Fabio Schiavolin: Resilience in a time of uncertainty

COVID has undoubtedly had far-reaching implications for the betting industry across the world, putting a halt on live sporting events and – according to Fabio Schiavolin, Chief Executive of Snaitech – accelerating the migration of customers from retail to online betting.

Delivering his keynote speech on day one of Betting on Sports Europe – Digital 2020, Schiavolin touched on a number of topics ranging from his ascent through the betting industry (which involved a small break to set up a food and beverage venture), to the challenges of overcoming COVID and future-proofing operations.

Speaking to SBC’s Managing Director Andrew McCarron, Schiavolin explained that his experience of different roles, both within Snaitech and other gambling companies, has formed the basis for his response to the pandemic.

He said: “My experience with Snaitech has helped me every day during this ongoing crisis. With the situation that we’re in now, we have to stay cool to avoid being nervous. We were among the first to close our shops, and the last to reopen in June – but judging from the current trends in infections, we’re going to experience another lockdown. It’s a tough job for our industry, and it’s been tough to manage.

“In Italy, we have all different regions and each one goes in its own direction. So we must make sure that we’re flexible in our approach, and at the same time, we must be super quick with our responses. After a complete stop of sporting activity, which lasted almost 100 days, we finally managed to report in September that GGR was improving. It was already up by 30%, and so we’re working to maintain this upward trend until the end of the year.

“During lockdown, we obviously felt the impact from a lack of sporting events and the changes to the schedules. If you remember, we were betting on table tennis and Belarussian football. Our customers dropped by 60%, but by the end of June when major European championships started again, we saw an immediate response from our customers.

“This fast-changing scenario is forcing the migration of customers from retail to online. We are a little bit behind in comparison to other European countries. So in the recovery, there was an increase of approximately 30%, which was accelerating a process which was already underway.”

For those operators, such as Snaitech, which have historically been retail-focused, the pandemic was a steep learning curve for adapting to meet the changing scenario.

In Italy, which was one of the countries hardest hit during the initial lockdown, all betting shops across the country were forced to close their doors. But by integrating a virtual content offering, Schiavolin explained that customers responded positively – thus allowing Snaitech to ‘fill the gap’ left by the hiatus of major sporting events.

He continued: “We set up the virtual mobile offering and within a few weeks, we were able to fill the gap caused by the pause in sporting events. By adding the virtual content into the mobile section of the sports betting division, we had an extraordinary customer response.

“In a way, COVID has taught us to think flexibly, react quickly using all the possible tools in a creative way. Of course, all of that is just considering our offering. We’ve had to be realistic on the cost side of things. We accessed all of the government support available, state aid and financial aid to keep on track and help our network of partners.”

Discussion soon turned to how – from a management perspective – companies can effectively respond to such unprecedented events. Something that is key for Schiavolin is resilience and adaptability to changing economic and regulatory situations.

He said: “Resiliency is one particular aspect which we, as Italians, learn as little kids. We’re in a beautiful country with lots of amazing things but it has an economic situation that is constantly changing. This is also what is happening in our industry now. We recently had a Prime Ministerial decree, who is now using COVID measures – which will be valid until the middle of November to limit the gaming hours from 8am to 8pm.

“The measures are also allowing the regional authorities to apply for certain measures, which is happening in Lombardy. We have to face a situation which we are called to make quick decisions and to react to the changing situation very quickly to what is happening at that time. We must also manage a very long value chain.

“With a company like ours, we have to react promptly to this situation. From a management perspective, we’ve been working to keep our core department open during the lockdown and also to provide all of our colleagues with as many work facilities as possible to keep the business on track.

“We had a big loss, but despite those losses in revenue, we came up with a lot of solutions to support our dealers. It’s our mission to provide all of our network the support they need, but to also guarantee the economic viability of the business.”

Betting on Sports Europe – Digital is the foremost conference for senior executives from European sports betting operators, providing a forum for high-level discussions that will help to shape the future of the industry.

The fully virtual event will bring together major players from markets across the continent on a single platform, where they will share best practice for tackling the industry’s major challenges and ideas about emerging opportunities.

To register for your free ticket, click here

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