SBC Summit Barcelona, the global betting and iGaming show, is now arguably the most diverse, exciting and significant meeting of minds in our entire industry calendar.
Covering the spectrum of relevant disciplines and addressing the most topical and important issues and developments, it is so much deeper and more sophisticated than a mere ‘exhibition’ or a ‘tradeshow’, because SBC events are precisely that… ‘events’.
Across the world, the B2B gaming media and the hundreds of LinkedIn and other social feeds have been awash with messages promoting the agenda, the speakers, the exhibitors and the products, but what about SBC themselves? How well do we know and understand their role in curating this amazing event?
SBC is a unique business, delivering a calendar of global events that requires all of us – partners, sponsors, speakers, exhibitors and attendees – to work closely alongside their teams on a year-round basis. Given that this is their full-time role, 365 days a year, we thought it would be interesting to understand what these key individuals think makes SBC Summit Barcelona so special and, equally enlightening, how they view the industry that their organisation serves and supports.
We have selected half a dozen key SBC events team members, people who don’t always have the spotlight shining in their direction, but who many of you exchange calls and emails with on a regular basis…
Jonathan Whelan, SBC’s Director of Conference & Relationships for Europe, has always considered himself something of a maverick, which he says is probably why the world of conference production appealed to him! “My first event was the World Gaming Executive Summit, which I immediately relocated to the gorgeous W Hotel in Barcelona, laying the foundations for a 16-year run of success for WGES.”
Jonathan has since built events across a multitude of industries, scaled an events start-up in Singapore and dabbled in consultancy but eventually, the lure of the gaming industry proved too strong.
“After 13 years in conferences, I can say hand on heart, I have never experienced an industry quite like the gaming industry. And when I was given the opportunity to come back to the UK to work with the great people at SBC, I jumped at the chance!”
His initial work was alongside Andrew McCarron, scaling the conference team, which he describes as an intense experience. “When I came in, we were still doing a load of digital events. However, I often describe the conference team as the ‘hub’, with spokes extending into every other part of the business, so this gave me the opportunity to collaborate with our awesome sales, marketing, events and media teams.
“At the beginning of this year, I continued on this collaborative track, taking over the European side of our newly established Relationships team. This group has the sole goal of maintaining the highest levels of relationship with operators and affiliates.
“This is the key to our success in scaling so fast. We want each person involved to feel the excitement we felt in the early days when Ras and Andy were running meetups in pubs!
“So to boil it down, my teams and I have a hand in curating the conference agenda and getting together all the great people that attendees get to meet at the Summit.”
Natalie Lees, Senior Conference Producer, is a familiar face to many, having worked in the gaming sector for 17 years. Starting out in advertising sales with InterGame, she stepped into iGaming at the very birth of the genre and says: “It seems crazy now, but I remember when one of the feature articles wondered whether mobile gaming would be the next big thing!”
She progressed from sales into more marketing and business development roles, relishing the opportunity to work with the rapidly growing affiliates sector, an area she says that she loves.
After more than a decade in trade publishing, Natalie received the call that changed the direction and trajectory of her career.
“Andy (SBC’s Managing Director, Andrew McCarron), who I knew well, telephoned and asked me if I would be interested in conference producing. Both the role and the company sounded ideal to me, the perfect mix of disciplines and challenges, and I was delighted to accept and join the young and hungry team.
“My role as a Conference Producer is to create a smooth and impactful event experience. This sounds straightforward, right? In reality, we have to achieve an incredibly delicate balance between the development of event content, programme creation and coordination, speaker management, logistics, budgets, promotion, sponsor engagement and, at the end of it all, attendee satisfaction.
“The greatest pressure with conference production is the absence of second chances. With events, especially annual events, if people aren’t happy the opportunities to put things right for them are rare. Thankfully, SBC has built an amazing and dedicated team, and we continue to go from strength to strength by delivering for all our stakeholders.”
The Events Expert
Stuart Duff played professional football for seven years before he began ‘real’ work, before embarking on an event management career that has covered exhibitions, conferences, festivals, awards shows and experiential campaigns.
“With my background and interests, SBC was a perfect fit for my experience and is undoubtedly an exciting place to cultivate an events business. Ras (SBC’s founder and CEO, Rasmus Sojmark) can also be quite persuasive during interviews!”
