Ian Mallon: All change at Flutter as €300m World Cup spend expected

With four months to go before the biggest gambling period in sports betting history — the 2022 FIFA World Cup — the departures of UK&I CEO Conor Grant along with Paddy Power chief executive, Victor Corcoran, offers the company a fresh start.
Ian Mallon: All change at Flutter as €300m World Cup spend expected

MONEY MAKER: A close-up of a Paddypower bookmakers shop sign. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

Losing two top executives in a matter of weeks might seem careless for any other business — for Flutter the changes might just be perfect timing for a slumping sector.

With four months to go before the biggest gambling period in sports betting history — the 2022 FIFA World Cup — the departures of UK&I CEO Conor Grant along with Paddy Power chief executive, Victor Corcoran, offers the company a fresh start.

The Pitch has assessed that a large gambling operator can expect to pull in €15m in outright staking (overall winner bets) on this winter’s World Cup in Qatar, with up to €90m staked in individual match bets.

For Flutter’s Paddy Power, SkyBet, and Betfair brands that could equate to up to €300m in business at a time of share price capitulation, regulation uncertainty, and
restructure of its retail sector.

Conor Grant’s shock resignation at Flutter Entertainment follows the exit of Victor Corcoran from Paddy Power in May.

Corcoran left the business without fanfare or press release, while Flutter’s Grant was said to be taking a “planned career break to spend more time with his family”.

The departures of both men cover a period when the Flutter share price has halved since last September — from €184.30 to a low of €92.72 last week.

Grant’s exit coincides with a decision to close up to 6% of its Irish retail units, with 17 out of 300 shops set to shut here in the coming months due, mainly due to the digital habits of sports bettors.

Such challenges nod to the appointment of a digitally-focused executive in the form of booking.com executive Ian Brown who will take over at the helm at a time of extraordinary and terrifying change for the industry.

Brown’s most immediate concern will be the publication of the UK government’s ‘White Paper’ which will recommend a sea-change in marketing practices for the industry.

The release has been cancelled four times now, due to chaos within the Tory party, but such postponements are stays of execution for a changing industry.

On this side of the pond, regulation is also coming with the imminent appointment of the country’s first Regulator and the publication of the Gambling Regulation Bill, which Minister with responsibility for Law Reform James Browne has vowed will be passed into law by the end of 2023.

Despite gushing remarks about how the gambling industry welcomes regulation, the reality is it doesn’t –— measures are already impacting the bottom line in a business that is contracting at an alarming rate.

What Flutter needs now is an innovator to take Grant’s leadership forward — Paddy Power has recently broadened out into comedy branding.

Innovations like William Hill’s deal with Racing League as the official betting partner of the 2022 competition, which sees teams of racehorse trainers and jockeys representing seven regions across the UK and Ireland, competing for £2m in prize money.

That’s the type of concept Paddy Power, in particular, was famous for and which Ian Brown — a betting industry novice — must now drive on.

Murphy up for the challenge in Hockey Ireland role

Ronan Murphy’s appointment as chief executive of Hockey Ireland is a welcome development for a sport that has been without a permanent CEO for too long.

Murphy, who will take up his role in October, was hired following a successful interim spell by Richard Fahey, who acted as caretaker until his elevation to Cricket Ireland two months ago. Fahey was CEO at Tennis Ireland previously and head of facilities at the FAI before that.

The biggest challenge Murphy faces going into the role at Hockey Ireland is to establish that often missing line of delegating budgets between grassroots and high performance, a problem for all organisations with modest incomes.

Currently most of Hockey Ireland’s €1.89m budget (in sports grants from Ireland and Northern Ireland) goes to the hugely successful women’s team, the World Cup finalists in 2018.

A problem for many medium-sized NGBs is to get the balance right in the ‘what comes first’ scenario — grassroots feeds high performance and international, which in turn encourages the growth of the base.

The good news for hockey is that Murphy is something of a change dynamo, having run Horse Sport Ireland, which was badly in need of transformation following the Department of Agriculture’s Indecon report that recommended sweeping changes to the organisation.

Falling racing numbers might actually be a good thing

In most sports businesses, a near-10% drop in attendance figures since the last ‘normal year’ of activity would constitute a crisis.

In Irish racing the slippage represents a strong result under a set of events which have impacted the overall popularity of racing for spectators.

Industry sources told The Pitch that Horse Racing Ireland had been expecting the drop to be as high as 20%, rather than the 9% announced for the first six months of the year.

Factors include a delay in racing attendances until the end of Covid restrictions on January 31, while the Punchestown Festival’s Saturday meeting was impacted by poor weather, affecting walk-ups.

Horseracing Ireland chief executive Suzanne Eade is confident that “interest in racing” will return.

The solution, she believes, is good old-fashioned marketing, which she said is under way through a media campaign to drive attendances throughout the summer.

“I am confident that the interest we know there is in racing, will translate back into racecourse attendance,” said Eade.

The Pitch eagerly awaits the numbers from the Galway Festival, which we will bring you next week, and which will indicate if the ‘crisis’ is temporary.

Sport Ireland launches €2m ‘sport for all’ fund

Applications are now being sought for a fund for disability within sports clubs.

Affiliated clubs of Sport Ireland and national governing bodies will qualify for funding through programmes to support the initiation or enhancement of disability-specific activities within grassroots clubs. Payments of between €1-5k will be made under ‘Education and Training’, ‘Activation and Delivery’ and ‘Equipment and Infrastructure’.

Jack Chambers, Minister of State for Sport said the release of funds is part of the Department of Sport’s ‘Sport Action Plan’ which he launched last November, to enhance “the sports sector, especially the club network”.

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