Twelve years ago, Aaron Speach was just another victim of the financial crisis. The tightening of student loans had frozen him out of law school, so the amiable, bearded Californian turned to entrepreneurship. Little did he know that he would establish one of the hardest-charging companies in two of the hottest businesses on Wall Street: esports and betting.
How It All Started
In college, as Speach was preparing to apply to law schools, he began hearing whispers about StarCraft competitions in South Korea. He was no longer a gamer but found himself addicted to watching others play competitively. “They got really organized,” he recalls. “I just knew that it was about to take off seeing the arenas they were competing in and the sponsorships that were coming on board.”
Five years ago the gaming bug bit him again. Speach founded Gogawi.com, which later formed into Esports Technologies, and developed one of the first one-click betting sites. The strategy was to lower the barriers so that new users didn’t need to be professional bettors. This opened the floodgates, and his esports platform quickly attracted 60,000 users. Those initial users were mainly in the Philippines and Brazil, but Speach had his sights on bigger things. “I could see that this was going to become a huge business,” he says. “My goal was really to bring millennials to a betting platform. I knew that they were a huge untapped market.”
Investors agreed. Last October the company completed its Series A funding. And in April, Esports Technologies went public on the NASDAQ under the symbol EBET, raising over $14 million.
“People understand that the esports market is massive and that wagering in iGaming products is massive,” Speach explains. “So if you combine the two products, it’s a great story for investors.”
The company’s growth strategy can be summed up in one word: acquisitions. In October, Speach announced the $75 million acquisition of Aspire Global’s business-to-consumer portfolio, which includes well-known gaming platforms in Europe. What’s extremely interesting to growth investors is that Speach only paid about one dollar per dollar of revenue for a company that gives him instant access to the UK, Germany, Denmark and several other European countries, where Esports Technologies will launch its own service next year.
The Aspire acquisition is being completed at an unheard of less than 1X revenue (run rate) multiple.
Based on the Aspire acquisition’s run rate, if the combined company was valued at just a 10X price to sales multiple, it would put the company at approximately $900 million in market value.
The following companies in the gambling sector are trading higher than a 10X price to sales ratio, leaving room for an even greater market value (source: Yahoo Finance 11/03/21):
• Score Media and Gaming (SCR): 69.89
• Golden Matrix Group (GMGI): 26.59
• Genius Sports (GENI): 17.53
• DraftKings (DKNG): 16.90
In August, Speach met with the prime minister of Malta, where the company plans to set up its European headquarters. Speach says that anyone who’s serious about being in regulated gaming needs a presence in Malta. He’s recruited former U.S. regulators to his board and is developing a peer-to-peer business that’s easier to license, since players are betting against one another and not a sophisticated sportsbook.
More acquisitions are planned in the next two years. Speach and his executive team are fond of noting that there are now 550 million esports fans globally, of whom half are considered hardcore fans. By comparison, they say, the NFL has about 160 million fans, 80 million of them hardcore. “Now consider that the NFL is doing $64 billion in betting,” Speach says, “and much of that is not yet legal. We think that speaks to how big our opportunity is.”
But Esports Technologies is not just buying growth. True to its name, the company is developing new betting technologies and plans to launch a regulated esports book product early next year. For the first time, Speach says, his company will have a full suite of services on offer, an important feature to users who may be watching four screens at any given time or placing bets from their seat at the game. Speach expects the esportsbook to be “transformative.”
A Solution to a Major Problem
The problem: Sportsbooks currently have an aging demographic and need to replace older bettors with a younger demographic that are less interested in watching traditional sports.
Horse racing, once considered the jewel of gambling, presents the most extreme example, where bettors are dying at a faster rate than they are being added.
All traditional sports—including soccer, basketball and football—are already experiencing declining viewership on a per capita basis.
Esports Technologies (EBET) is a NASDAQ-listed issuer that offers casino, sports and esports wagering technologies that cater to the underserved millennial and Gen Z demographics.
These 1.25 million customers from the Aspire acquisition, who are primarily under the age of 35, will be offered the opportunity to wager on esports, and Speach says, “The possibilities are endless.”
But in the end, what could transform Esports Technologies into a gaming/betting giant is its odds. Speach says that virtual sports odds—or spreads—are currently around 8–9% to the house versus 3.5% for traditional sports. He promises to bring them much closer to parity: “We intend to offer the best odds and best modeling across all esports.”
Investors are betting that this strategy is a winner. Esports Technologies boasts a market capitalization of close to half a billion dollars and Speach’s record of innovation, including the ONICS intelligent car system and several patents in the electronics field, is well established. Speach himself has caught the attention of major media outlets including Bloomberg, Engadget, Tech Crunch, and Forbes. In an industry known for its myopia, his LinkedIn profile stands out for its generalism.
Also surprising is Speach’s low-key demeanor and his innate desire to connect with other people in real life. The young CEO is both intensely proud of his team and his users’ biggest champion. “At the end of the day,” he says, “sports betting is entertainment, and we want our customers to be entertained. We want our product to be fair, and we want our customers to win. We think this will drive huge shareholder value in the near and long term. The sky is the limit.”