Catena Media has appointed Sean Hurley as non-executive director to fill the seat vacated in August by Per Widerström.
Widerström resigned from the board in August to become CEO of 888 in October.
Hurley – an executive, adviser and angel investor with more than 13 years of experience in the online sports betting, casino and social gaming industry – is based in the US.
He co-founded American Affiliate, which was acquired by FansUnite in November 2021.
Previously, Hurley served as the head of sportsbook at Draftkings, where he played a pivotal role in setting up and launching the first digital US sportsbook outside of Nevada.
His prior experience also includes senior positions at Amelco UK and IMG Arena, where he contributed significantly to the sports betting technology industry.
His appointment to Catena Media’s board is pending necessary filings with the Malta Business Registry.
According to the Maltese Companies Act and Catena Media’s articles of association, his term will last until the next annual general meeting.
A new phase
Commenting on his appointment, Hurley said: “Catena Media has entered an exciting new phase in its development and has a promising future ahead.
“I am delighted to have been asked to contribute my expertise as the company moves forward and further strengthens its position as a leading affiliate in North America.”
Catena Media has encountered challenges growing its market share in the US market.
In Q3 2023, US revenue fell 29% year-on-year to €13.3m during the quarter, which now accounts for 84% of overall group revenue.
However, Q3 also marked the conclusion of Catena Media’s strategic review initiated in May 2022 to streamline the business.
“That journey, during which we sold assets for €76m, repaid debt and refocused the organisation, has come full circle,” said Catena CEO Michael Daly.
“Today, we stand strong as a lean and robust organisation that is net cash positive and geared to invest in future technologies to drive expansion in our core North American market,” he added.
In an exclusive article for NEXT.io, online gambling expert Sami Kurvinen investigates the recent conflict between affiliates and their once loyal top-tier operator partners.
Running an online casino operation is more challenging than ever before.
Especially if you want to do it “right” and focus on regulated markets where you need to obtain a local licence that comes with higher taxes, more costs, and more restrictions.
To cope with this new reality, operators must find ways to increase their margins. This could involve downsizing operating costs by cutting down on staff, reducing marketing, or lowering RTPs on slots.
However, the strategy of running over loyal business partners to cut costs and increase margins must be questioned.
Top-tier operators, don’t you like affiliates anymore?
The rise of black market brands
For years, affiliates have given their all to promoting traditional top-tier operators who are now starting to turn on them. Why is this happening?
I am a co-founder of CasinoWizard.com. We focus on locally licensed brands in regulated markets, although this might seem like a bad business decision from a revenue perspective.
Black market operators pay more and have fewer (if any) predatory terms, while traditional tier-one operators have started to implement practices that can only be perceived as hostile towards their former business partners.
Let’s have a closer look at what has been occurring lately.
Predatory terms and conditions
Affiliate deals within iGaming were once promoted as “lifetime revenue share deals.” That lifetime has been thrown out the window and is rarely used as a marketing tool any more.
Instead, several top-tier operators have added new terms to existing agreements where affiliate accounts can be closed without further warning if certain new requirements aren’t met.
This can include accounts that don’t meet a minimum number of FTDs sent per month or per quarter, accounts that haven’t been logged into for a certain number of months, or commissions that haven’t been cashed out prior to a specific date.
While top affiliates demand to include additional terms in deals to protect themselves from hostile changes, medium to smaller affiliates don’t have the same power to do that.
It could be argued that operators have the right to change their terms as they please and, if needed, due to changes in market conditions.
This is all fine if the new terms are added to new accounts or come into effect from a specific date for newly acquired players.
However, often an affiliate has worked hard for years to build up a database of players to later benefit from their work by earning a revenue share. If these players are suddenly cut off, it can have disastrous effects on their businesses.
But what about new affiliates? New affiliates are especially affected by changes in Google algorithms, as just one core update can impact the overall business for months.
Let’s say you manage to send 100 FTDs on rev-share deals to one operator. Then after a bad Google update you struggle with rankings for some time and miss the minimum FTD targets.
