May 25, 1961 |
|Education||Bachelor of Science (BSc) in General Sciences, University of Waterloo
MBA in Management Finance, City University of Seattle
|Known for||Becoming a self-made billionaire by founding online gambling venture Bodog|
Calvin Ayre (born May 25, 1961, in Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, Canada) is a Canadian entrepreneur and founder of the Bodog entertainment brand. In 1992 he laid the groundwork for the organization that eventually became online gambling company Bodog and the associated Bodog Entertainment Brand. In 2000 he launched Bodog.com, the success of which ultimately made him a billionaire. Ayre's notoriety increased in the mid-2000s as online gaming’s popularity surged, eventually landing him on the cover of Forbes Magazine's 2006 annual “Billionaires” edition and Star Magazine’s "Most Eligible Billionaire Bachelors” list in late 2007.
Ayre modeled his personal brand after Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and the way Branson applied the Virgin brand to a diverse range of business ventures. Ayre plans to build Bodog into a mainstream 21st-century digital entertainment conglomerate. He is noted for his "billionaire bad boy" image yet shrewd business sense.
Ayre grew up on a farm outside Lloydminster, where his father Ken grew wheat and raised pigs. Ayre received an early lesson in the benefits of entrepreneurship when his father gave him his own baby pigs to look after, allowing Ayre to keep the proceeds when the pigs went to market. Ayre, who describes his father as his "number one hero", later put these lessons to work when he paid his university tuition by renting a truck and running loads of fresh fruit from orchards in British Columbia to northern Saskatchewan.
In 1992, after reading a newspaper article about a Caribbean-based company offering betting services over the telephone, Ayre reports experiencing a "loud bang in my head and the whole universe came together." He quickly deduced that gambling was tailor-made for the internet. "Internet usage was growing at an exponential rate and sports fans weren’t going anywhere." Having taught himself network design by studying borrowed Cisco systems manuals, Ayre decided to convert his fledgling Vancouver-based Internet incubator company into a software support firm for online gambling, which became Bodog. He was quickly able to license his software to several online casinos, but soon realized that the real money was in running his own gaming operation.
Unlike other online casino operators which did not possess the requisite technical skills to produce their own code, Ayre owned the computer code that became the foundation of Bodog and could readily customize and improve it as needed, which allowed him to retain all profits instead of paying expensive licensing fees.
Canadian Business reported that "The Bodog name is part of an ambitious branding strategy Ayre envisioned from the start. Ayre came up with it while typing potential brand names into an Internet domain-registration search engine one night. He chose the appellation like a major corporation would pick the name of a new car or brand of soft drink: it had to have six letters or less, be easy to spell and remember, have some personality and be unlike any competitor's moniker. The last criterion was easy to fill since most of Bodog's rivals prefer straightforward brand names such as PartyPoker.com or Sportsbook.com." Ayre reported “Those names are great, but they aren't very portable if you want to expand into other entertainment industries.”
As the face of the Bodog brand, Ayre’s notoriety skyrocketed in the mid-2000s as online gaming’s popularity surged. Ayre’s public profile went mainstream when he was featured as the cover story for Forbes Magazine's 2006 annual “Billionaires” edition. and Star Magazine’s "Most Eligible Billionaire Bachelors” list in late 2007.
In 2000, Ayre launched online gambling site, Bodog.com. Ayre chose to make himself the focus of Bodog’s marketing strategy, putting a face to what was up to that point a largely faceless industry. Ayre claims that the ‘bad boy adventurer’ image projected in Bodog marketing only worked because it was based on something genuine. “The lifestyle I sell is about 80% the reality of what I live.” Putting a human face on his company also added “an extra layer of transparency” that played “an integral role in legitimizing an industry well in need of a facelift.”
