Alexey Babichev: "The benefit of being open: we are seen by an audience that was not interested in betting before"

About the expert:

Alexey Babichev officially took over the communications department of Parimatch (Russia) in March 2019. Since then, the brand has become one of the most active in the Russian media. Parimatch works with leading publications and journalists not only in the field of sports, but also in business, marketing and information technologies. They are also developing their own group of influencers and bloggers.

Prior to his appointment at Parimatch, Alexey was the public relations director of Caxino, the first foreign bookmaker legalized in Russia. Previously he worked with major communication agencies and large corporations. He has carried out hundreds of projects in some of the largest sporting events in the world, working regularly with elite athletes and public figures.

How many security guards does Conor McGregor need? (The answer is many), how do you choose the right ambassadors and what percentage of the total number of bets are placed on UFC? Find out in our exclusive interview with Alexey Babichev.

"Market players should be more active in the field of information"

- What are your functions in the company?

- I manage all brand communications in Russia, and there are several areas that my team is responsible for. First of all, all contacts with journalists and media, but we also manage social networks and work with brand ambassadors, always building and maintaining the reputation of our brand.

- Is there any difficulty in managing ambassadors when the contract terms are complex and there are so many different interactions with the media?

- There is no difficulty as such, all actions are well synchronized between the two. As there are usually a lot of activities, we try to fill the information field and do it constantly. Ambassadors are there as a communication tool, the media are the platforms that allow us to reach the public. Our main task is to be open to our audience, through a constant presence on all platforms.

At the same time, we understand that you can't always access the media like that. It is always necessary to offer something interesting, content and access to the character. At the moment we have a good range of ambassadors. Including global contracts from the Parimatch brand and our local partners.

- Back to the question of staying open. Not all bookmakers set these goals, especially Russian ones. Why did you come up with this?

- We wanted to change the opinion based on stereotypes that people have about bookmakers. We strive to ensure that our industry as a whole is perceived as open, understandable and well regulated. Together with all the participants of the global market, our task in the future is to gradually change the opinion that people have about us. We try to convey that sports betting is entertainment and excitement. The task of Parimatch is to break the old stereotypes by being fair. We also take advantage of our communication tools in the hope of changing the opinion of people who may be thinking of entering the world of betting.

- What do you mean by “negative opinions”?

- The main thing is that people believe that the bookmakers will deceive them. It is important to understand that a legal company has certain obligations. You cannot simply withhold and appropriate the client's funds. Of course, there are many controversial points around this, but in general, we have no right to claim a client's deposit. Customers can go to regulatory bodies if we do this. If the matter is complicated and the dispute continues, then there are higher authorities. Any bettor who is a client of a legal bookmaker in Russia is protected by law and by all existing regulations.

- If other operators are not willing to participate in changing bettors' opinions about bookmakers, could your company do it alone?

- If we act alone we could be able to initiate some change and influence the antecedents. We try to announce our initiatives out loud, and we try to talk to our audience in an understandable way to achieve the transformation we want. At the same time, it helps when other market traders also become more active in spreading this message. This is good because it generates competition that motivates you. There are several companies in the industry that are ready to step in and break stereotypes together with us. Each client we have can properly filter the information and form his own opinion: read about the background of the company, check who regulates them, look at what the bookmaker offers, check the brand ambassadors. Basically just dedicate a little time, this way it will be possible to form a good overview of each company.

- Is it profitable? All businesses depend on good results.

- We see the potential. We not only look at current audiences, but also know that there is great potential among those who are not yet familiar with sports betting.

During the 2018 World Cup in Russia, many new customers registered with bookmakers for the first time, but only 5 to 10 percent remained with them. However, some had higher figures than others.

We have a large team of analysts: we see and evaluate the user at every stage of the use of our product. Our task is to retain them and offer them a product that is interesting to them. We believe that there is a great potential among those who have never been interested in betting on football or any other sport before. We believe that as people start talking openly about us and gambling in general, there will be great rewards.

"The brand is ready to renew Conor's contract"

- Parimatch began to actively grow a couple of years ago, since the signing of McGregor. How was that process? Was it hard?

- The story with Conor began with the UFC negotiation with Parimatch at the height of the company. Sergey Portnov, CEO of Parimatch, is a big fan of mixed martial arts. He was one of the first to press for the signing of a contract with the UFC. At the same time, negotiations with Conor began. We finally signed a contract without major difficulties.

Conor is a magnificent fighter and one of the most popular athletes in the world. Therefore, there are certain nuances around the preparation of campaign launches and also the preparation of content for them. Everyone remembers his appearance in Russia when fans were ready to stay up all night and wait at the hotel just to see him. However, it can be difficult to locate and film him, since his schedule changes quickly and this can impose some difficulties when preparing the content.

- Is it a very expensive asset?

- In short, yes, but I will not go into concrete numbers. McGregor's high cost is due to his importance in the media. Just looking at her followers on social networks: there are 35 million subscribers on Instagram alone, her stories are viewed by at least 2-3 million people. Conor generates content all the time. This is part of the work of his entire team. We are confident that the cost of the contract is adequately covered by McGregor's value.

If you remember the event in October 2019, when we organized Conor's first visit to Russia. During that visit, McGregor's historic (and so far only) press conference in Russia took place. During the week, everyone talked exclusively about this. We announced the press conference three days in advance and the media immediately flooded us with incoming calls to be credited in advance. The gate, which had been in the backyard of the event venue for years, was simply knocked down by fans. All of Moscow was following the story and everyone wanted to be closer to the legend. We covered his arrival to the fullest and followed him from his formation to appearing on television, and the episode of "Evening with Urgant" that became one of the most popular in the history of that talk show.

