French Marketing Race Hotting Up

21 April 2009
With France's online betting and poker markets soon to be liberalized, it appears the country's media companies and football clubs are already lining up to sign deals with gaming operators ahead of the January 2010 opening.

Although the authorities have urged a softly, softly approach to marketing in the interim, a number of companies targeting the French market are already out of the starting blocks with multimillion-euro advertising campaigns in place.

Austria's Bwin Interactive Entertainment A.G. has been organizing poker tournaments in collaboration with Éditions Philippe Amaury, publisher of sports paper L'Equipe and of the capital’s Parisien newspaper.

On April 19, another leader in the gaming market, BetClick, unveiled its advertising campaign on the radio station Europe 1.

The new campaign triggered criticism from Eric Woerth, the French budget minister, who reminded companies that advertising of gaming will remain illegal for all unlicensed operators until next year.

However, on the same day as Mr. Woerth’s declaration to Agence France Presse, Unibet announced a tie-up with Radio Monte Carlo, offering so-called “RMC Bets.”

Separately, Unibet did another deal with NT1, a minor television channel, which sees the operator offer 100,000 euros in prize money for a reality TV program. Reports suggest the NT1 agreement is worth around 1 million euros

With regard to football partnerships, Betclick, owned by the former director of Endemol France, Stéphane Courbit, has already signed an agreement with Olympique de Marseille, Olympique Lyonnais and St. Étienne -- all Ligue 1 sides -- to become official sponsors from 2010, once the company obtains licensure.

Unibet, for its part, has signed a similar deal with Paris Saint-Germain.

The authorities’ criticism of BetClick, meanwhile, took operators by surprise.

Since the collapse of numerous court cases against operators like Bwin, Partouche, Unibet and Zeturf -- all prosecuted for illegal gaming -- it had appeared that promotion of overseas operators’ Web sites was being tolerated.

Indeed, many large media groups have been happy to accept online advertising from offshore betting and gaming companies.

With new sectors of the French online gambling market imminently up for grabs, it remains to be seen how effective Mr. Woerth's policy -- that “publicity for gaming operators remains illegal apart from for those companies that have authorization” -- will be in the interim.

Mr. Wood is a veteran of the international betting and gaming industry, having worked in the past for companies like Ladbrokes and Victor Chandler. He is now an established consultant and researcher advising companies on market entry and business development projects in Europe.