With Ayre serving as Bodog’s pitchman, the business expanded rapidly, recording turnover of US$7,300,000,000 and revenue of US$210,000,000 in 2005. As Bodog grew in prominence, Ayre came to the attention of the mainstream media, appearing on episodes of MTV Cribs, VH1’s Fabulous Life Of…, Extra, and ABC’s Nightline. In 2006, Ayre was named one of People magazine’s 40 hottest bachelors and appeared on the cover of the Forbes ‘Billionaires’ issue.
In a 2009 interview Ayre stated that, following the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in 2006, the organization that he led and that had been accepting customers from the United States withdrew from that market, instead licensing the brand to the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group, which then operated its own online gaming website servicing the US under the Bodog brand until December, 2011. On December 14, 2011 the MMGG announced that it would no longer operate any Bodog-branded websites and transitioned all customers to its new site.
Considerable media attention has been focused on Ayre's lifestyle. His public profile is designed to showcase the trappings of a jackpot-winning lifestyle that could appeal to "people who think like 18- to 40-year-old males". He hosts lavish, well publicised parties in Costa Rica and Antigua, with bikini-clad Bodog Girls and armed bodyguards in attendance, and the media has noted his reputation as a man who likes to party. The Bodog website and press materials are filled with photographs of the 53-year-old gambling tycoon drinking on yachts with scantily clad models, partying with celebrities and living what Ayre calls "the Bodog lifestyle." Forbes reported "Ayre likes to be seen–especially with attractive women. He is unmarried and has no steady girlfriend (It would be unfair to the girl, he says). He has himself driven around in a black Hummer by a chauffeur who was trained as a sniper in the Canadian military and practiced in Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq." Canadian Business reported that "In person, Ayre looks every bit the party animal in fashionably distressed jeans and leather biker jacket."
The media has also reported on Bodog's alleged skirting of Internet gambling laws in the United States and other countries. Forbes reported his "Taunting analysis of the law: We run a business that cant actually be described as gambling in each country we operate in. But when you add it all together, it's Internet gambling." In a 2006 feature, The Register called Arye "something of an outlaw...We all know women like a bad boy, and you’re constantly surrounded by beautiful ladies."
Ayres notes his media image:
The media love to play up the bad boy billionaire image, and we're more than happy to play along - it's good marketing! This should, however, not be confused with what you suggest as an almost fugitive or outlaw status. I don't consider myself to have this type of status; I actually travel quite freely and consider what we do to be legal in all the jurisdictions where we carry out our operations. In terms of making our brand more accessible and attractive to an international audience and our particular demographic, we made a very deliberate business decision early in the game to tack my face all over our website and on all campaigns associated with the Bodog brand. More than simply a branding strategy, this tactic allowed us to add an extra layer of transparency that - along with our focus on customer service and our expansion into new forms of entertainment has allowed us to play an integral role in legitimizing an industry well in need of a face-lift.
Canadian Business also took note of Ayre's business-minded nature:
Don't let the playboy image fool you. When it comes to Bodog, Ayre (who has an MBA from City University in Seattle) is all business. Dig deeper into the company website and you'll find his detailed financial analysis of running a sports book alongside long articles chastising his competitors for not helping the industry develop better branding strategies. “People ask me if I am this crazy party guy or this management guy writing these quasi-academic articles,” he says over lunch at the Quay restaurant, a Bodog-owned lounge on the waterfront in Vancouver's fashionable Yaletown district. “I'm both. Bodog is both. We are a company that executes its transactions like a bank, but is also fun to be around.”
Expansion beyond gambling
Ayre has expressed his admiration of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson’s use of his personal brand to promote his companies and the way Branson applied the Virgin brand to a diverse range of business ventures. Using him as a model, Ayre aims to build Bodog into not only one of the largest online gambling brands but also a mainstream 21st-century digital entertainment conglomerate. As Bodog grew, Ayre launched several non-gaming properties under the Bodog brand.
In 2003, Ayre organized BodogConference.com (later renamed the Bodog.com Poker and Sports Marketing Conference) in Las Vegas for sports handicappers, at which National Football League Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana was a special guest, tossing autographed footballs to attendees. The conference became an annual event, attracting gambling industry executives and figures from the sports world.
