Most sports media properties have sports betting affiliate programs in place (some have opted for brand partnership deals instead). But there are countless non-sports digital media assets that have yet to tap into the potentially lucrative revenue stream.
Savage Sports—the sports betting and online gambling media arm of Savage Ventures, a Nashville-based venture capital/operator hybrid—is working to change that. Using the capital at its disposal and its performance marketing expertise, the division is working to help sports-agnostic digital media entities capture sports betting and online gambling affiliate commissions. David VanEgmond (CEO, Bettor Capital) thinks the company’s pursuit of that market makes sense.
“Sports betting presents the largest emerging category opportunity for monetization in digital media,” he said, adding that the company’s “track record” (see: $50 million plus in revenue for its sportsbook partners) suggests it will be able to build robust affiliate programs for sports-adjacent digital media properties.
JWS’ Take: Non-sports media companies have been slow to pursue the sports betting affiliate opportunity because, as Zac Litwack (co-founder, Savage Ventures) explained, even if the outlet has the financial resources, the costs and difficulties associated with getting started could be a barrier. “[These companies lack] the knowledge, wherewithal and time to go get licensed in all of the states, to develop relationships [and negotiate favorable deals] with the sportsbooks and then start running promotions.”
Savage Sports has positioned itself as a streamlined solution for digital media companies looking to enter the growing sports betting and online gaming category. It holds the marketing licenses needed to collect commissions in every legal North American market, has “relationships [in place] with all the major sportsbooks” and operates a team of “performance marketers and white-listed ad accounts, which run all the paid media through all of our media brands,” Litwack said. The conglomerate has a distribution network of 33 million fans.
About 60% of Savage Sports’ sports betting and online gaming affiliate business originates from paid media through its collective of mostly non-sports-focused assets. (The company plans to add some more sports endemic media brands, too.) The remaining about 40% is generated organically—“email, [SEO] and posting on our social channels,” Litwack explained.
The company is working to tip the balance towards organically generated affiliate revenue, which naturally has much higher margins. “Part of the strategy is [adding] influencers and other media companies [to the portfolio] so that we aren’t reliant on any individual [outside] channel,” Litwack said. Savage Sports recently announced the addition of Moonshot, a sports betting micro-influencer with a Discord channel with about 4,000 paying members and 30,000 followers on Twitter, to its budding network.
While most of Moonshot’s subscribers are likely existing customers of multiple sportsbooks, Litwack believes the engaged audience will eat up any ancillary products Savage offers through its sportsbook partners (think: online casino, DFS). Look for Savage Sports to introduce Moonshot branded content and an expansive merchandise line for the brand. “What you can do off a foundational set of fans is magical when you think about expanding the product offering and [pulling other] monetization levers,” Litwack said.
Litwack, who has a background in marketing, launched Savage Ventures in late 2019 with Sam Savage, who founded Pop Culture Media and sold it to CBS Interactive, and who was the CRO and an early partner in 247 sports. Their thesis is that they could invest in and scale multiple digital media companies simultaneously. Their first purchase was American Songwriter, a music media publication.
A June 2020 joint venture with Outkick the Coverage, Clay Travis’ sports media brand, opened its eyes to a new revenue stream and put the wheels in motion for the creation of Savage Sports. “That [deal] got us into the sports betting market,” Litwack said. Over the next year, the duo took an audience that was largely offline (remember, Travis had a national radio show) and constructed a digital media business around it. Sports betting affiliate revenue was its top revenue stream.
In May 2021, Travis and Savage sold Outkick to Fox Corporation. The Savage team believes with the lessons learned it can replicate the success. “We have the playbook already built out to help [other media brands] make money,” Litwack said.
Savage Sports started with those within the existing portfolio, using the 2021 football season to prove “that it could market [sports betting products and offers] through a non-sports asset,” Litwack said. The company owns the Grandex Media brands (Total Frat Move, Total Sorority Move) and a host of other “apps, tools and social handles that [it has] purchased along the way.” Savage recently announced that it had agreed to purchase Vig It, a sports betting social networking application with 20,000 active daily users.
Savage Ventures is a small VC fund backed by Litwack and Savage. Its average check size is about $1 million. While that may not sound like much for a company buying media assets, Litwack explained it is not after large outlets worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars (see: the Outkick sale), claiming, “We can make a company worth a hundred million dollars with a few dollars because of our skill sets.”
There are opportunities for founders who do not wish to exit to still align with Savage Sports. The company is amenable to doing a JV (see: Moonshot deal). “We can open up a massive revenue stream for them, split the revenue and then also take an equity stake in the business,” Litwack said.
Because Savage Sports outlets are not necessarily reaching the traditional sports bettor, sportsbook clients may have to do a little bit more education for those users than they are accustomed to. But Litwack said: “The customer lifetime value could still be there. And as online poker and casino expands, [companies] will naturally be able to upsell those customers.”
Right now, it does not matter, at least for Savage Sports, if the customer LTV is comparable to that of a typical sports fan. The media company largely operates on a cost-per-acquisition model. If the Savage customer gains a reputation for being more casual, it could hurt the company’s negotiated CPAs down the line. But it is premature to conclude Savage’s non-sports properties are going to uncover more casual bettors, and the company’s long-term success is more likely to be predicated on its ability to engage and retain the audience than the customer’s average LTV, anyway.