April 24, 2009

EU operators intensify fight for French market share

As competition intensifies ahead of the liberalisation of the French gaming market next year, private European operators have been providing a much needed boost to the dwindling advertising revenues of French media groups in recent months. France’s Budget Minister, Eric Woerth, has warned however that any advertising of online gaming sites remains illegal until the new legislation is implemented as expected in early 2010.

Unibet has been one of the most proactive companies, announcing a partnership with French radio station Radio Monte Carlo earlier this week to sponsor a new programme called 'Les Paris RMC' beginning this weekend. The estimated €1 million contract will run during 2009 with an option to extend into 2010.

Unibet has also invested a further €1 million into the development of a reality TV programme on sports and poker, broadcast by French television network NT1, as well as a partnership with free daily newspaper Metro.

Meanwhile BetClic, owned by France's Mangas Gaming, is currently negotiating an alliance with Europe 1, one of the leading radio broadcasters in France. The company has already began its first advertising campaigns on the radio.

Both companies have also targeted the burgeoning football sponsorship arena, with Unibet due to announce a sponsorship deal with leading French football team Paris Saint-Germain, while BetClic is rumoured to have three clubs in its sights, Olympique de Marseille, Olympic Lyonnais and AS Saint-Étienne.

Additionally, bwin signed a joint venture agreement last year with French media group Editions Philippe Amaury, publisher of French daily newspapers L’Équipe and Le Parisien, and one of France's largest organisers of sporting events through its subsidiary Amaury Sport Organisation. Amaury and bwin intend to develop the French online gaming market under the new legislation.

In an interview with France’s Le Figaro, Isabelle Parize, Managing Director of Mangas Gaming, said that the company was aware of Mr. Woerth’s objections to the marketing activities currently underway.

“We have been waiting for months now,” said Ms. Parize. “The bill was presented to the Council of Ministers in March and we are effectively in a pre-liberalisation phase. We cannot sit waiting with our arms crossed while FDJ is accelerating its marketing activities, launching new games and entering into new partnerships.

“We simply demand equal treatment with the monopoly holders PMU and FDJ who have signed agreements with RTL, the leading French radio station, 20 Minutes, the largest free French daily, Canal+, and France 2. We are not doing anything illegal from a European legislative perspective.”

Both Unibet and the European Gaming & Betting Association (EGBA) also maintain that advertising in France by European operators is not illegal.

According to Article 48 of the French draft legislation on online gambling however, any promotion of gaming sites by non-authorised companies is illegal and could result in a fine of up to €30,000. As the law currently stands, only state-owned monopoly La Française de Jeux is allowed to promote online sports betting in France.

Last week French radio station RTL launched the first radio broadcast dedicated to sports betting called 'On Joue Le Match', sponsored by FDJ as part of an 18-month strategic partnership.

FDJ also recently launched a new TV show on channel France2 named Côte & Match after its sports betting product, which is intended to help FDJ acquire a larger share of the sports betting market ahead of its liberalisation.

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