This leads to your account being closed, and you have to start all over again. You can see why some affiliates are reverting to promoting black market operators, because they don’t face these risks.
Change of licence
Another risk for iGaming affiliates at the moment is operators changing their licences.
Changing a licence means that players are asked to withdraw their funds and deposit again on the same account under a new licence, while any previous affiliate tags are erased from the systems.
Cross-over to a new brand
What’s a quick and relatively easy way to reactivate your players and clean up the database from any affiliate tags on revenue share deals?
You start a new brand and push your current database of players to switch over by pouring attractive offers on them. Voilà, your player base is reactivated, and any existing rev-share deals are gone.
The decrease of channelisation in regulated markets is a growing issue that politicians in some countries seem to take lightly.
The number of players who decide to play on unregulated sites is growing as the offering is more attractive, with more bonuses, better loyalty programmes, and fewer restrictions.
Affiliates promoting these black market brands are contributing to that overall development, but top-tier operators should take their fair share of responsibility for pushing affiliates away.
Businesses and industries evolve, but if you can’t trust a loyal business partner, who can you trust?
Our industry is sometimes compared with the Wild West, and these recent developments and changes in attitude towards important partners have definitely contributed to this reputation.
The word of advice for iGaming affiliates is not to put all your eggs in one basket.
Spread your risk as things can rapidly change with one or even several operators. Sadly, it seems like we must focus less on rev-share deals as these can’t be relied upon any more.
Sami Kurvinen is an iGaming expert with 15+ years of experience in the online gambling industry across various roles with a specific specialisation in affiliation.
Raketech has appointed M&A expert Marina Andersson and former Hero Gaming CEO Patrick Jonker to its board of directors.
The affiliate group’s board unanimously approved the appointments at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held on Friday (24 November).
The newly appointed board members will replace Pierre Cadena, who resigned from his role as a director in October, and chief commercial officer Johan Svensson, who also opted to step down from the board in October in order to focus on his executive role with the business.
Marina Andersson background
Marina Andersson is head of M&A at Swedish online game developer Stillfront Group, which offers a portfolio of free-to-play games to an audience of over 50 million players each month.
Prior to that role, she was director of corporate finance at Deloitte Sweden between 2011 and 2019.
Earlier in her career, Andersson also spent five years as a director of ICECAPITAL Securities AB, an independent investment bank offering professional financial advisory services including on mergers and acquisitions.
Raketech highlighted Andersson’s experience with M&A, financial and strategic advice, transaction structuring, financial analysis, and company valuation when announcing her appointment to the board.
It also pointed out that Andersson’s appointment improves the gender diversity of the five-person board of directors, bringing the total proportion of female board members to 40%.
The company’s nomination committee “will continue to strive for a more gender balanced composition of the board of directors,” according to the minutes of the EGM.
Patrick Jonker background
Patrick Jonker, meanwhile, was the CEO of online casino operator Hero Gaming between February and November 2022.
Jonker was also formerly the CEO/international MD of Mr Green Limited between 2019 and 2021, prior to which he was managing director of Betsson Group between 2014 and 2019.
Before that, Jonker held various roles in both the media and lottery industries in the Netherlands.
Jonker “brings many years of relevant and successful experience from senior positions within international casino as well as sports betting operators,” Raketech highlighted.
In August, Raketech CEO Oskar Mühlbach highlighted a shift towards focusing on higher quality assets in the affiliate sector.
Raketech has therefore turned its focus towards prioritising a smaller group of superior brands.
In Q3 2023, the business generated revenue of €21.5m amid year-on-year growth of 65.8%.
Adjusted EBITDA for the quarter came in at €5.6m, up 16.5%.
Oddschecker has sealed the acquisition of Italian sports betting affiliate brand SuperScommesse from Catena Media.
Catena Media’s internal strategic review officially came to an end yesterday (22 November) following the €19.8m sale of its Italian assets to two separate undisclosed buyers.
Oddschecker Global Media has now emerged as one of those acquirers.
SuperScommesse will be added to Oddschecker’s Italian market collection alongside existing media partnerships with La Gazzetta dello Sport and sports broadcasting platform DAZN.
