5 With… Calvin Ayre, CEO, Bodog Entertainment
Bodog Entertainment is one of the fastest growing entertainment and media companies in the world, offering online gaming, a record label, a publishing division, and a television production division. Headquartered in the beautiful Caribbean nation of Antigua, Bodog was founded in 1994 by Canadian entrepreneur Calvin Ayre, who is well-known and respected as an online and digital branding authority, recently appearing on the cover of Forbes Magazine’s Billionaires’ issue.
I have a deep respect for Calvin. Under his leadership, Bodog Entertainment grew from nothing into a HUGE lifestyle brand, recognized throughout the world. Calvin is a self-made entrepreneur, who has had to work hard for everything. I admire his tenacity in the face of adversity, and the charitable work he and his foundation do is commendable.
In August of 2007, Bodog was forced to deal with a major problem when a Nevada court issued a default judgment. 1st Technology filed suit alleging that Bodog’s software infringed on their patents. In addition to awarding 1st Technology $49 million in damages, the judge also awarded them all of Bodog’s domain names, which were removed from servers, without warning to the company or its customers. Bodog plans to appeal this ruling on several grounds, but in the mean time, any web traffic intended for Bodog.com has been lost. Imagine driving to your local mall only to find it boarded up without any signs informing you where it went or what happened. That’s what it was like for Bodog customers who were unaware of the issue.
Within hours of losing their domain names, Bodog informed its customers of the situation and let them know where the website could be found, ultimately choosing the appropriate BodogLife.com. Extraordinarily, the company saw an INCREASE in web traffic after these changes were made. What could have been a disaster due to lost SEO and confusion turned into a positive. In fact, this Google Trends graph illustrates the amount of searches for Bodog.com (pre-news) and BodogLife.com are nearly identical.
I recently had an opportunity to interview Calvin, and I thank him for candid answers.
1.) EJS: At a certain point in time, money has to stop becoming a motivating factor. You’ve built a wildly successful brand in Bodog. What drives you to continue to fight to grow the brand?
CA: “One of the many reasons Bodog has been so successful to begin with, is that money was never a primary motivating factor. I started a digital entertainment company because I felt it would facilitate a smaller gap between work and play in my everyday life.
I continue to do what I do simply because I love it. I am a builder, I love to build things. I would not know what to do with myself if I were to quit now.
In the future once I am satisfied with what I’ve built Bodog to be, I hope to put this same energy into my foundation work.”
2.) EJS: A company like Bodog needs to stay on top of marketing trends to stay on the minds of its target audience. Some recent trends that Bodog has been all over is online music, mixed martial arts fighting and social networking. What trends are exciting to you (mobile technology for example), and what partnerships are helping you stay in the minds of your loyal customers as well as potential customers?
“We are working on mobile technology as well as streaming video of our original content and continually trying to find innovative methods of combining TV, events and the online realm to provide a great entertainment spectrum. Of course, during this all, we always make sure to incorporate the brand message throughout.
We have run some groundbreaking campaigns with Myspace and Youtube and I am sure we’ll continue to be ahead of the curve with regards to integration amongst social networking and digital entertainment leaders.
Another great relationship for us is our new brand licensing deal with the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group out of Kahnawake Quebec. This is the first of what we hope to be a number of brand licensing arrangements that will evolve Bodog away from being an operating company in all areas of our business.”
3.) When will Bodog introduce Bodog Hotel, Bodog Vacations, and Bodog Cruise Lines and move a bit away from the online entertainment area?
“We have more off-line initiatives coming, but for the time being we are going to focus our offline resources on live music and original content television production.
The Bodog brand is clearly a lifestyle brand and can arguably exist in virtually any form. Achieving this degree of marketability has been the plan since day one. However, for the foreseeable future, we will be focused on internationally expanding the predominantly digital entertainment company.”
4.) EJS: What would be a better feeling – winning the case against the “Patent Troll” or when the United States allows unrestricted online gaming?
CA: “Clearly having the US be more favorable to our sector would be a great thing. For the most part, with the exception of having some humor and publicity value, the patent troll issue is already off my radar.
We won the war the first day when we got back up and running within a span of 12 hours. Bodog is a brand which is not contained within or defined by its domain. Had the Patent Trolls understood this, they likely would not have black-holed the domains as their first move.
Additionally, the company they have the judgment against, though using the Bodog name, is not part of our group and was shut down in September of 2006. Other than wanting the domains back that this company was managing for us, I would not even have an interest in the case.
At this point I am treating the entire issue as an ongoing PR opportunity to be leveraged at will. Now that we have re-established Bodog’s online residence at Bodoglife.com, there is no way we would ever revert back to bodog.com even if the domains were to be returned. At most, we would simply use them as redirects. Bodoglife.com is continually and increasingly rising in search rankings for all of our keywords, so its there to stay as we currently see it.”
5.) EJS: Because of US regulatory issues, PPC (pay per click) advertising revenue in the gaming industry has generally declined, driving down the value of domain names in this genre. Have you considered purchasing generic gaming domain names to forward to your BodogLife.com homepage? Using Frank Schilling’s InternetCasino.com example, would it be worth your while to cut out GooYahSoft, domain parking companies, and domain owners, and just buy some generic casino domain names to help boost traffic?
CA: “This isn’t actually a new idea. We already take part in this and have been doing so for years now. We have an enormous network of off-brand domains doing this for us as well. In addition we also work in conjunction with others who follow this same system. Needless to say, the overlap serves our interests well.
However, these are just secondary to what really separates Bodog from the masses and consequently, what drives traffic to our site. Our branding strategy plays a huge part in our success and this is clear as day when you look at how fast we were able to move to a new online home with no ability to re-direct from previous domains.”
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