Simon Fraser, Senior Vice President of International at XB Net, discusses how XB Net is taking the sting out of protracted integration processes for sportsbook operators.
Backed by 1/ST Technology, Fraser walks us through the ways that XB Net is helping bettors to engage in all aspects of horse racing, before explaining how the company plans to use the Breeders’ Cup to broaden North American racing’s international reach.
SBC Americas: For those that might not know, can you tell us a little bit about XB Net? What’s the story behind the company and which markets are you targeting?
SF: XB Net provides a comprehensive North American racing service to international gaming operators across both fixed-odds and pool betting. The service covers the popular codes of thoroughbred, quarter-horse, harness and greyhound racing. Our key markets currently include the UK, Ireland, France, Italy, Turkey, Australia and New Zealand.
We manage the rights and distribute this premium content (data, odds, live broadcast and video streaming) on behalf of a broad progressive portfolio of global partners, allowing them to deploy ground-breaking technologies to attract and educate new audiences.
We’re lucky enough to be backed by a true powerhouse in 1/ST Group, whose consumer-facing brand forms a world-class technology, entertainment, and real estate development company with thoroughbred horse racing wagering at its heart – anchored by best-in-breed horse racing operations at the company’s premier racetracks, including (to name but a few): Santa Anita Park, Gulfstream Park – home of the Pegasus World Cup Championship Invitational Series; Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course – site of the legendary Preakness Stakes.
And now the stateside stage is set for this year’s flagship finale at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships (5-6 November) in Del Mar. It all represents 1/ST’s continued movement towards redefining thoroughbred horse racing for a modern audience, and optimizing the ecosystem that drives it.
As a result, we can draw from an unrivalled network of over 60 North American tracks which account for over 75% of U.S. racing, opening the door to many of the planet’s most prestigious horse races.
SBC Americas: How is XB Net ensuring that it stands out from the competition?
SF: That aforementioned deep well of resources and racetracks isn’t a bad place to start from when you’re trying to positively delineate XB Net from the competition. And as a basic premise, we are planning to work with our partners across the globe to increase the awareness of North American horse racing, both as an exciting sport and as a high-quality betting medium.
By harnessing low-latency feeds from more than 2,500 meetings, showcasing over 25,000 races per year, North American racing is steadily accruing more global viewers and bettors, especially after a spell in which the pandemic has badly disrupted, if not decimated, so many events on the typical sporting calendar. While many of those sports have since recovered from the treatment table, North American racing – which mostly continued unaffected during the outbreak – has largely retained its enlarged audience share.
In the UK, some of that success and enduring retention can be attributed to the popular nightly pictures on Sky Sports Racing, whose friendly, informative analysis was instructive in “home-schooling” many new viewers to North American racing during the lockdowns.
Accordingly, with many heads having been turned by North American racing, the sport is now pulling up a comfortable seat in their wider entertainment choices. Particularly considering the nature of its rapid-cycling events, which conveniently fill the recreational gaps for drop-in audiences who might like a bet. Providing the right content at the right time remains so important, wherever you stick your pin on the international map.
XB Net’s steady stream of short-form premium content captures eyeballs and improves digital hang-time, allowing our partners to engage untapped audiences, deliver 24/7 horse racing, and also guard against any unforeseen impediments to the global sporting calendar.
SBC Americas: Tell us about your EasyGate™ products. How are they eliminating the complexity of North American racing?
SF: EasyGate is a breakthrough multitote technology and software architecture, providing structured race content, betting pathways and secure track video streams to our partners. Long story short, EasyGate navigates an intuitive path through the complexity of North American racing (from streaming formats to different data sources and their multivariate components), and also simplifies access to other content from other countries.
We give operators everything they need to succeed and take the sting out of protracted integration processes – just plug in and go, whatever the channel.
SBC Americas: Tote betting, and arguably horse racing in general, across the UK has had a tricky few years. How is XB Net making sure that racing is still the ‘product of choice’ for your partners?
SF: Our ability to present North American racing as a fixed-odds product allows us to take advantage of the UK market where Tote betting will always be a marginal betting product. Elsewhere, innovation around in-running betting can really allow horse racing to catch-up on any lost ground and reconsolidate its market position.
The complex variables of horse racing have meant this sport, for so long the retention backbone of many operators, hadn’t previously been able to seize the opportunities that other sports have secured with in-play. After all, nowadays, betting products must smoothly transition from pre-play to in-play, which is why operators must employ the latest trading tools and reactive in-play odds to attract modern-day audiences.