The brand boasted more than 650,000 site visits in October 2023, according to SimilarWeb.
Oddschecker said it will gain access to “deep local expertise” through a team that has already driven sustained growth in Europe’s second-largest betting market.
The company said it would also gain network efficiencies from SuperScommesse’s tech stack and proprietary tools, that can be further leveraged across other Oddschecker brands.
Oddschecker CEO Stuart Simms said: “As the growth of sports betting in this sports-mad market continues apace, we wanted to double down on our presence in this key territory. We see SuperScommesse as the ideal strategic complement to our strong Italian footprint.
“We’re looking forward to servicing its customer base with an enhanced product that combines the Oddschecker DNA with its well-regarded brand name and local expertise in a market that still has huge growth potential as it builds out an online, cashless identity.
“This digital tide is only rolling one way, so the synergies are as obvious as they are natural: the Italian market allows for odds comparison as a consumer service, and we remain the pre-eminent odds comparison provider,” he added.
Affiliates play an important role in the Italian market, where gambling advertising is strictly prohibited.
According to a recent report by La Gazzetta dello Sport, bettors in Italy wager more than €25bn each year on the black market, with 75% of that, or €18.5bn, spent online.
Investors have jumped ship after Catena Media posted a 28% year-on-year revenue decrease to €15.9m for Q3 2023.
The company’s stock is down almost 22% at the time of writing.
US revenue fell 29% year-on-year to €13.3m during the quarter, which now accounts for 84% of overall group revenue.
Meanwhile, new depositing customers (NDCs) decreased by 34% year-on-year to a total of 44,986.
Adjusted EBITDA from continuing operations declined 65% year-on-year to €3.1m. This translates to an adjusted EBITDA margin of 19%, down from 40% in Q3 2022.
Catena Media CEO Michael Daly described Q3 as a “challenging quarter”.
However, it also marked the end of Catena Media’s strategic review that was launched in May 2022 to streamline the business.
“That journey, during which we sold assets for €76m, repaid debt and refocused the organisation, has come full circle,” said Daly.
“Today, we stand strong as a lean and robust organisation that is net cash positive and geared to invest in future technologies to drive expansion in our core North American market,” Daly said.
Asset sale enables strategic shift
Catena Media said proceeds from asset sales have created the financial scope to shift to a more balanced mix of revenue sources.
In Q3, the group took the first major step to shift some cost-per-acquisition (CPA) contracts to a revenue share model.
This, along with greater competition in the US, was the main reason behind the revenue decline, according to the group.
In the quarter, around 17% of Catena Media’s NDCs in North America were recruited under revenue share. In September, this number increased to 24%, while in October it stood at 23%.
“This rebalancing will secure a more sustainable revenue inflow over time but creates a negative short-term revenue impact as the volume of upfront CPA payments is reduced,” Daly said.
He added this may require a potential review of the firm’s financial targets, but that the shift should contribute to a higher total revenue per new depositing customer.
“And over the longer term, the greater stability of incoming payments under revenue-share arrangements will enhance our ability to plan investments in the organisation and growth-oriented projects,” he added.
Competitor Better Collective, which is also transitioning from a cost-per-acquisition model to revenue share in the US market, issued a similar waning last week.
Better Collective CEO and co-founder Jesper Søgaard pointed to a “short-term dampening impact” on the group’s financial performance in the coming quarters.
Catena Media also highlighted that competition was particularly strong in sports betting, where pressures were compounded by operators moving to protect margins by reducing the CPA rates they pay to affiliates.
Some rates dropped by as much as 25% compared to the previous year.
However, Daly expressed optimism, stating that with the strategic review concluded, the group is now focused on the future, with AI set to play a significant role.
Post-quarter, the company invested in an AI joint venture to create an AI-driven affiliate platform.
Nevertheless, Catena Media’s performance has yet to improve. In October, total revenue from continuing operations plummeted by 37% year-on-year, the group said.
Six major US gambling affiliates have joined forces to create a new trade body, the Responsible Gambling Affiliate Association (RGAA).