- So are the costs self-justifying?

- We are ready to renew the contract.

- Does Conor have any interesting clauses in the contract?

- There are certain requirements, and they must be met because it is fixed in the contract. In Moscow, he was guarded by about 30 professionals, including some of the best bodyguards in the sector. There are also certain logistical requirements, for example, Mr. McGregor will not fly in business class or first class, but will choose a private jet.

- As far as I understand, it was because of him (and the contract with him) that they redesigned the brand two and a half years ago. Was Conor part of something bigger?

- Of course, this is part of Parimatch's rebranding plan. I think the whole rebranding process, from inception to final approval and all subsequent PR, is exactly how it should be done. I joined the Parimatch-Russia team exactly at the beginning of the rebranding, this was one of the first big projects I was able to work on. I think we did a great job. The brand was quickly accepted by the audience. We were determined to bring life to the market and we did it. Now we have the most eye-catching brand in the industry. The corporate color of the company, “electric yellow”, is full of energy and emphasizes the character of Parimatch - strong, bold and bright.

- So how did it happen?: the company signs with the UFC and then decides to negotiate with Conor, and that's when Parimatch Russia enters, which has proposed a rebrand taking advantage of this occasion. Correct?

- All teams follow a single strategy. At that time, when the details of the contract were agreed, it was decided to appoint Conor as ambassador. They killed two birds with one stone: they talked about the rebranding and got a new ambassador who should strengthen the brand's influence on the market.

"We barely make money with UFC"

- With Conor as the image of the brand, the bookmaker does not have many options other than to highlight him. How did the "fight" contracts affect the other betting lines?

- At the time of signing a contract with the UFC, the task was, among other things, to excite our audience. The popularity of individual combat sports is growing, and in Russia we are ready to develop them even more. We believe that our company currently has the widest range of UFC lines. We don't win much with the margin, it's minimal for the key fights. If we take the important matches of Russian fighters, for example, Khabib Nurmagomedov or Yana Kunitskaya, then a large percentage of our clients are betting on the Russians. In practice, we don't make money from UFC. The status, image and growing popularity of martial arts in general is what is important to us. We feel that we are responsible for directing things in this direction.

- Does the bookmaker earn more on smaller markets and on less popular fights?

- We understand that the volume of bets on Russian fighters and on key fights is ten times higher than on small markets. Small markets generate some money, but not so much.

- Is there any data on UFC betting? Do they outperform the competition?

- I did not manage to estimate our specific share, but we definitely outperformed our competitors in this area. We have all UFC events online and we are also ready to offer unique betting options. We have always strived to provide customers with a complete experience, including customization of betting markets. We give a lot of situational options in lines. For example, Conor declares that he is leaving or returning, and we can bet on that outcome - when he will return, etc. Not so long ago, a law was passed that obliged all legal bookmakers to accept bets only on official sports events. This helps companies that offer similar lines to stand out.

- If we look at other ambassadors, how would you evaluate the effect of working with Petr Yan?

- Petr became our ambassador quite a long time ago. We supported him when he was still climbing the ranks, we believed in him. Now Yan's height is completely different. This can be seen, among other things, in the results of the press conference we held a week ago, and in the interest that there was around it (despite all the restrictions regarding the organization of this type of events). Here we have chosen well, Petr is a professional not only in sports, but also believes in the brand and fulfills his contract with enormous interest. We have reviewed the value of the contract and will continue to support our champion.

- How does Parimatch choose its ambassadors? Believing in Yan when he is young is not the same as coming to find him today. Is anyone helping you choose? How do you guess?

- It is important that we immediately understand who we are signing with and whether they match our profile or not. It is important that the person is an opinion leader, bold and daring, has a bright and recognizable image, and corresponds to the values of the brand. Who's helping us? I consider the Parimatch team as a whole to be one of the strongest and most united in the business. Not only in betting, but in general, we have the strongest team. When the candidacy is discussed, there is a group of employees involved in that, it is not a single person. We make predictions about the future, evaluate the potential of how the athlete is moving towards his goals. We do not have external consultants, all the experience is concentrated within the company.

- If we move on to advertising and positioning on the Internet, which options are the best?

- Regardless of the channel, it is the design of the ad that influences registrations and first deposits. I can't say that there is a big difference between the platforms, it depends a lot on the audience that is on one channel or another. It can be the same for an opinion leader and a separate betting site. Sometimes the audience will be less targeted. It should be understood that the effectiveness of the most popular sports banners will be higher than that of UFC banners. The popularity of MMA is growing, but it has not yet reached figures close to football. Our task is to strengthen the activity and help the development of sport as a whole.

- Have they tried putting Conor on football posters?

- We have certain restrictions on the use of images of people in advertising. We can put banners on our website, and a banner with Conor in a bright image will work more effectively, in theory. Conor knows Russian football firsthand because the first time he was in Moscow at the invitation of the president, and during the second (our) visit he attended a CSKA match. Conor's image has been used in football advertising on the site and we plan to do so in the future.

- Is the UFC among the top 5 types of betting within your company?

- Yes, mixed martial arts, in general, are at the top. On average, UFC bets give us from 3% to 7% of our total betting volume.