Joining from Eventex, leader in the celebration of all that is creative and effective in the events industry, Stuart’s pedigree in terms of knowing what it takes to put on a show is well proven, and his role is to do precisely that!
“I lead our European events and Global Awards portfolios, with the SBC Summit Barcelona being our flagship event. A portfolio of 12 events needs a strong team behind it, and that is led from the front by our team of impressive Event Managers.”
The Events Manager
Charlotte Gaskin, SBC’s Events Manager for Europe, studied Event Management at university, which is where her love for event operations was born. She has since then worked in various sectors, including finance, legal and others.
“The opportunity to join SBC came about after a former colleague and friend reached out to me. She couldn’t stop raving about the culture and the scale of the events at SBC, so I really couldn’t turn it down!
“I look after the operations side as part of the European team’s portfolio. Everything from arranging merchandise orders to securing venues and making catering choices, falls under our responsibility.
“On a day-to-day basis, we juggle multiple events, each with its own unique characteristic that require careful and individual planning.
“Even with SBC Summit Barcelona just around the corner, we are already looking ahead to events in 2024 and even 2025!”
The Relationships Guy
Julian Pitts, Senior Affiliate Relationship Manager, began his career in retail management, the nature of which allowed for a lot of travel, which he greatly appreciated. Having then spent a year as an Affiliate Manager with UK operator, when the Affiliate Relationship Manager role became available at SBC, it seemed like the perfect fit.
“The Relationship team is something unique to SBC. We have a team dedicated to looking after operators, and I personally oversee all of our affiliate relationships. This is a crucial part of the company’s efforts to attract the most prominent brands in the industry, both major players and promising newcomers.
“For me, my role is all about ensuring that affiliates have easy access to all of our events, along with regular touchpoints with myself and our broader Affiliate Leaders community. This way, they can feel connected not only during the events but also in between.
“We are nurturing a sense of belonging, with the ultimate aim of shining a spotlight on their needs and preferences.”
The Customer Cuddler
Kelly Morgan, Head of Customer Success, has worked in events logistics for over seven years, spanning a variety of industries, and now has the best job title in the world!
Client liaison was always something Kelly took responsibility for, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she segued into a role in virtual events department.
“Once the world started opening up again, I knew I needed to move back to face-to-face events. It was by luck, late on a Friday afternoon, that I came across the role at SBC and knew it was the perfect fit for me, combining my knowledge of event operations with my passion for working with clients.”
SBC’s Customer Success team is tasked with overseeing the execution of client agreements and working closely with the wider SBC teams to deliver sponsorships.
“We serve as the primary point of contact for clients during execution,” explains Kelly. “We guide them through the process and address questions that arise along the way. Our goal is to ensure that their participation in an SBC event is seamless and surpasses their expectations.”
And now, the Questions…
Having met our cast of core SBC team members, and put names and backgrounds to faces,
GGN: What aspects of SBC Summit Barcelona differentiate it from both other SBC events and also competitor events?
Charlotte: The time and care invested in working with our suppliers and nurturing customer relations is something I have never witnessed in elsewhere. Barcelona, in particular, generates an unmistakable buzz and even at other SBC events, conversations often revolve around Barcelona. Creating an event that leaves such a lasting impression is genuinely remarkable.
Natalie: Barcelona is the event that unites all of our events; the industry overlaps in so many ways, and we should be learning from each sector. This is the event that brings everyone together.
Kelly: When comparing it to events hosted by other companies, it is the overall attendee experience on-site that sets it above the rest. We offer seven stages of content featuring some of the industry’s biggest names, making it relevant for everyone.
And in contrast to the rest of the SBC portfolio, what distinguishes Barcelona is its size and global reach.
Julian: Our event has become a cornerstone for senior teams, blending strategic discussions with enjoyable networking opportunities. CEOs are really keen to connect with their counterparts and exchange ideas – it inspires them.
There is also a great balance when it comes to attendee profiles. Operators, affiliates, suppliers, sports teams, regulators, associations and media – each category is meticulously catered to by separate teams.
Stuart: SBC Summit Barcelona has become a juggernaut of an event, more than doubling in size year on year! But it is important to keep our USPs front and centre – our quality of key senior decision makers in attendance sees no sign of faltering and our content is still as good as it gets. And let’s not even get started on those networking parties!
