El Guero Vega, sea ice and a Ferrari – a sportsbook story

Keith Hayes
June 20, 2024
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For most, Thursday the 9th of May drifted by with little distinction. The headlines were cluttered by mundane stories. The sporting highlight, a League Two promotion playoff semi-final, slid into total insignificance with neither team ultimately promoted. Lacking any notable obituaries, even - not to discount the indomitable 93-year-old Mexican folk guitarist Andres Vega Delfin, who sadly met his end - it was a slow news day.

But for us at Metric, it was quite the contrary. It marked the culmination of a gruelling two-and-a-half-year labour to birth the most sophisticated sportsbook platform in existence.

Building a sportsbook for regulated markets is hard. Most attempts have failed. However, in the brief span of a single week, our new sportsbook platform transitioned from a soft launch to fully operational in theNetherlands with Remarkably, despite over a dozen product releases so far, we’ve operated without a critical incident, and at the time of writing, have maintained 100% platform availability. Those who have weathered sportsbook launches, even on seasoned tech, will understand just how unusual that really is given the early turbulence these launches typically face.

Those of us at Metric who have launched sportsbooks in previous roles were preoccupied (read as paranoid and obsessed) by the spectres of those experiences. Even using ‘proven’ technology, many weeks of regular outages and major incidents until stabilisation are not uncommon. Fundamental flaws in implementation, such as reversed bet placement and settlements, creative depiction of liabilities, erroneous promotional execution and other such “learning experiences” are just a tiny selection of real problems that have plagued big brands’ launches. Despite the team’s considerable efforts to achieve it, we watched on in growing astonishment as our rehearsed incident management plans were, thankfully, sidelined by the smooth unfolding of events.

The team’s achievement surpasses even the most optimistic of our predictions. Shepherding one of the most advanced sportsbook platforms ever built through an impeccably smooth maiden launch is, undeniably, a significant feat. However, to have built the platform in just two and a half years (31 months to be precise) without squandering the staggering sums spent not only on some recently touted success stories but also many infamous failures, is beast-mode level execution.

It feels oddly fitting that Metric’s most stirring moment to date unfolded as everyone else seemed to have enjoyed a synchronised duvet-day -the contrast mirroring the innumerable contradictions and paradoxes that smaller enterprises like ours must resolve to thrive in our field - like: Limited Resources vs High Expectations; Innovation vs Stability; Speed vs Quality; Flexibility vs Focus; Short-Term Survival vs Long-Term Vision; Empowerment vs Control. The list goes on. And on.

I cannot help but feel proud and privileged to form part of a team of smart people so adept at thinking laterally to achieve positive outcomes, despite routinely having only difficult options to choose from. I’m especially proud of the team’s preservation of punishingly high standards, even when the means to reasonably meet them may have been lacking. Though it’s pleasing to reflect on the opportunities we’ve missed to mess this thing up, we are resisting the temptation to celebrate at half-time.

To be passionate about betting software is a bit like being passionate about stretched linen canvasses, rather than the masterpieces created on them. Building this technology was neither an intellectual indulgence nor a vanity project. The means to realise our vision of a modern sportsbook simply didn’t exist; so, we had to build from scratch.

It would be convenient to claim our vision stemmed from a principled, burning desire to revolutionise how players susceptible to developing harmful gambling behaviours are identified and managed. Happily, the technology can serve this noble purpose, but the true impetus was less virtuous: Opportunism.

Our industry is on the brink of a transformative correction, driven by an American market that demands a superior user experience compared to the best Europe can currently muster. For quite a while now, market leaders have been guilty of overconfidence and complacency, chronically under investing in technology and product variety. Instead, they developed a dependency on marketing that delivered ephemeral KPI improvements while side-stepping the painfully hard work of building for the future. As a result, many good companies are now anchored to technologies rapidly nearing obsolescence as the repercussions of short-term and sloppy thinking gather on the horizon.

As operator margins came under severe pressure -particularly from the relentless rise in data, compliance and taxation costs - they sought scale through M&A. This global consolidation unfolded as variegated and occasionally contradictory regulations sprang up internationally. Forcing a platform designed for a single brand in a single market to suddenly and compliantly operate across a fragmented international landscape is either impossible or extremely expensive. Hence, we’ve seen a surge in territory-specificB2B deals over the last few years.

Much like a ship slowly ensnared by sea ice, these operators are losing the ability to chart their own course, their velocity restrained by the crushing grip of thin operating margins, exponential operational complexity, and technological strain.

They are soft, mouthwatering targets for those that wield platforms designed to glide effortlessly through these icy waters.

In a nutshell, that’s what our multi-tenant sportsbook platform accomplishes. Metric provides a shortcut to crafting a bespoke, high-quality sportsbook from the ground up, complete with operator-owned IP and built on highly performant technology free of technical debt. This sportsbook can be quickly reconfigured and tailored per territory to capitalise on unique selling points (eg: sponsorship agreements) and seamlessly adapt to varying regulatory requirements and local competitive pressures.

Our modern, highly automated, purpose-built system promises substantial productivity gains and economies of scale for our customers compared to their previous setups or those of their competitors. These gains can be reinvested into IP development, which, if done properly, will lower acquisition and retention costs, creating a powerful and sustainable competitive advantage.

Our commissioned third-party analysis indicates that our technology could realise as much as $300m incremental annual revenue for some of the largest operators. However, it’s quite hard to persuade the most successful companies to share their current revenues to protect and grow them in future. After all, they’ll reflect, they’ve managed fine without us so far.

Moreover, most CEOs in our industry are not really incentivised to act entrepreneurially or invest in long-term initiatives, especially at public companies. Most leadership teams are laser-focused on delivering forecast revenues. If it doesn’t impact the current reporting cycle, it struggles to get their attention. As Dr. Kahneman suggested, we are blind to our blindness.

We hope our technology will help accelerate the pace of innovation in our industry, attracting partners driven by the same spirit. While we aspire to collaborate with leading brands, our technology also lowers the barriers to compete with them.

Transforming challenger brands with a fresh perspective, the boldness to innovate, and some capital into leading brands will likely be harder work than capitalising on an existing lead. But it’s also likely to be a lot of fun. After all, these are the championship rounds we visualised contesting when we needed to stifle the inspiration to give up.

It's inevitable that at some point we will suffer an outage or critical service disruption. Every platform does. We’ll stumble at times and make some (more) foolish mistakes. Every team does. But not every team can boast a remarkable consistency in overperforming.

Not only is our technology legitimately transcendent, but we built it far quicker and cheaper than our peers’ more rudimentary versions, sailed it through stringent international certifications (eg: perfect score on GLI-33) and an immaculate debut launch in one of the most regulated markets in the world.

Nothing is guaranteed, we’re not entitled to succeed, but sustained overperformance is a strong indicator of success potential. As long as we maintain our focus, avoid getting carried away with BS and keep wringing out every drop of talent from our pool, I don’t think it’s foolish to feel excited about the road ahead.

To misquote some early feedback:

We’ve built a Ferrari. The test drive is over. Now we race.

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