From operator to supplier: FSB duo’s fresh perspective on US sports betting and igaming

Bob Akeret (L) & Mike Van Ermen (R)

Omni-channel sportsbook supplier FSB has made significant strides in North America this year. At the heart of this growth lie newly promoted VP of Business Development Mike Van Ermen and VP of Operations Bob Akeret. Both left leading operators to join the firm at the end of 2020. Here, they tell their story of how their experience operator side has helped enhance FSB’s US product offering.

SBCA: Since the repeal of PASPA in 2018, both of you have had key roles in the sports betting industry working for major operators and now a key supplier in FSB. With this varied experience, it would be great to get your perspective on the current state of the US market?

BA: It definitely feels like we’ve moved onto the second phase of the market evolution post-PASPA as more and more states legalize. With operators increasingly aligning with major sports teams and media organizations, the online sports betting footprint is starting to shift into mainstream US society. As New York aims to go online with sports in the next few months and new states adopting igaming, I can only see things getting bigger.

MVE: Things are moving fast and it’s clear there’s an enormous amount of opportunity out there for suppliers like us at FSB who have a comprehensive sports betting offering allied with full igaming capabilities. Despite the market maturing, it’s clear that some operators are still poorly serviced by their current suppliers, so as contract renewals come into play, it’s game on across the supplier sector. It remains a very exciting environment.

SBCA: How has the operator to supplier transition gone for you both in this fast-paced US market?

BA: It’s certainly scratched an itch! Working operator side had its fair share of challenges. Both Mike and I encountered a number of frustrations with the legacy tech solutions we had to work with. Obsolete and sometimes repurposed platforms, and limited sportsbooks added friction to day-to-day operations. For us, having gone through those impediments with previous suppliers, we’ve been able to add further value internally at FSB when it comes to finessing our US-facing product. The insight we’ve brought to the organization has dovetailed well with the ongoing outstanding product delivery work that continues to take place on our US offering. This is a product that I’m proud of. 

MVE: Having that experience and perspective has been so important for us and allowed us to empathise and understand just what operators are looking for when it comes to their sports betting supplier. This authenticity has been noticed in various sales cycles I’ve been involved in this year, and that’s been rewarding. North America is a hugely important market for us and Bob and I’s input and influence into product development has been well received.

SBCA: I get the feeling that your time as operators has really helped you both in your current roles at FSB?

BA: Without doubt. The experience we accrued in our previous roles has allowed us to almost pitch the voice of the operator internally as we look to further enhance and embellish our product offering. FSB’s strategy in the US was always to take a second mover approach in the market, learn from the mistakes of the first wave and tap into that buyer’s remorse. It’s worth pointing out that I used the FSB platform in a previous role back in 2017 and the evolution and enhancement from then is staggering. What we have now is a truly localized product supremely suited to the needs of the current day US market and we can confidently communicate that, having sat on the other side of the table in our past lives.

MVE: Yes, our operator past is vital to our current role. Our CEO Dave McDowell sold this to us and empowered us, he knew we had felt the frustrations of that first wave from an operator point of view, he understood that we had lived inside that buyers’ remorse bubble if you like, and he wanted us tap into the learnings that we had accrued on the other side of the fence to help FSB to build a world-class sportsbook fit for the North American market. We are in a position now where we can talk to operators who have taken these legacy tech solutions and exude empathy and guidance and offer them a much more advanced alternative.

SBCA: What will operators be demanding from their suppliers in 2022 in the US?

BA: Empowerment. Having worked operator side, I know how crucial having control is. This is central to our ideology at FSB as we bid to empower and enable our partners so they can in turn enrich their end users. We have a world-class sportsbook that allows partners to take control of our proprietary trading properties and optimize their margin and risk strategy through these tools. They have the ability to take charge of the day to day trading of certain sports and data feeds to help them differentiate and boost brand identity. Another area that always wows operators we speak to is our automated marketing toolkit. This kit enables our partners to truly enrich the player experience when it comes to CRM and bonusing, and in turn drive operational efficiencies in their organization whilst driving a clear, distinct marketing strategy. Automation is already an integral part of our platform, and this will be enhanced further in our exciting 2022 product roadmap.

Empowerment is also vital when it comes to players of course, and being able to offer an integrated, cross-channel experience to end users is vital as we move forward. We understand that players want an experience that is convenient for them, whether they’re using their cellphone at home or at an on-premise location, and our omnichannel sportsbook certainly gives these players the customer journey they demand.

Finally, I’d also add entertainment to the mix. With strong DFS roots in North America, it’s vital that operators can offer players an all round entertaining experience that not only incorporates key sports betting elements like Bet Builder, but also covers loyalty and gamification, F2P functionality and chat forums. At FSB, we’ve recently partnered with providers Captain Up and Incentive Games to bring these experiences to our platform partners and it’s clear they’re making a real day to day difference when it comes to acquiring, retaining and engaging their end users.

MVE: I think the bar will be raised further in 2022 and convenience will be a key factor for me. It’s well documented how limiting a number of the first to market legacy tech platforms have been for operators post-PASPA repeal. These solutions have clearly affected performance, added complexity and reduced reliability. At FSB, we have a unique single view back office that gives our partners comprehensive access to all our functionality and the ability to have a 360 view of risk across multiple verticals and channels. This is a huge part of our arsenal and has been key to our growth in North America this year.

Listening to the market every day, I’d also add just how vital it is to have a platform that enables rapid deployment and technical scalability. Our tech is agile, meaning that we can migrate operators swiftly and scale quickly whilst adapting to regulatory frameworks across various states and jurisdictions. This is vital for operators that want to adapt quickly to the evolving market conditions and tackle present and future operational and regulatory challenges. 

SBCA: 2021 has felt like a pivotal year for FSB in North America. Would you concur with that assessment?

BA: It’s been a transformational year, yes. As a team, we’ve reached critical mass in a way that supports sustained growth as we move into 2022. We have hubs in Nevada and New Jersey with a sales office in the Midwest, and we’re growing quickly. Globally, we’re present in four different continents and our first WLA partner has just gone live in Central Europe. These are exciting times as we head to next week’s SBC North America Summit.

MVE: Absolutely, yes. We have a major partnership in South Dakota ready to go live very soon and have a number of other opportunities across North America ready to be announced to the market in the weeks ahead.

I’m never surprised at the positive reaction we receive in conversations with operators. It’s clear they understand that our world class localized sportsbook and supporting stack products of icasino, retail, platform and PAM are a true growth enabling technical and operational solution for the 2020’s.

We have such a huge opportunity in North America. FSB’s contemporary, proprietary technology aligned with our team’s US operational experience finds us perfectly positioned to help operators increase their sports betting margins and compete higher up the value chain.

SBCA: What do you have planned for the SBC North America Summit?

BA: We’ve got a strong team lined up for Meadowlands. Our CEO Dave McDowell and CRO Ian Freeman will be travelling over from the UK as we showcase our product suite.

Sports is what makes our collective heart beat at FSB, so we’ve lined up an exciting competition for delegates called Pick The Points. Players can win an all-expenses paid trip to an NFL or English Premier League soccer match by correctly guessing the total number of points scored during NFL Week 13, the same week as the SBC event. Come and see us at Booth 303 next to Conference Room 4 to play along!