What’s In A Name? 888 Holdings Seeking To Evoke Past Glories

What’s in a name? Not very much, when this rhetorical question was first posed some 400-years-ago. But today, far changed, when image and brand dominate sales and social media, pretty much everything: most notably for under-fire 888 Holdings, battered by successive years of poor performance and misfortune, now seeking to literally “Evoke” past glories, to a time when they were valued at an astonishing US$20 billion (£15.68bn).

Now, if anybody wanted to purchase the at-bay UK gambling leviathan, it would be fortunate to draw a third of such a sum.

Earlier this month of May, 888 Holdings’ new CEO Per Widerström, who replaced the mercurial and long-serving Itai Pazner, effectively defenestrated in a boardroom coup in January last year, announced that henceforth the owner of William Hill, Mr Green and a plethora of 888 sites would be known as Evoke.

It’s all part of a massive reset initiated by safe-pair-of-hands Widerstöm to pull the British-origin betting giant back from the brink of crushing debt and poor business strategy, which, for example, had seen 888 paying Caesars Entertainment as much for the international assets of William Hill in September 2021 as the US heavy-hitters had paid for the entire blue-blood company the previous year — some £2.2 billion (US$2.8bn).

Bad Deal

The deal, coming as it did at the end of the Covid19 lockdown, and amid surging interest rates, was a bad one. A Real Bad One, concurred most gambling industry watchers.

Critically, it loaded a heavily-indebted company with even more debt. And the 888 Holdings/Evoke share price–currently down 3.5 percent and slipping at 88.50 GBX–has never really recovered.

“Evoke is a symbol of our new direction,” the re-branded company asserted in a social media post: “A direction that builds on our strengths and allows us to move forward as one multi-brand group with a united strategy, vision, and identity.

“It also better reflects our mission to make life more interesting and vision to delight players with world-class betting and gaming experiences,” said Widerström (pictured, left).

The rebrand–following a flurry of “disappointing” financial results–also encompasses a comprehensive retreat from a heated US iGaming and sports betting market; with Evoke’s wagons being circled around a new strategic Value Creation Plan that seeks to concentrate on its “core” markets of the UK, Italy, Spain and Denmark, which together generate some 85 percent of group revenue, which reached £1.7 billion last year (US$2.16bn).

Better integration, operating efficiencies, automation and AI is further expected to save the company a not inconsiderable £30 million-a-year (US$38.21m).

Revoke

As to the US, Evoke is now effectively “revoking” its flagship tie-in with the Authentic Brands Group, which had given it exclusive use of the Sports Illustrated brand for online betting and gaming in America.

The UK-listed company joins a long list of other operators, among them Wynn, PointsBet, Kindred, Fox Bet, Churchill Downs, and more, who have got burned by the fierce heat of the US digital playbook.

So it’s a new name for 888 Holdings.

Rebrands don’t always work. Witness the British Royal Mail’s abortive attempt to renew as “Consignia” in 2001 and Standard Life Aberdeen’s mutation to Abrdn–a bye, no doubt, of drinking too much Irn-Bru–but it could have been worse.

Imagine a buy-out of 888 Holdings/Evoke, for example, by Kenny Alexander of GVC Holdings fame, as vaunted by his current slash-and-burn vehicle FS Gaming.

Alexander’s attempt to return to the spotlight as CEO of a major gambling company was quickly rejected.

And GVC, which rebranded as Entain to escape his shadow, and murky associations with money laundering in Turkey, is another company finding that a change of name does not necessarily translate into a change of fortune.

One can only wish Per Widerström and Evoke a better shake of the iGaming dice.

With additional reporting by Lauren Harrison

Published on:
fast track