Toronto’s Playmaker Capital Bets He Can Make It Big By Bringing Sports Fans To Gambling Sites

Jordan Gnat, CEO of Playmaker, at his home in Toronto on July 19, 2021.

Jessica Lee / The Globe and Mail

Jordan Gnat will freely admit that his foreign language skills are not his best calling card.

“As my children say, my Sesame Street Spanish will not be very useful, ”Mr. Gnat, 49, said in an interview. And how is her Portuguese? “Obrigado,” he replies with a suppressed laugh. “It’s about as good as I get.”

In recent months, however, Mr. Gnat has planted a series of flags in the Latin American digital sports media space, bringing a growing collection of websites, social media accounts and other online properties. under the responsibility of Playmaker Capital, the Toronto-based startup he joined as CEO last December.

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Strictly speaking, as Mr. Gnat will tell you, Playmaker is not so much a startup as a roll-up: it went public in early June on the TSX Venture Exchange through a reverse takeover. of Apolo III Acquisition Corp., a capital pool company co-founded by Vincent Gasparro, who recently served as Principal Secretary To Toronto Mayor John Tory.

In April, Playmaker had already acquired Futbol Sites, a Miami-based operator of more than 10 football-focused websites, under the name BolaVIP, targeting fans in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, in Peru, Ecuador, Central America and the United States. Citing the Comscore rankings, the company announced that BolaVIP Brazil was the highest ranked sports website in that country in May, with more than 15.4 million unique visitors.

A few weeks after his TSX-V debut, Playmaker added Fanáticos Por Futebol: Facebook and Instagram fan pages with a total of almost 4.5 million followers.

And last Tuesday, he took his first big step in English by buying Yardbarker, a Silicon Valley-based site that aggregates thousands of sports and entertainment content for around four million unique users per month, and publishes a newsletter. morning information sent to over 350,000 subscribers. A press release announcing the transaction valued the transaction at US $ 24 million.

If digital media is a gamble for some investors – the number of properties seemingly endless but increasing every day, the prices of advertisements displayed often correspondingly tiny – they would get the right idea: bet is a big part of Playmaker’s strategy.

Online sports betting, of course. Mr. Gnat believes the company is well positioned to take advantage of the growth of this industry, which is expected to be explosive as governments in the Americas legalize and regulate it, becoming an affiliate marketing partner of sites trying to attract new bettors.

Affiliate Marketing is One of the Most Profitable Practices on the Internet – Certainly Much More Profitable as display advertising. If a reader is on a music site or other type of digital property (newsletter, social media account, etc.) and clicks a link to purchase a concert ticket or artist merchandise, the site receives a share of this revenue.

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“I want to be in the fan monetization business,” Mr. Gnat said. “Playmaker is truly a company that sets itself up to live at the intersection of sports, gambling, media and technology. And we are bringing together digital sports media assets, finding assets that we can bring together, that we can leverage synergies between them, to be able to create an ecosystem of very engaged and loyal sports fans that we can provide to companies. of sports betting, teams, leagues and Fortune 500 advertisers.

“The regulated sports betting market on this side of the Atlantic is leading the second round,” said Mr. Gnat. “The appetite for growth is huge. So the need to keep feeding the beast [with new bettors] is going to be there for quite a while.

Affiliate marketing for online sports betting is big business. The Bettor Collective, which Mr. Gnat cited as an aspiration for Playmaker, is a global affiliate giant worth more than $ 11 billion. But he and others insist there is room for more players.

“I think, tactically, Jordan understands where the competition currently exists, is currently focused and currently dominates, and he understands where there are opportunities,” said Nic Sulsky, a daily fantasy sports veteran who was recently appointed manager. commercial of the Canadian division of the online sports betting Pointsbet. “So I think the focus on Latin America and the focus on the Spanish language is a very good starting point for establishing a foothold in the United States and Canada. “

So far, investors have been disappointed: Playmaker shares were down about 30% at the end of the week from their first price of 53 cents per to share.

Mr. Gnat says he’s on the lookout for properties “from top of Canada to bottom of Argentina,” the same territory he traveled in his last job, as senior vice president of The Group. Stars Group. From July 2018, he led corporate and business development for the Americas with this Toronto-based online gaming company, probably best known as the operator of PokerStars.

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He has spent over 15 years in the gaming industry, including as President and CEO of bingo hall operator Boardwalk Gaming; over seven years with Scientific Games, which supplies casinos with products such as slot machines and gambling terminals; and CEO of Casino and Gaming Television (aka CGTV), which was partly owned by his stepfather, Larry Tanenbaum, president and co-owner of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.

Another notable offshoot in Playmaker’s management ranks: Its COO is Jake Cassaday, the 33-year-old son of John Cassaday, who was previously President and CEO of Corus Entertainment and, prior to that, of CTV Television Network Ltd.

Playmaker also has a group of well-connected funders and board members. It was formed under the auspices of Relay Ventures, the Toronto-based venture capital firm whose co-founder and managing partner, John Albright, served on the board of Playmaker. Mr. Albright also serves on the board of directors of theScore, the Toronto-based digital sports media company that launched a sports betting operation in the United States in 2019 and currently expects to do the same, now that single-event sports betting. have been legalized in Canada, regardless of which province creates a regulatory regime for the activity.

The Playmaker board of directors is chaired by Maryann Turcke, the former president of Bell Media, who recently spent two and a half years as chief operating officer of the National Football League. “I think it’s helpful to aggregate the eyeballs,” Ms. Turcke said in an interview. “It’s also about just putting the eyeballs together and then serving them in adjacent spaces, whether it’s gaming or sports betting. We are not a betting company, but a lot of betting companies will want our eyes because these are people who are passionate about sports, they are superfans, and these are the kind of people that you can migrate to. games and betting, and these spaces.

“I’ve known Jordan for years, thanks to my time at Bell Media, then when I was in the league and he was with Stars, our paths kept crossing,” she added. When Sir. Gnat asked him to join the board, “I thought, ‘Jordan is the real deal, he’s a genuine leader. John [Albright] is the real deal. Of course, let’s go. “

And so, as Mr. Gnat searches for more deals, he insists that the language barriers aren’t as great as you might think: you work with local businesses that you can trust, and you get a good translator. You become adept at reading body language.

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And there’s another key he says he learned from a mentor, who taught him how to manage in international contexts. “We have to bother,” he said. “You have to take the trouble to understand the basics: how do you say hello? What are the appropriate familiars? Shake somebody’s hand, won’t you shake somebody’s hand? In some cultures do you bow, don’t you bow? These are the things that are really important. Because the audience on the other side is watching, to see if you’ve messed up.

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