Jess Mills, SIS: New numbers games just the start of 49’s facelift

“The more markets you enter, the faster you can grow” – this might be true, but first you need a product to support your expansion plans.

This explains the recent refresh of 49’s, acquired by SIS last summer, which has set up the brand’s live draws and virtual games to reach a more international audience.

We spoke to Jess Mills, Head of Product Proposition at SIS, to discuss the key reasons behind the rebrand, balancing the need to ‘refresh’ with a desire to preserve core features, and bringing a couple of shiny new numbers games to the portfolio.

SBC: If you could start by just giving some context on the acquisition of 49’s; why was it such an important strategic move for SIS?

JM: As part of our diversification strategy to expand internationally and online, we have made very good progress in increasing the reach of our racing content to operators in new territories.

As we look to expand into more territories it is important to have a diverse portfolio of products for operators as each territory has different product requirements as their customers want to bet on different things in different ways. 

For many years, we operated and broadcast the 49’s product out of our studios in Manchester, so we knew the product really well, and we had the rights to sell it to our customers. It made strategic sense for all of those reasons to acquire so we could take it forward in a direction into new territories and launch with new customers.

SBC: And what about the recent rebrand; what were the key reasons behind that?

JM: 49’s has been a popular part of the retail service for nearly 25 years, but it was clear to us that the product required a refresh.

We wanted to maintain all the great things about 49’s that the customers know and love but freshen the product and bring the product up to date so it has a modern look and feel. 

We were very conscious of whatever we wanted to do, we didn’t want to alienate our wonderful followers and our loyal customer base. But we also wanted to update the look so it would appeal to new audiences as well. 

SBC: Okay, and how do you find that balance between freshening things up while keeping the good things you have in place? And what guides the changes – is this market research, talking to your customers etc.?

JM: 49’s has an extensive and engaged following on social media and an incredible amount of regular website visits, and therefore we were able to tap into our huge following, as well as extensively engage with operators.

We set up a 49’s industry group where we had representatives from the key operators. The thinking behind the rebrand was very much shared with them and they were able to give feedback about what works or didn’t have the impact we hoped. It’s been done in partnership with key stakeholders. 

We’ve also got quite a following in South Africa. We’ve got a few operators over there that offer 49’s and we reviewed the rebrand with them as well. I do feel like we have built up an understanding of how the consumer feels and have really spoken to the operators that have been part of the 49’s proposition for all these years.

SBC: Was the virtual sports section also part of the acquisition, or was this an existing SIS offering integrated with the 49’s website?

JM: It was all part of the acquisition. 49’s started off with the original live draw back in 1996. Virtuals followed in 2001, as a result of the foot and mouth disease that caused the abandonment of key race meetings, with operators requiring an alternative racing betting product.

What we acquired was actually a little mini portfolio of the live draws, Irish Lotto Bet, the virtual horses and greyhounds, Rapido and World Lotto. 

SBC: In terms of the way you plan to take it forward. Is the development more on the numbers betting side or the virtuals? Or is this across the board?

JM: It’s across the board. We’ve started predominantly with the numbers side with two new products launching in August. The first is a new draw called 39’s, and another is coming at the end of the month named Fast 15’s.  

Moving forward, we are looking at how we can grow and expand the virtual offer as well as the core numbers betting offering.

SBC: Okay so let’s start with the Fast 15’s; what do we need to know about this one?

JM: There are 15 balls in the drum, you pick three, and it’s a very, very fast rolling draw. I initially thought this was a one-minute draw and set it up as an online product only. But actually, when I sat and presented it to the different operators in my industry group, it made me think slightly differently and realised it could work in retail too. 

We now have a two-minute draw version for betting shops too, allowing the time for bettors to go to the counter and place a bet. One-minute is great for online, but it’s just too fast for the retail market. It’s high churn. And it’s not about huge winnings, but more about regular wins and reinvesting those winnings for future bets. 

SBC: So, assuming the 39’s is 39 balls in the drum, how is it different to the 49’s?

JM: Yes, so 39 balls in the drum and five are picked. But it runs more frequently than the 49’s, which is twice a day. This is every 15 minutes and is a much more streamlined product. And the customer perception is that you’ve got a much greater chance of winning because there are fewer balls in the draw. But actually, in reality, the margins are pretty similar to 49’s. 

SBC: In what way is it more streamlined than the 49’s?

JM: The original 49’s draw is scripted and presented live each day out of our studios in Manchester. There is a team of seven presenters that rotate every day, and they write their own scripts based on what’s happening at the moment, who had a winner, shout outs etc. Whereas the 39’s is presented but it’s pre-recorded. It’s less theatrical but more frequent.

SBC: Is the expansion of the 49’s business more about honing in on your UK operator base, or taking this further afield?

JM: Well, both really, as the 49’s isn’t just associated with the UK audience. So, there’s probably a 50/50 split between the UK and South Africa. And there’s also a following in a few other countries as well.

We’ve got an opportunity to expand the brand in those existing territories where we know we’ve got that customer following. And then we’ve also got an opportunity to take our new product portfolio to other territories where there are keen numbers bettors.

SBC: Just a final question on measuring success. How do you weigh up how successful it’s been so far? What constitutes success in the first 12 months?

JM: I think there’s a few things. The rebrand has been really well received, not just the website but also the products. And then the interest in our new products that we’re developing as well. It’s been really interesting to get the insights of the 49’s community, particularly on social media where we have a strong following.

SBC: And have you had any feedback that might make you change things?

JM: A lot of it is that the new brand is really nice, the studios look great, the website looks fabulous, it’s so much brighter and sharper etc. And then some of it is more constructive, for example players might ask for capabilities to be able to do certain things on the website that perhaps they couldn’t do before. This is great, because the engagement and direct feedback from the community back to us is really important.

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