Sky looks overseas to extend gaming presence

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SKY’s online gaming business is planning its first foray into overseas markets, the Yorkshire Post can reveal.

The fast-growing operation, which is headquartered in Leeds, generated revenues of £113m in the UK last year. It hopes to replicate the success in Italy.

Richard Flint, managing director, said: “The UK was the first major economy to set up a proper online gaming regime where the law is clear. Italy quickly followed.

“The regulations are clear. It’s a reasonably big market and it has the Sky presence there.

“It’s a toe in the water. It’s all very well being successful in a market that you know well.

“We are adopting a cautious approach until we can see that it works.”

He said Sky Betting and Gaming is likely to make the first moves into the market next year. Sky Italia, a pay TV company, has 4m subscribers.

The wholly-owned Sky division has four brands; Sky Bet, Sky Vegas, Sky Poker and Sky Bingo and an online comparison site, Oddschecker.

It employs 440 people who work in technology, a contact centre, odd setting, products and marketing and finance.

The business has increased headcount by 50 per cent since moving from Harrogate two and a half years ago. Customer numbers have trebled over the same period.

Investment in technology and increasing mobile use is driving the growth, said Mr Flint.

He said: “Mobile has been a staggering growth story. It’s really surprised us. Mobile has now overtaken the internet in terms of customer activity and the volume of bets placed. “18 months ago it would have been sub-10 per cent. Now it’s more than 50 per cent.

“In many ways, it’s the perfect medium for bet placement. Placing a bet is a relatively quick transactional activity. They can do it anywhere – at the match, at the pub, at home.

“Mobile will continue to grow as more and more people have smartphones and there’s more and more good bandwidth and connectivity, either through 4G or through wireless broadband.”

He said internet betting is mainly home-based, but mobile phone betting is becoming competitive with betting shops and gives people the opportunity to bet at sporting events.

Sky Betting and Gaming monitors its high-spending customers and makes sure they are controlling or even stopping spending, said Mr Flint.

“The industry is quite closely regulated and obviously we meet all those standards but we go a lot further,” he added.

Sky has more than 1,000 employees in Leeds.

It has three sites in the city covering digital sports media, a sales contact centre and a service contact centre.

Mr Flint said: “All parts of the businesses are doing well in Leeds and are happy in Leeds.

“In the longer term we would ideally like to combine one site, but depends on availability of property, on how the leases work.

“But we certainly are happy with the presence in Leeds and would expect that presence to expand over time.”

He said the city has talent in technology and a pool of people for contact centre jobs.

“It’s helpful to the Sky brand to be spread out throughout the country and to be seen as a UK employer rather than to be centred on London or Scotland,” he added.

“The 10m Sky subscribers are obviously very broadly spread.”

Sky has 1,577 staff in Yorkshire in total, including 381 at a service contact centre in Sheffield.

Mr Flint, a keen amateur cyclist who is preparing to ride in L’Etape du Tour next year, welcomed Yorkshire’s successful bid to host the opening stages of the Tour de France in 2014.

“It’s obviously a big focus for Sky with the support of Team Sky, which has had a fantastic year.

“It’s particularly exciting for us as a Leeds-based division of Sky that the Tour de France is coming here.”

The company has invested millions of pounds in cycling, including its sponsorship of the Team Sky professional cycling team.

Its riders include Britain’s first-ever Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and Yorkshire’s Ben Swift and Josh Edmondson.

“The fact that it’s coming to Yorkshire is a massive opportunity for us,” said Mr Flint.

He has been with the business for 11 years.

Previous roles include product director at dot.com start-up Flutter.com and channel manager at the Financial Times.

He worked at McKinsey & Company management consultancy after studying at Oxford and Harvard universities.

bernard.ginns@ypn.co.uk