Better Collective, Catena Media, Gambling.com Group, Oddschecker Global Media, Spotlight Sports Group, and XLMedia are all listed as founding members.
The RGAA’s stated mission is to champion responsible gambling marketing, empower gambling affiliates to influence regulation, and protect consumer interests.
The organisation will be dedicated to “nurturing” an environment where gambling affiliates can best serve the commercial needs of the country’s regulated online gambling market.
The founding members believe that affiliates must participate in the broader US industry to advocate for sensible regulation that balances both consumer protection and the practicalities of digital advertising.
The RGAA’s position is that standards across the affiliate marketing sector could be further improved through regulation.
It was founded on five strategic pillars as listed below:
The RGAA is in the process of hiring a permanent president.
Better Collective North America CEO Marc Frank Pedersen said: “We are committed to doing everything possible to help empower our industry to promote gambling as entertainment and enable our customers to enjoy our products and services responsibly.
“Having the industry come together with a unified approach to creating standards and guidelines puts the best interests of our consumers, customers, and their families at the forefront.
“Not only is this the right thing to do for our customers, it’s the best thing to ensure the success and longevity of the industry and our businesses,” he added.
Catena Media CEO Michael Daly described affiliates as “vital” to an industry that is continuously regulating, while Gambling.com Group CEO Charles Gillespie said US gambling stakeholders must understand the “critical role” that affiliates play in helping operators achieve their growth targets.
“Our ambition is that the RGAA will support fair play for all,” added Oddschecker Global Media CEO Stuart Simms.
A similar affiliate standards body was created for the UK market back in 2019, which now appears to be inactive.
Responsible Affiliates in Gambling, or RAIG as it was known, also counted Better Collective, Oddschecker and Spotlight Sports Group as founding members.
An Instagram post featuring Manchester United midfielder Mason Mount has been banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The image was uploaded by freebetsdotcom, a sports betting affiliate brand owned and operated by XLMedia.
Coming of age
The regulator’s CAP code states that no one under the age of 25 should play a significant role in marketing communications for gambling.
Two complainants pointed out the post was in breach of regulations as England midfielder Mount is still only 24, having been born in 1999.
The ASA said it was “irresponsible” to feature someone under 25 in the marketing material.
“Although we acknowledged that freebetsdotcom’s service was not itself gambling, using it would place consumers in a position where they would be interacting with gambling services,” said the ASA in a ruling.
The ASA ruled the ad must not appear again in its current form and referred the matter to the CAP’s compliance team.
Right to reply
XLMedia failed to respond to any of the ASA’s enquiries regarding the prohibited ad.
The regulator said it was “concerned” by the lack of response and “apparent disregard” for the rules.
It reminded the company of its responsibility to respond promptly to regulator questions.
BetVictor, bet365 and Ladbrokes have all fallen foul of ASA guidelines on gambling advertising in 2023 for using footballers and managers in marketing material.
The SiGMA Group has made a strategic investment in Affiliate World Conferences, a company described as the world’s leading conference organiser for affiliate marketing.
SiGMA and Affiliate World will now seek to align their global summits to take place in the same city and during the same week.
The first show of this kind will be held in February 2024 in Dubai as regulated commercial gaming looks increasingly likely to arrive in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Delegates flying to SiGMA Dubai on 26 February will also be able to attend Affiliate World Dubai on 28 February.
SiGMA and Affiliate World expect more than 10,000 attendees at the two events in Dubai as a result of the partnership.
SiGMA Group founder Eman Pulis said: “I attended Affiliate World Bangkok for the very first time back in 2014 and was blown away by the energy in the room and the quality of affiliates.
“I just couldn’t believe there still remained so many affiliates that were new to gaming. Coupled with the fact that many operators are constantly demanding for more affiliates to attend conferences; this partnership with Affiliate World will make SiGMA a must attend for operators.
“We’ve listened carefully and are finally in a position to align our SiGMA conferences in the same cities and within the same week as AW, bringing many of the world’s top affiliates closer to the iGaming community,” he added.