Jonathan: It really is all about the people who attend and the content we deliver. All events seek to bring a community together, but the key difference is that SBC comes from the community itself, and so we try to create events that we would like to attend. The feedback I enjoy hearing most is when attendees have either learned something new and interesting or met someone new and interesting. These are the two benchmarks I set for myself and the team and the basis as to why an SBC Summit Barcelona feels different to other events in the market.
GGN: And in a similar regard, what is it – for you – that makes SBC Barcelona so special?
Julian: For such a large-scale event, the attention to detail is truly top-notch. The event covers nearly all geographical regions and encompasses so many industry verticals. And our dedicated Zonal approach makes it easier for visitors to navigate the show in a way that best suits their purpose.
Jonathan: People just love coming to our event. It sounds glib, but with certain events, it is as if people feel they have to attend. Barcelona is something that people talk excitedly to me about all year round. We have a huge responsibility to our audience to keep it at this high standard.
GGN: One of the USPs of all SBC events is the strength of the conference programming, so how does the process of creating a conference agenda and speaker list work?
Natalie: Well, it starts with a very large cup of coffee and a blocked-off diary for a week! Joking aside, it begins by ensuring that we have a place for the leaders of each sector and vertical. We then explore the hot topics within these sectors and collaborate with the editorial team and SBC Advisories.
Research calls and fleshing out the agenda takes weeks, but investing that time always pays off. And with technologies and regulations constantly evolving, we stay fluid and on-trend, as guided by our experts.
Finally, the exciting part, speaker acquisition, where we balance talent, personalities and viewpoints to craft knowledgeable and engaging sessions for our audience. But precisely how do we produce this recipe? Well, I can’t reveal all our secrets, can I..?
GGN: 2022’s event was such a success, so what makes this 2023 event different/better than previous editions?
Stuart: The exhibition floor this year is a real showstopper! We are working with key exhibitors to build some truly engaging experiences both across brand engagement and peer-to-peer networking. And, if you are looking for a cool space for your next meeting, head out to our festival-style tent for ice cream bars, smoothie bars, tapas and sangria, games and more!
Jonathan: This year, the content is new and fresh, and so are a lot of the formats. Word of the excellence has spread far and wide – people have essentially told colleagues and friends – so the event is tripling in size. 2023 is basically 2022 with the volume turned up to 11.
GGN: Key themes are emerging technologies, new ideas, the future landscape, so what processes do you follow when researching these areas and integrating them into the programming?
Kelly: SBC offers numerous internal educational sessions. These are organised by the editorial teams or specific internal teams whenever there is a need to enhance their understanding of a subject. SBC invests great effort in grasping the pulse of the industry’s pulse, and fortunately we have a media branch with over 10 websites dedicated to industry news – which is what I read every morning!
Julian: The approach is consistent across the board. We engage with experts and, fortunately, we have an extensive network.
Julian: I recently sat down for an interview with one of our Editors and admitted that we had to practically throw out the first draft agenda. We had just finalised it when the Open AI ‘arms race’ kicked off!
Our agenda has to be a living document that evolves as our industry does. Our incredible journalists keep me up to date on the latest developments. However, there is no substitute for talking to the industry itself and this is a year-round process.
GGN: Can you share an example of an SBC initiative that you and/or your team have introduced of which you are particularly proud?
Charlotte: This year, we are introducing an outdoor area that will feature a beer garden, a beach bar, a smoothie bar, a tapas and sangria corner, along with other amenities. Whilst this is a business event, we do our best to make the overall experience enjoyable by incorporating thoughtful touches throughout.
Kelly: We prepare comprehensive action plans for our exhibitors and sponsors, which even include relevant marketing guides to aid them in promoting their presence at the event. We provide forms for exhibitors to submit details about what they intend to promote at the event, and which markets they are targeting, ensuring we can help amplify their message. The goal is to make the process as seamless as possible.
Natalie: Something that I am proud of for myself and as a team is how much time we put into bringing new speakers into the event. We want to make their event experience positive and coach them through the process. This helps with the diversity we implement and also ensures that we hear different perspectives and voices from each of the events.
GGN: How do the various functions within SBC integrate to provide the desired results?
Charlotte: We handle the operational side of things, but nothing is possible without the people who secure exhibitors, sponsors and affiliates, promote the event, build the websites and automation flows, or design all the branding and signage we showcase. I collaborate closely with the design team; they are unsung heroes who elevate the quality of our production.
