Sir Richard falls at Camelot joust

Two rivals, both household names, had the nation in thrall; first one, then the other surged to the fore in a seemingly endless contest that degenerated into an entertaining but deplorable farce. At least no chads were involved, which severely curtails the possibility of further legal shenanigans.

Even so, Sir Richard Branson’s decision to consult his lawyers is entirely understandable. He has been shabbily treated; the patsy in a game between Camelot – the current National Lottery operators – the courts and the Government. This was to have been the crowning moment of his career, when natural pride in winning the Lottery bid would have allied itself with the certain knowledge that he had multiplied his life-long brand value by a factor of ten.

But is it in reality a cup or a poisoned chalice that has been dashed from his lips? The Lottery must be in a fearful mess after all these months of demoralising drift. True, it remains an efficient money-making machine – on course to exceed Camelot’s “Good Causes” target by over £1bn within its first term. But when did we last see any sign of innovative marketing? It is this which will be at a premium during the Lottery operator’s second term. To begin with, Camelot must cope with the continuing downswing in the Lottery product cycle: novelty has long since given way to commonplace acceptance. We already know that Camelot has committed itself to massive investment in upgrading its technical infrastructure, but this will not make the Lottery more exciting to play. Nor, apparently, is the matrix of the main game going to change – a major point of difference with the Branson camp, which on this matter at least could promise genuine differentiation with the past. The problem with Camelot’s main game, according to independent experts, is that it has too few crowd-pulling rollovers. One way to alleviate the problem, tried with success in the US and Australia, would be to introduce a number of fixed prize minor games, to run concurrently with the main draw. Certainly, Camelot needs to make the Lottery numbers add up. For not only must it increase sales, but meet a steeply enhanced target for “Good Causes” – £15bn over a seven-year period, compared with the current £9bn. But Camelot does have a couple of trump cards. One of them is chief executive designate Dianne Thompson, who through her extraordinary tenacity in the face of almost certain defeat is, more than anyone else, responsible for rescuing the Camelot bid. Already the headhunters must be pencilling in her name as a future FTSE chief exec.

The other is this: by winning twice, Camelot has more or less destroyed its competition. If Branson cannot knock it off its perch, who will? The only solution is to limit tenure to two terms. Rather like the US presidency, in fact.

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