After launching in 2014, SiGMA expanded into affiliation in 2020 as it sought to provide traffic to iGaming operators through its portfolio of websites and SiGMA Play.
Affiliate World, meanwhile, has organised in-person events targeted at the global affiliate community since 2015 and boasts more than 15,000 event participants each year.
The company currently manages three events in Dubai, Barcelona and Bangkok, and employs more than 30 full-time staff in offices across Dubai and Manila.
Affiliate World MD Chris Hong said: “We look forward to very close cooperation with SiGMA’s world class team and leadership.
“SiGMA’s investment in Affiliate World is a strong testament to the value of our exceptional community of super affiliates for operators around the world.
“We believe this exciting combination creates exceptional benefits to our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors and will allow them to dramatically accelerate their business operations and discovery of new and valuable business partners,” he added.
FansUnite Entertainment has finalised an arrangement with DragonBet, a UK sportsbook based in Wales, to transition from the Chameleon gaming platform.
This move aligns with the company’s objective to streamline its business operations and is expected to occur around 3 September.
The migration of DragonBet away from the Chameleon platform, coupled with the sale of the Chameleon source code to microbetting start-up Betr in May, marks the final step in FansUnite’s shift away from B2B platform licensing.
This transition is expected to result in annualised cost savings of around C$7.1m for the company.
These savings encompass reductions in salary, selling, general, and administrative costs.
These cost savings will be reflected in the company’s financial results once the wind-up of operations of the Chameleon Gaming platform is complete.
FansUnite expects to generate positive cash flow in Q4 2023 as a result of its strategic plan to improve financial efficiency.
The company’s attention will now be concentrated on its affiliate segment, which was responsible for C$23m of its $27.3m revenue in the 2022 fiscal year.
In Q2 2023, FansUnite achieved a positive EBITDA of C$4.3m, a significant turnaround from the C$11.1m EBITDA loss in the same period last year.
CTO set to leave
CTO Jeremy Hutchings (pictured) will step down from his role on 30 September in light of FansUnite’s new strategic focus on the affiliate segment.
However, he will be available for consultation to support the company in maximising the monetisation of the Chameleon platform’s source code, which could involve exploring additional opportunities for selling the code.
“Firstly, I would like to thank my co-founder Jeremy for his contribution to FansUnite as he played an integral role during the early stages of the company and we look forward to watching his future success,” said FansUnite CEO Scott Burton.
Hutchings co-founded Askott Entertainment in 2013, the entity behind the B2B Chameleon platform, which was acquired by FansUnite in 2020.
Hutchings, formerly CTO of Askott, then assumed the same role at FansUnite.
Investors responded positively to the news, and FansUnite’s stock jumped more than 22%.
XLMedia has sealed a strategic partnership with North Carolina-based premium news brand Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC).
CBC owns websites including regional news outlets WRAL.com and wralsportsfan.com across a portfolio that attracts more than four million unique monthly users in the US.
The agreement is in line with the affiliate’s strategic objective to expand its business throughout North America and to secure more Media Partnership Business (MPB) deals.
North Carolina is set to launch online sports betting in 2024. The state is the ninth most populous state in the US and home to several professional and collegiate sports franchises.
XLMedia said the deal would allow flagship site WRAL.com to tap into new revenue streams by drawing on the affiliate’s expertise in monetising highly engaged audiences.
XLMedia CEO David King said: “We are very pleased to be able to build upon our MPB success by adding another prominent publisher in a key state with strong presence for both professional and college sports. This is an important revenue opportunity for both businesses.
“In line with our stated strategy, this agreement furthers our efforts to expand our North America footprint in select markets to capitalise on the US’s growing sports betting market,” he added.
Chris Weatherly, VP of digital for Capitol Broadcasting Company, said WRAL was excited to partner with XLMedia.
“We know the anticipation and demand around this content will be at an all-time high entering 2024, and being able to partner with XLMedia gives us a big advantage,” he added.
Despite a strategic focus on the US, XLMedia last month reported a 34% decline in H1 revenue to $29.4m.
In North American sports betting, revenue also took a significant hit as it came in 46.4% lower year-on-year at $16.2m.