THE CHIEF executive of Football League sponsor Sky Bet has hailed “one of the most exciting and unpredictable” football seasons in recent years.
Richard Flint presented the play-off trophy to Norwich City captain Russell Martin after the Canaries beat Middlesbrough in a thrilling final at Wembley Stadium to secure promotion to the Premier League.
Mr Flint agreed the five-year sponsorship deal, said to be worth more than £25m, in summer 2013 to promote the fast-growing online bookmaker to millions of football fans.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “Personally it was a massive buzz and a privilege to be involved and to hand over the trophy.
“For Sky Bet the sponsorship enables us to build a connection with the passion of fans of the 72 clubs - 11 in Yorkshire - up and down the country.
“It’s a fantastic league, with one of the best attendances in Europe and superb coverage from our colleagues in Sky Sports.
“I think this season was one of the most exciting and unpredictable in recent years, with the Championship lead changing hands 20 times and going into injury time on the last day.”
A spokesman for Sky Bet said 11.5m people follow the Football League. Independent researchers have claimed the media value of the sponsorship is worth £40m a year.
Mr Flint led the management buyout of Sky Bet in December 2014 with backing from private equity giant CVC Capital Partners after Sky decided to concentrate on global pay TV markets.
Speaking at the time, Sky CEO Jeremy Darroch said: “In the last ten years, we have successfully grown Sky Bet from a start-up to one of the leading online betting and gaming companies in the UK. “This transaction will allow us to focus further on the substantial growth opportunities in our core international pay TV business while realising significant value for our shareholders.”
The broadcasting giant received £600m in cash and a vendor loan note for its 80 per cent stake. The deal valued Sky Bet at £800m, representing a handsome multiple of 15 times earnings before interest, debt and amortisation at the year ending June 2014.
Sky has retained a 20 per cent stake in the company and representation on the board.
Mr Flint told The Yorkshire Post that Sky Bet is performing “very well” since the buyout, with revenues up by more than 20 per cent per annum.
Last year, the business generated net revenues of £182m and a pre-tax profit of £50m from its sports betting, gaming, poker, bingo and odds comparison websites.
The business was formed in 2001 following the acquisition of the Sports Internet Group from Yorkshire technology entrepreneur Peter Wilkinson for £272m.
Sky Bet is a big employer in Leeds with 700 staff in the city.
The market for employees with the right digital skills is highly competitive and the company is looking at new ways to attract and retain talent, such as one-year courses that will allow potential recruits to retrain before joining the business.
Speaking at the Yorkshire Mafia event last month, Mr Flint said: “As a sector, that’s the sort of thing we need to do to grow our talent here in the city.”
Mr Flint has been at Sky Bet since its launch. He studied at Oxford and Harvard universities before joining McKinsey & Company.