“We believe the No. 1 industry in America in the next 10 years will be sports betting.”
—Wayne Kimmel, starting off SeventySix Capital’s “Marketing in the New Era of Sports Betting” panel at the Tropicana in Atlantic City on March 6, 2020.
Five days later, on March 11, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Sports industry still strong in changing landscape
For Kimmel, a sports tech venture capitalist and managing partner of Conshohocken, PA-based SeventySix Capital, hosting in-person events like the one in Atlantic City has been shelved for now. But the company has found other ways to connect and engage through a strong social media presence and with content such as:
- A Leader Series Podcast: On each podcast, Kimmel interviews the sports industry’s top entrepreneurs, athletes and thought leaders.
- A weekly email newsletter filled with the highlights from the week of sports business.
Then there are the many investments SeventySix Capital makes each year. There was big news for one of the companies in its portfolio a few weeks ago. Vigtory was acquired by fuboTV, and the streaming app expects to launch a sportsbook by the end of the year.
Obsessed with what’s next
Kimmel first met Sam Rattner, Vigtory’s founder, in the spring of 2019 when Kimmel was judging the ICE North America LaunchPad competition, which Rattner won.
“We took the bet to invest in the entrepreneurs that were doing the ‘next next thing’ in the sports betting industry. It’s incredibly exciting and something my partners and I are happy about,” said Kimmel of Vigtory being acquired by fuboTV.
Kimmel and his team at SeventySix Capital are obsessed with finding and taking the bet on the next next big thing in sports technology, sports betting and esports.
Since tomorrow always happens — pandemic or not — they are hyperfocused on what’s next and finding the innovators with the ideas that will make it happen.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Will sports betting still be the No. 1 industry?
Ten months later, does Kimmel still believe it?
“That hasn’t changed, and I believe it’s been potentially accelerated. COVID has accelerated the growth of the sports industry.”
When Kimmel refers to the overall sports industry, he includes everything from sports betting to sports tech and esports.
“Look at DraftKings’ stock growth in less than a year. Now they are a $21 billion dollar company. They are flying along. Same thing with Penn National after their acquisition of Barstool. This is an exciting time. Companies like ours that have been investors and others like us have become true industry leaders.”
Still early for sports betting and partnerships
Kimmel said it’s too early for Pennsylvania and other states that have legalized sports betting to officially crown certain operators winners or losers. He said:
“We are just getting going. You don’t know what the new administration is going to do in terms of the Wire Act and other types of federal regulations around the sports betting industry. This could be a national play in the next couple years, or it could be state by state. We don’t know yet. We are extremely early but it’s so exciting to see the innovative partnerships that sportsbooks are making with leagues and teams. I think there are going to be new types of partnerships and partners in this industry that you would never have imagined.”
In December, DraftKings started selling gift cards at various retail locations including 7-11. In addition to being backed by SeventySix Capital, esports company Nerd Street Gamers received backing from Philadelphia-based retailer Five Below.
As part of the deal, Five Below and Nerd Street Gamers will build 3,000-square-foot Localhost spaces connected to select Five Below stores. Kimmel noted that the move initially raised eyebrows but said it didn’t take long to see it makes a great match, since FiveBelow and esports both attract a young demographic.
“There may be retailers or other sports brands who have never been involved in the sports betting industry that all of a sudden in the next few years get involved. We are excited about the possible partnerships, the growth of the industry and new entrepreneurs bringing their ideas.”
Stadiums and sportsbooks
The Flyers, Eagles and Sixers have partnerships with online casinos and sportsbooks. There is a BetRivers lounge at the Wells Fargo Center that has everything but betting kiosks. William Hill opened a pop-up sportsbook at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C.
Do you expect to see sportsbooks in more stadiums and arenas?
“Yes. I think sportsbooks in arenas and stadiums is something that will be normal across the country. We were broadcasting out of the Denver Broncos stadium with VSIN this year. You are going to see media companies putting in studios, and it is going to be part of the normal fan experience that there is a sportsbook. It’s not that betting is a new thing. It’s come out of the shadows, and it’s something people talk about. They want to share their wins and losses on Facebook, Instagram and places you would have never talked about sports betting.”
Record-breaking numbers for sports betting
New Jersey flirted with a billion dollars in monthly handle in December. It broke another all-time record with a $996.3 million handle. Pennsylvania broke the state record in December with $548 million in handle.
For SeventySix Capital, what do these numbers mean?
“When we see these numbers, it validates our thesis that sports and sports betting are going to be the next big thing over the next decade. There are more and more entrepreneurial opportunities for us to invest in. Even though these numbers are jaw-dropping already, we have not scratched the surface of what we believe this industry will look like in the future. We believe that the types of volume you see in the stock market today is the type of volume you’ll see in the sports betting industry.
“People will ‘invest’ their money in the Giants vs. Eagles game like they would in Google or Apple. It’s going to be an investment vehicle. This isn’t a new concept; it’s what’s happening in other countries around the world where you can trade games like stocks. When it hits that level, we are going to be at levels that blow people’s minds. We are seeing more hedge funds and other major financial players coming into the industry wanting to trade, just like they would on the NYSE. The possibility of doing it in the United States will blow analysts’ predictions away if and when it does occur. I also think people are more passionate about sports than they are investing in companies.”
Sports betting in New York
What are your thoughts on New York possibly legalizing mobile sports betting and what it will mean for the industry?
“It’s like opening a new country. I think it will be amenable to other large states like Florida, Texas and California to come next. It’s a great opportunity, and the most important thing is that the governors and legislators look at states like New Jersey and Colorado. If they have fair business models, everyone is going to win.
“I’m hopeful it’s done in a way that it is advantageous to everyone. It’s going to be incredible to watch the numbers go up if New York legalizes it. Everyone is waiting for it. It also increases innovation. The more capital that is flowing in, the more consumers are going to want the content around it. It will spur more money into the general economy along with this industry.”
You talk about the ‘next next thing.’ What is your strategy for finding that?
“For us to find these entrepreneurs who are doing the next next thing is something we focus on every day. It’s why we do our Leadership Series and put content out. It’s about spurring ideas and conversation. We feel like we do the right thing and work with the right kind of people. When we help them, they talk to their friends, and we have a great network with teams, leagues and sportsbooks, etc.
“We want that phone call. We are always trying to think about what’s next. At this moment, we don’t know what this industry is going to look like in the next six months or 12 months. We just have to stay on top of it every single day. There is so much more that’s coming. There are so many entrepreneurs thinking about ‘What’s the future of this?’ even though we are in the future now with how fast things are happening.”