Igaming Focus: ICE 2022 — Shifting spaces By Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports April 26, 2022 at 10:00 am The absence of numerous land-based suppliers at this year’s ICE event in London could presage a further spread of digital suppliers on the expo floor. The return of the ICE trade show and conference in London from 11-14 April after a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic was most welcome by all those who attended. The event had long been trailed by industry observers and after uncertainty over the timing (its usual slot is at the end of January or in early February), and even whether it would happen at all, organizers Clarion Gaming were just happy and relieved to have got the event away, which is understandable. With regard to numbers, a rumored 80 exhibitors canceled their stands this year and there were clear gaps as a result of three to four of the Excel Centre’s cavernous halls being completely shuttered. But, again, this was expected and as many contacts commented then and subsequently, it was actually quite pleasant to have more room in which to meet people in a setting that was calmer and less noisy than is usually the case. Shifting space For the exhibitors there was also an interesting shift. Indeed, many of the firms that canceled their stands were land-based companies. This can be partly explained by the fact that they might have needed more time to bring equipment and machinery into the UK, and, because of Brexit, they might also have worried that customs arrangements would be longer, more costly or that their equipment might even be refused entry into the country. So much for Brexit cutting red tape. The result was that most of the biggest stands belonged to online suppliers, even if there were also notable absentees, such as Playtech and Microgaming, among digital providers. Overall, however, there is no question that most of the biggest stands belonged to online suppliers. Mentioning the size of the stands might seem crude, but it is always one of the first topics industry executives discuss when they meet at the event and is clearly important to the exhibiting companies. Moral crusaders Another more contentious but no less important point some executives raised was that the absence of land-based companies gave the event a different tone. Many delegates felt it benefited from many of the hosting staff, i.e. the hostesses being dressed more soberly and barely any sent out to walk the expo floor scantily clad in garish outfits. This might seem like a churlish point to raise, and it isn’t just land-based companies that have hostesses dressed in outfits that not many parents would want to see their daughters in, but there is no question there were far fewer of them this year at ICE. It is also an important issue when it comes to how the industry is perceived and written of in the mainstream press. This is especially the case in the UK, where two newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Guardian, are particularly critical of the industry; its alleged sexism, lack of diversity and how the gambling industry treats women are topics they write about in outrage every time ICE comes around. Industry relations In terms of industry relations, it is no secret that, much like the distrust some land-based operators have felt or still feel for their online counterparts, many of the land-based suppliers have never been fans of the online space and have always complained about what they consider to be their ongoing encroachment onto the ICE floorspace. For all that grumbling, however, one of the consequences of their deciding to cancel their stands for this year’s ICE was that online companies continued to expand their exhibitor footprint. Indeed, the talk on the expo floor was that BetConstruct wanted to take over the huge space that is usually occupied by Novomatic. Clarion Gaming refused the offer, but it is all a very long way from the early presence of online suppliers at ICE when they occupied a small ‘igaming’ corner of the expo halls. More importantly, if the digital spread continues and those online suppliers keep on occupying more of the ICE expo floor, the land-based suppliers will only have themselves to blame. Overall though there is no question that it was great to reconnect and meet contacts face-to-face, while the clement early Spring weather was also a very pleasant contrast with the usual London temperatures in January or February. Business diversity in action The news that the affiliate marketing giant Better Collective has acquired the soccer-focused media operator Futbin for $113m (€105m) is another sign of 1) the group’s ongoing acquisition drive and 2) willingness to branch out into broad consumer channels. The sale came at a high multiple, but Better Collective also made the point that the deal diversifies its income stream as the Futbin business derives its income from ad sales and subscriptions, rather than gambling affiliate commissions. According to the group’s SVP for esports Henrik Lykkesteen, Better Collective will reach around 100m monthly users with its esports content and enable it to tap into those advertising and subscription revenues. “We believe eSports is the path we can take where we can both acquire and grow as a media company. I think a lot of these assets are below the radar for some of the bigger media houses – they’re not focusing on this segment,” Lykkesteen said. Importantly, Futbin provides Better Collective an access point to a largely non-gambling specific audience of 50 million monthly active users and 3 million daily active users.