In 2005, Ayre launched the Bodog Music record label with a roster featuring artists such as DMX and the Wu Tang Clan. This led to the Bodog Music Battle of the Bands television series on Fuse TV, in which celebrity judges including former Sex Pistol singer John Lydon traveled across America to find the country’s best unsigned bands.
Ayre also launched Calvin Ayre WildCard Poker, a televised poker series on Fox Sports Net featuring pro and celebrity players facing off against online qualifiers. In March 2006, filming of party scenes for the first season finale at Ayre’s compound outside San Jose, Costa Rica was raided by an estimated 100 police who were under the mistaken impression gambling was taking place. Ayre, who was not charged as a result of the raid, used the media spotlight provided by the raid to help promote the series and the Bodog brand. Ayre made light of the raid, claiming the police “ate half my buffet.”
Bodog also branched out into sports with the launch of Bodog Fight, a mixed martial arts league incorporating a television series and live pay-per-view events. The 2007 finale in St. Petersburg, Russia was attended by Russian President Vladmir Putin, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and actor Jean-Claude Van Damme.
Ayre has stated that one of the perks of his success is “the freedom to be able to, like boom, offer assistance to people if you see a problem.” Calvin Ayre and Bodog have supported a wide variety of charitable causes over the years, including the LA Lakers Youth Foundation and actress Shannon Elizabeth’s Animal Avengers organization.
In 2005, Ayre formalized his charitable efforts under the banner of the Calvin Ayre Foundation. The Foundation chose to focus on areas like animal welfare, the environment and education for the disadvantaged. The Foundation has financially supported needy families, elementary schools and physical rehabilitation centers in Costa Rica, worked with groups to combat the practice of bear bile farming in Asia, and provided funding to enable deserving individuals in various nations to pursue higher education. In 2010, the Foundation matched funds raised by the online gambling industry for relief efforts tied to the devastating earthquake in Haiti.
In 2006, Ayre produced Bodog Salutes The Troops, a weekend of entertainment for US military personnel in Hawaii, footage from which appeared in a one-hour special on Spike TV. The event, which consisted of a poker tournament and a live musical concert featuring Snoop Dogg, was intended as a benefit for the Fisher House Foundation, which provides free or low-cost lodging for veterans and military families receiving treatment at military medical centers.
Following the extensive damage Super Typhoon Haiyan inflicted on the Philippines in November 2013, Calvin Ayre personally donated $200,000 to local relief efforts. The Calvin Ayre Foundation also pledged to match gaming industry members' individual donations to typhoon relief up to $1,000,000.
Retirement and reemergence
In 2006, the online gambling industry underwent realignment as US authorities made high-profile arrests of several online gambling executives. That same year, Ayre sold Bodog’s US-facing online gambling business to the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group in Kahnawake, Quebec, although Ayre retained all rights to the Bodog brand. Ayre subsequently announced his retirement from the online gambling business.
In 2009, Ayre came out of retirement to launch CalvinAyre.com, an online gambling industry news and entertainment site. Ayre also announced that he’d revamped Bodog into a brand licensing business. Ayre licensed Bodog to online gambling companies in Europe and Asia and struck a deal to market the Italian coffee brand Illy in Bodog-branded kiosks. Bodog also entered into sponsorship deals with Premier League football club West Bromwich Albion and with Scottish First Division side Ayr United.
In February 2012, Ayre and three other individuals were indicted by the US Attorney for Maryland on charges of illegal gambling and money laundering related to conduct that occurred before the 2006 passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in the US. Ayre released a statement via CalvinAyre.com saying he viewed the indictment as “abuse of the US criminal justice system for the commercial gain of large US corporations.” Ayre also noted that the US Attorney had seized Bodog.com, a domain that had been dormant since the Bodog brand revoked its licensing agreement with MMGG the previous year. Ayre holds an online gaming license in the country of Antigua that is subject to a longstanding World Trade Organization dispute with the US government and which may figure centrally in the resolution of this dispute.
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