Natalie: The Relationship team has played a crucial role in ensuring that attendees enjoy an unforgettable experience. From facilitating introductions to organising and hosting dinners, they are truly committed to ensuring that everyone has a VIP experience. I also cannot overlook the contribution of Kelly’s Customer Success team. They collaborate with sponsors to ensure seamless coordination with all members of the SBC team.
Kelly: It really is all totally intertwined, and the Customer Success team serves as a valuable bridge between our sponsors and exhibitors and the various other teams with SBC.
Stuart: SBC has all the central functions you would expect in a business, but it is how these functions work together across our calendar of global events that is so impressive. But if I had to choose one aspect of these inter-function relationships that really sets SBC apart, is our internal design team. This is a luxury that not all businesses have, and they work so closely with our events and marketing teams to ensure that all our partner, supplier, operator and affiliate clients are showcased in the best possible light to drive their future business.
GGN: What can prospective partners, sponsors and exhibitors expect from you and your team when working with SBC?
Charlotte: We consistently deliver, it is that simple. And we maintain an open and honest approach. Integrity and respect aren’t always prevalent in business, but they are at the core of everything we do at SBC.
Kelly: Support. Events involve numerous moving parts, and with each person handling things slightly differently, it can get confusing, especially for first-time participants. The Customer Success team is here to address queries, provide suggestions tailored to your objectives and walk you through the process.
We want to ensure that the show is not only successful for our partners but also an enjoyable experience.
Natalie: Through partnerships with industry leaders throughout the world, we ensure that our events are finely tuned to cater to the unique requirements of our audiences. While the SBC team boasts industry expertise, each market possesses its own distinct characteristics, making collaboration with domain experts absolutely pivotal. We also encourage active participation, so all suggestions and ideas are welcome!
Julian: Support all year round. Our work does not end when we sign you up as an exhibitor, speaker or sponsor. This is when it begins. With affiliates, for example, we are striving to involve them more, with initiatives such as the Affiliate Leaders interview series, our iGaming Daily podcast, speaking opportunities, exclusive dinners with high-level representatives and special meetups.
GGN: At what point did you realise that the betting and gaming industry was an area that you wanted to work in, and why?
Charlotte: What particularly attracted me to the betting and gaming industry was witnessing the exceptional level and quality of events, as well as recognizing the genuine care that everyone has for this industry. This extends beyond what most outsiders might perceive. And the fact that I am constantly learning is a positive indicator that the industry remains current and is always improving.
Natalie: The truth is, I fell into the industry. But I have never fallen out of it. It is always evolving and interesting, with some great people who work in it.
Kelly: When I joined SBC, my sole exposure to betting and iGaming was as a consumer. However, after attending my first event, the CasinoBeats Summit in Malta last year, I realised that I had found my place. Our clients are wonderful to collaborate with, there is a perpetual stream of new industry insights to absorb and being involved in SBC events is an enjoyable experience.
GGN: As we approach SBC Barcelona 2023, which trends within betting and iGaming do you think are standing out at right now?
Charlotte: Advances in technology such as crypto gambling and virtual reality casinos, which is why we have our Emerging Tech Zone!
Kelly: More and more people seem to be leaning towards skill-based games, as opposed to pure games of chance. Incorporating user-friendly technologies is also a top priority right now. We have been talking about esports for ages, but here I am saying it again! And social gambling is on the rise too.
Natalie: Everyone seems to be talking about tech and AI. The opportunity to expedite growth and automation is always something that any business is eager to contemplate.
Julian: I’ll stay in my lane here and say affiliates. AI is at the forefront of discussions, with numerous potential applications for affiliates. However, the landscape remains nascent, necessitating a longer-term perspective. AI unquestionably offers valuable support, yet a delicate balance must be maintained.
The quest to engage fresh demographics, involving outreach through influencers, streamers or alternative platforms, has also gained prominence.
Stuart: Partnerships between operators, sports teams and entertainment brands have become a strategic approach to expand audience reach, enhance user engagement and create more enticing experiences. The use of AI in areas such as odds calculation and fraud detection has grown rapidly, just as data analytics is also transforming how operators interact with their users.
Jonathan: AI will take centre stage at SBC Summit Barcelona for a reason. AI and UX are teaming up for the ultimate player journey makeover, with tailormade experiences, game suggestions and improved engagement levels. AI is also tackling demand for new games. Algorithms dig into player vibes, behaviours and trends to assist in the development of captivating games.
