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Interview: Calvin Ayre, Bodog

Calvin, everyone in the industry is talking about your exposure in Forbes, how did it come about?

When Forbes decided they wanted an interview for their ‘Billionaires Issue’ they looked towards to online gaming sector.  Supposedly, they had someone from Party Gaming in their sights, but for whatever reason Party Gaming weren’t interested and I was they only other online gaming personality who had passed Forbes’s asset test.  As such, they asked me if I wanted to do it.  I would have been on their list anyway based on the asset review, so they asked if I wanted to do a national profile piece.


      When you do an interview with Forbes it’s not like a normal interview, it’s like a job interview or an audit.  They really search into all your history, and talk to a lot of people including your competitors.  After that, they were satisfied with what they’d found and decided to go for a photo shoot in San Jose, Costa Rica and put the story together.  I then had to undertake another fact checking session to make sure that everything was straight.
      It wasn’t until three days before Forbes hit the stands that I found out I was on the cover.  I got an email saying , ‘Congratulations, raise a toast to yourself, you’re on the cover of Forbes’s Billionaire Issue, the highest selling issue of the year’.

What has the exposure done for business?

There has been no immediate effect but I never expected that there would be.  In our case the strategy wasn’t to get coverage in business magazines because we weren’t targeting that sector.  However, what it has done is open many doors for me around the world, so when it comes to business, it’s going to have direct impact on the ground with our target demographic, because anything I want to do is much easier to do now.  That’s been the biggest impact.
      The secondary impact is that I’m starting to produce a lot of television content, whereby I host all the shows that I produce.  My interest to the general public is going to be much higher now that Forbes has given me the ‘stamp of approval’.  It wasn’t about me telling the world, “yes my company’s worth a billion dollars”, it’s Forbes saying, “yes, we’ve studied all the facts and we agree”.  It gives my story a lot more credibility.  Instead of being an internet gambling guy who produces television shows.  I’m now a billionaire internet gambling guy who produces television shows.  It’s going to make my shows a lot more attractive.

How important are the TV shows for your brand and do shows fall into gaming or entertainment?

It’s just all about me meeting more girls (laughs).  I’ve got more money now than I can spend, so for me it’s all about me having fun, but there is still strategy behind what I do.  Clearly we’re moving Bodog into a different business model that hasn’t existed before – we’re not a gaming company anyone. We’re a broad-based digital entertainment company where all the channels play off each other – everything’s mutually supportive of each other.  As such, when you watch the televisions shows, you’£ see that there’s lots of incentive calls to action that will drive traffic to the internet.  Perhaps not directly to our gaming business for legal reasons, but nonetheless it’s still driving business to the internet.


     
How big is the traffic?  Is this a successful strategy?

It’s really hard to say.  I had this show I put on television and I’m sure it was great from a branding perspective, but we had no direct incentive calls to action.  It didn’t drive as much traffic as we expected, although it did drive it up a bit.
      We’ve got at least four different incentive calls to action in the new series we’re producing, such as we pick one hand in the tournament and just before we go to the hand we’ll have me sitting on a Harley Davidson saying , “remember what cards are in this hand, go to this hand, go to this website, put your information in and you can get into the seat of this Harley”.  That’s just one of a number of incentives we’re going to embed into the show.

Have you ever done anything like that before?

I don’t think anybody has, because what we’re doing is creating a poker tournament that people are able to participate in at some level with prizes. The other thing we’re doing that’s never been done before is mixing poker players, celebrities and internet qualifiers as contestants and then  on top of that, threaded through the whole thing, is my lifestyle, so it’s going to be quite a show.  I think what you’£ see is that it’s going to have some of the highest ratings of any poker show ever.

we heard about some weird stuff going on with the police over at your house in Costa Rica?  Tell me about that…

it’s hard to say what was going in their (the police)heads, because from my understanding they read an inaccurate Spanish translation of one of my press releases promoting the show and came to the conclusion that an illegal gambling tournament was talking place and that $ 750,000 was lying around my house.  As such, they came over to check to see if I had a permit, so they raided my house found not only that there was no illegal gambling going on, but also that there wasn’t any gambling going on – we weren’t playing any poker at my house.


      The original idea for the program was that it was supposed to be post-edited so that it looked like it was happening all in one location, and that’s exactly how the press releases were phrased.  We were doing all the poker stuff over at a local television studio because the infrastructure worked better for that part of the shoot.  The analogy I can use is that it’s like reading an advertisement for a murder mystery and the police opening a murder investigation.  The most bizarre thing is that the police still haven’t closed the file and they’re still investigation whether there’s still investigating whether there’s illegal gambling going on – they’re going through my computer and my hard drive to see if there’s evidence of illegal gambling.

