The competition among domestic sportsbook operators has largely been for the core sports bettor. But as the U.S. market matures, the focus is expected to shift toward a broader audience.
To date, we have yet to see a media company (or sportsbook operator) regularly deliver content that resonates with both the hardcore bettor and the casual sports fan—the affiliate jackpot, if you will. But there is an early stage company flying under the radar (in part because it is based in Canada), taking a credible crack at doing just that. Founded by a collective of former sports digital and broadcast executives (several of whom worked at TSN), The Parleh Media Group is gaining traction with a diverse and mainstream audience, and it has just closed on CAD $1 million in pre-seed financing (via a SAFE). Sports-betting industry veterans Benjie Cherniak (principal, Avenue H Capital; formerly managing director, Don Best Sports) and Chris Grove (partner, Eilers & Krejcik Gaming) closed the round.
JWS’ Take: To be clear, creating fundamentally entertaining video content that could potentially engage both casual fans and more serious sports bettors alike is not a unique goal. The Action Network sought to accomplish this by hiring sports Twitter mainstay Darren Rovell, and Barstool Sports has tried to do the same with their “Electric Chairs” and live streams. While both media companies have achieved relative success with their content, neither has “hit the grand slam,” Grove said. “No one has created the World Series of Poker on ESPN for sports betting—that big tent that appeals to a large chunk of sports bettors. Very few are even hitting singles.”
The lack of hits—never mind home runs—largely has to do with misguided attempts to create content that appeals to bettors who want to gain an edge, as opposed to the casual fan (truly entertaining content should appeal to people across the spectrum). As Parleh CEO Mark Silver said: “Anyone who is serious about sports betting isn’t listening to [the touts]. They do their own research and form their own opinions…. The total addressable market is [also] much bigger when you stop trying to convert a bettor from one book to another and go out and look for brand new bettors to enter the market.”
The low batting average is also reflective of the way affiliate businesses and sportsbook operators have tried to engage the prospective sports bettor. “Longer-form, debate-style sports betting programming [on linear television] might appeal to a certain demographic of established sports bettors but not to everyone, as the audience is not one-size-fits-all,” Cherniak said. Adam Seaborn (director, Sales and Media Operations, Kingstar Media) suggested those shows are unlikely reaching anyone “under the age of 35, much less under 25.”
Parleh is going against the grain, focusing on short-form, awareness-level video content. Its digitally native programming may be “more appealing to an emerging group of [younger] casual sports bettors, who are active with social media and thus conditioned to the 30- to 60-second content pieces found on their Instagram and TikTok feeds,” Cherniak noted. Seaborn likes the approach. “If you want to build a business on driving affiliate traffic for sports betting companies,” he said, “being active on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram are the most important channels—in that order.”
The company also looks to deliver content within environments where the audience is not expecting to be informed about sports betting, too (so it reaches a broader demo). That includes IRL. In August, Parleh acquired Homestand Sports, a live events company that would enable it to create experiential content.
Parleh’s short-form, digital-first approach to content enables the company to run lean. While competitors like VSIN will produce hours of live programming for linear TV each week, the Canadian media outfit might need just a fraction of the video to get the segments it needs. Naturally, that enables Parleh to save significantly on production costs.
It is certainly reasonable to wonder if Parleh will be able to produce high-quality, low-cost content at the scale needed to compete with far larger and better capitalized media companies over an extended period. But SportsGrid has proven it is possible. If Parleh can put together a roster of dedicated, entrepreneurial content creators, there is “no reason [it] can’t make a splash in the Canadian market and command the affiliate ad dollars that will follow,” Seaborn said.
Parleh does not want to be a 24-hours-a-day digital network the way SportsGrid is. But Silver said there are aspirations to be like the company “in terms of audience and distribution.”
What makes sports betting content entertaining is undeniably subjective. But Parleh’s growth trajectory—at least in terms of consumption—indicates the company is giving casual fans what they want. Parleh videos received more than 1 million views in October, up from just 30,000 in August; the company launched in June.
The early adoption also seems to confirm that a sports betting content void remains among publishers. Some 89% of Parleh’s October views came via the distribution deal it has with SendToNews (which pushes content to around 2,000 websites across North America).
But it is not just Parleh’s short-form video approach, its efficient production model and early traction that has some of the gaming industry’s most well-respected and connected individuals placing a bet on the company. Parleh is also well-positioned within a burgeoning Canadian market and has a credible team of executives behind it.
And while Canada may not offer the greatest opportunity for affiliate business, it does appear to be the lowest-hanging fruit. “In Canada no one is really [generating sports betting content]. There are little segments that TSN does called TSN Edge, but it is just token stuff…. There just [aren’t] enough sports [media] properties to support the demand of sportsbooks looking for partners,” Silver said. The company is said to be closing in on “foundational partnerships” with operators entering the Canadian market.
Parleh’s Canada-first focus—and status as an early mover in the space—has it well-positioned in “an incredibly compelling market for sports betting and online gambling.” Grove said that much like California, Canada is a large market (population: 38 million) full of sports fans, who have shown a propensity to wager online.
If Parleh can fulfill its promise, a lucrative exit awaits early investors. There is a “wealth of evidence [that] if you can attract and engage an audience that is interested in, or even potentially interested in, sports betting, you’re going to be paid a premium for access to or ownership of that audience,” Grove said. Remember, theScore recently commanded a multi-billion-dollar price tag. The Action Network sold for $240 million. Oddschecker fetched north of $200 million. VSIN is rumored to have commanded $75-$100 million, and Catena Media, XL Media and Better Collective have all made multiple media acquisitions over the course of the last few years in the eight- to nine-figure range.