AI is also on top of spotting potential problem gambling behaviours, search and information hunting and empowering marketers to unleash creative outputs by optimising campaigns, analysing consumer data and refining engagement strategies across various platforms, reshaping the way marketing is approached.
GGN: And which of these do you believe might have the brightest long-term future?
Natalie says automation, Charlotte believes it is VR casinos and Kelly opts for user-friendliness and social gambling. Julian expects AI to be incorporated into our daily work, Stuart sees growth for micro-betting and social betting and Jonathan simply says “AI”.
GGN: Which new markets in particular do you think are taking the industry by storm?
Natalie: Brazil! I cannot wait to witness the evolution of this fun-loving, passionate sports-adoring country! Holding our new SBC Summit Rio there next year will be truly exciting, as we observe the progression.
Kelly: Brazil, for sure. And, of course, the Asia Pacific region, India and Japan.
Julian: Has anyone mentioned Brazil yet? Affiliates that I am talking to are either already expanding into or eyeing LatAm. The US and Canada are also on their radar.
Charlotte: For sure, LatAm and North America, but let’s also not forget Europe. Many markets are in the process of regulating or have already regulated, so it will be interesting to follow the industry’s progress in the newly regulated markets.
Stuart: I would like to emphasise the significant potential in the African market. The combination of rising internet penetration and a substantial population in specific African markets is poised to shape industry discussions. At SBC Summit Barcelona, we have an Accessing Africa panel, along with two dedicated roundtables focusing on South Africa and Nigeria.
Jonathan: Brazil is making serious waves and we are gearing up for an event next year in Rio. People have been calling Brazil the ‘sleeping giant’ for years, and we and we have had our sights on this market for a while. Last year, we were part of co-hosting the Brazil Football Expo and the excitement is very real.
But Brazil isn’t alone, Canada has got the buzz, the US is showing serious promise and LatAm is on fire! SBC has boots on the ground in all of these markets, we are all about being where the action is.
This year, we have 14 market-specific roundtables lined up, diving deep into what’s sizzling in the DACH countries, India, Japan and Eastern Europe to name just a few.
GGN: The industry is often unpredictable. What do you see as the main challenges going forward?
Natalie: As always, it is ever-changing regulations, which can stifle innovation and creativity. Player protection and responsibility should always be prioritised by regulators, but they should also remember that this is an entertainment industry.
Charlotte: Staying up to date with the complex and diverse legal landscape is a headache for everybody! For developers, one challenge must be to make games more engaging and strike the right balance between quality and quantity, within a space where it seems that every studio is now releasing multiple games each month.
Kelly: From talking with exhibitors and sponsors, I can say that this industry is becoming increasingly competitive. There is a strong focus on innovation as companies try to differentiate their products and offerings. They are building their own software and discovering new revenue channels. This makes competition fierce, but I am happy that our events provide a platform to prepare for that and so remain relevant.
Julian: Challenges will vary by region but in the US, for example, a market dominated by a limited number of operators who might willingly incur losses in order to gain market share, smaller operators will struggle to compete and a trend towards consolidation will be created.
Stuart: It is important that we emphasise the importance of combating match-fixing and maintaining sports integrity. This is especially true when we consider the intersection of sectors such as betting, teams and media. The industry must collaborate with sports organisations and law enforcement agencies to promptly identify and address suspicious betting patterns, a matter that pertains to credibility and ethics and warrants serious attention.
Jonathan: I would almost argue that it can be too predictable at times. I worry about the homogenisation of the sports betting product – a major theme of the sports betting track this year. Beyond that, it is the same tension between under and over-regulation that drives the market forward or curtails it. One of the main issues is for industry leaders to find sustainable ways to work closely with new regulatory bodies as they move at speed into newly opening markets.
However, as a final thought, and to flip this question in its head, what I do not worry about is the resilience of our industry and its ability to create new opportunities.
With the challenge of converting new tools from disruptive technologies, such as web3.0, OpenAI and blockchain to name a few, into practical outcomes for our products also comes with it one of the biggest opportunities of our sector – the potential to reinvigorate the product innovation framework.
There we have it, and we are certain that almost all of you will now know more about these people who are so important to you than you did before. And, most importantly, how much they understand and support your businesses. This knowledge, expertise and network is a resource that is unrivalled.