports. One more opportunity is to create more live, honest and competitive content for people to make bets on.”

“For adaptive companies, it will be an opportunity to gain the lead due to digital disruption, experiment, add new games that aren’t related to top sports. It’s important to maintain betting not with top matches, but with live content, like table tennis, FIFA, etc., to create your own sports content or find a contractor who can provide tournaments exclusively.

In his view, this is the future for the industry: ”I guess many bookmakers will have exclusive championships only available to them. Casinos will be extremely successful; they are a part of the industry resistant to such crises.

“The industry is sure to undergo changes, but it’s hard to predict what exactly will change. Upcoming conferences will address the crisis and ways to survive in it. One thing I can say for sure is that the adaptability and business speed will determine who is strong and who is weak.”