Monday 22 July 2019

Peter Flanagan: The bet has been made, but can Paddy Power's gamble pay off?

Paddy Power is known for its Ryanair-style publicity events including one outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
Paddy Power is known for its Ryanair-style publicity events including one outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
Betfair has featured Eamon Dunphy in its marketing campaigns in the past

Peter Flanagan

Investment bankers can be a chatty bunch. The business world is full of stories about major deals finding their way into the public domain as a result of conversations among bankers.

The phenomenon of "Merger Monday" came about partly because of deals being hammered out over the weekend, and partly because of the likelihood of a merger or acquisition leaking ahead of time increased greatly after the bankers had hit the bars of Mayfair and The City of London on Friday night.

The biggest Irish business deal in years, however, did not leak.

On Wednesday gambling giants Paddy Power and the UK's Betfair stunned markets when they announced their intention to join up.

Shares of both companies spiked 20pc on the news, and analysts universally hailed the agreement. If the merger goes through, it will create an €8bn gambling juggernaut with operations from Ireland to Australia.

But integration will not be without its hurdles. The stock exchange announcements from both companies were notably light on detail regarding what the combined businesses will look like.

The deal has been billed as a merger of equals but when it comes to the executive team it is pretty clear who is in charge. Betfair boss Breon Corcoran will lead the new company, while Paddy Power chief Andy McCue is shunted down to chief operating officer.

Betfair chief financial officer Alex Gersh retains that position. Only Paddy Power chairman Gary McGann retains his position in the new firm. Beyond that though, we know very little. Clearly, Mr Corcoran will be the key player post-merger. Having been a former COO at Paddy Power, the Mullingar native knows that business inside out. Will he be happy to let Paddy Power continue to operate as is, or will he want to make changes?

What will happen to Mr McCue? Having finally been given the CEO job in January, he has effectively lost it barely eight months later. How will he react to not being the boss any more?

At a business level, the two companies seem to complement each other well. Betfair is more or less a technology company that happens to be in gambling.

Its exchange is the market leader and it has quickly built up a "traditional" online bookmaking business.

Paddy Power also has a successful online arm, but has a sizeable high street business with hundreds of shops in the UK and Ireland. What will be the future of those shops? Profits from betting shops generally are dwindling. Ladbrokes Ireland collapsed in part because of the rents it was paying. Will PaddyPower Betfair, as the new company is known, see any long term future in its shops?

These are just some of the questions that will need to be answered in the months ahead.

At this point the deal looks like a winner for both sides but four years ago Bwin Interactive and Party Gaming merged to form the biggest listed gambling firm.

That has been mostly a failure and is now up for sale. All the indications are this will not happen with Paddy Power Betfair, but funny things can happen.

Paddy Power and Betfair's bankers will make a tidy profit on the merger. Now the real work starts for the two firms.

Irish Independent

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