Any word from US authorities?

One of the local people in Costa Rica called the American embassy to see if they were involved in the raid on my house but they didn’t even know who I was.

How are you able to offer direct calls to action in your programs without contravening US laws?

If you watch the show, you’ll see that we’re not driving traffic directly to a gaming site.  If you go to www.calvinayre.com it talks about the show, then we’ll have banner ads on there which links to Bodog.net, which is sponsoring the show itself.  We’re not driving people to online gaming directly, what we’re doing is branding.  If anybody does a search for ‘Bodog’ or ‘Calvin Ayre’ they’re going to end up on Bodog.com.  So, we’re driving awareness of both myself and Bodog and then at some point in the future people are going be reading about Bodog.com in newspaper and magazine articles, because, because when it comes to newspaper articles it’s all dotcom as news doesn’t have to be censored – it’s only advertising that has to be censored right now.  Those articles, once the awareness is there, are going to make a lot more sense to people as to what they’re reading about.  It’s a multi-staged strategy.

It seems these shows are coming out in the summer, which is a slow time for sports.  Are you timing it like that?

Absolutely not, it’s just the way it worked out.  It started 16 months ago and it’s taken us that long to get going.  I have another show in pre-production right now called Great Casino Cities of the World, which is going to be on the Fine Living Channel, and then I’ve got at least two more shows that are in pre-production to be released after that.

It’s hard to say what was going in their (the police)
heads, because from my understanding they
read an inaccurate Spanish translation
 of one of my press releases.

Do you take ads or do you leave that to others?

Right now, we are taking most of the advertising, so when you watch one of our shows the commercials are likely to be Bodog commercial or about one of our upcoming shoss.  Two of our new shows include a ‘Battle of the Bands’ reality show, which is a contest running across North America, and then I’ve got an ‘Ultimate Fighting Show’, which I’m working on as well.

Are you going to fight?

Never say never.

How to you judge the success of the shows?  What are the criteria?

Everything ratings related, so we’£ keep tract of them and do it the traditional style.  However, as we own all the content, we’re going start ‘Bodog TV’, our own internet channel where you’ll be able to watch a lot of our content as we build up our stable.

Can you translate ratings into cost per acquisition?

I don’t know.  We’re pioneering a new business model; nobody’s done what we’re trying before.  So, some of the answers to those questions won’t be known for a while.  However, we can start by trusting our instincts and then start experimenting

What signified the move from Bodog Sportsbooks to ‘Bodog Everything?

It was two November ago.  I used to go on these international sabbaticals when I’d have  these ideas in my head and try and stimulate them with these exotic environments.  I was over in Asia and I said to myself, ‘I have to make a choice here, I need another challenge’.  I had my broad goals in mind and I wondered to myself where I was going to take it.  The plan was to take Bodog into mainstream entertainment and make myself the face of the industry.  Those were my goals.  A year and a couple months later, I’m on the cover of Forbes and I have my first televisions series coming up, starring me

In an industry where keeping a low profile has been a part of the job, what are the risks of having a high profile?

You’re more visible and more of a target, but let me ask you this: from a legal perspective, what is the difference between myself and any senior officer of a public company on the London stock exchange, who’s in the same business?  Am I a better target than the head of a public company, considering Party Gaming has been covered worldwide for the size of their valuation?  I would be willing to bet you that if you did a comparison between the amount of press that I’ve had a in the past two years and the amount of press Party Gaming has received, they’re still ahead of me.

What’s it like to be known as the most famous gaming operator in the world?  What’s it like to have that persona?

It’s fun, but if you look at it from a perspective of the environment that I’m involved in.  it’s also a legitimate business strategy because there’s a lot of restriction on our ability get to get our message out legally.  By creating a mainstream entertainment juggernaut like I’ve done, it allows me to get my message out using a number of channels that are impossible to block based on the constitutional protections of freedom of expression.  From the “What’s it like”  perspective, it’s a blast –just look at my pictures in Forbes!

Who’s the coolest celebrity you’ve me so far?

Busta Rhymes is a pretty cool guy.  I hung out with him at a party I threw, when he was headlining in New York City.  It’s was one of the biggest parties of the year in New York, and people have been talking about it ever since.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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