XB Net has now successfully trialed a ground-breaking feed that couples the Starting Price with the best of automated trading via Total Performance Data’s (TPD) astonishing array of consequential in-running analytics, including stride length, stride frequency and sectional timings enabled by saddle-cloth GPS tracking. These variables are accordingly harvested in-play by TPD’s machine-learning trading tools whose algorithms train themselves on race pace for precise pricing that delivers a distinct step-change in live fixed-odds wagering.
SBC Americas: How does your company help bolster revenue and support sometimes struggling traditional racetracks?
SF: I’d take issue with the word struggling. On the US side of the pond, the prize money at most tracks is very positive and betting turnover is up significantly. As a core technology in the wider arsenal of 1/ST and 1/ST Technology, XB Net is part of a broader company wide goal to sustain a successful business model while ensuring all stakeholders who work in the industry are cared for and supported.
That means delivering a fresh and holistic racing experience for the fans which captures the entertainment proclivities of every age group at the racetrack, especially the younger generation that is coming through. We are embracing this challenge and opportunity (sometimes two sides of the same coin!) at every touchpoint we have with our customers.
Just take our recent efforts with Historical Horse Racing (HHR) and how these terminals can provide workarounds for their local racetracks, increasing revenues where slots aren’t legal. As a result, HHR games can bolster revenues at traditional racetracks through direct new gaming revenue for operators who are directly tied to horse racing.
We also pay back a percentage to each host racetrack for every single wager placed, using each respective track’s historical races. This is akin to the simulcast live horse racing host-fee structures, in addition to paying horse racing industry stakeholders for the requisite historical race information data (e.g. Equibase).
At the tracks, our teams are working to modernize the horse racing experience, leveraging technology to bring an on-demand, digital experience to our customers. Ultimately, we’re targeting a growing audience looking for quick-fire action and engaging gameplay experiences driven by end-user thinking and the best interfaces that support that. Providing opportunities for consumers to engage in all aspects of horse racing – from live racetrack visits to simulcast viewing, online wagering and mobile – is the best way to grow our sport in a modern world.
SBC Americas: XB Net holds the international distribution rights for the upcoming Breeders’ Cup. In what ways is this agreement helping to broaden North American racing’s international reach?
SF: Self-evidently, our three-year contract extension with the Breeders’ Cup was a welcome endorsement of our team’s efforts over the past few years. The agreement comprises worldwide broadcast and video-streaming distribution rights from the Breeders’ Cup whose 2021 renewal, consisting of 14 Championship races and over $31 million in prize money and awards, is fast-approaching (5-6 November) at Del Mar racetrack in California next month. Del Mar is one of my favourite venues in all of sport, and its most common epithet of “where the surf meets the turf” tells you what sets it apart.
When the standard-bearer for elite North American racing selects you to further broaden the international reach of its world-class festival, you must be doing something right, and I’m pleased to say that sports fans and bettors around the globe can look forward to even more coverage of the World Championships.
You’re even seeing a suite of domestic host broadcasters (for example Sky Sports Racing and ITV in the UK) broadcasting all 14 races this year, which is ideal for growing the sport. Of course, the increasingly international make-up of these fields, bringing the best horses together from all around the world, only adds to the allure and transcendent appeal of the Breeders’ Cup for global audiences.
SBC Americas: And how will you help optimise and increase the returns to North American racing following what has undoubtedly been a challenging economic period?
SF: For us, it’s all about expanding markets and coverage, coupled with enhancements to our cutting-edge technologies. We’ve already launched in India, while we also have new Tote and fixed-odds roll-outs set for Asia and Africa.
Regarding the race tracks themselves, the more we can add to the service, the better-value our proposition will inherently become through sheer economies of scale. Again, we can return these cost advantages to the tracks. That even applies in Australia, where we’ve recently agreed a deal to add thoroughbred racing from the principal racing state of Victoria to our service which runs off the same infrastructure. We’re thrilled to be able to add more world-class contests for our partners, with the Victorian Spring Racing Carnival already capturing players’ imaginations.
As for what’s under the hood, we’re always refining and fine-tuning, despite having some of the most durable and trusted tech around. For instance, we actually just classified our pari-mutuel totalisator and fixed-odds wagering platform as a “legacy” product.
Instead, we’re replacing it with a next-gen wagering platform that will play a key role as 1/ST Technology continues to deliver on our vision to build upon the strengths of our current gambling platform while also extending its capabilities (e.g. quickly adding new bet types) – increasing speed to market, enhanced support of our customers’ needs, and unlocking the ability to efficiently onboard new consumers via verticals such as sports betting, esports, and other emerging opportunities. In short, it will allow us to react to the market with peerless agility.