The Director at Sports Entertainment Marketing, Phil Canavan, discusses how he got into the iGaming industry and how SEM has navigated through the tough times 2020 has provided.

Video from Phil Canavan Interview

Show notes from Phil Canavan Interview

Ryan Knuppel: All right, welcome back to another episode of The Knup Sports Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every time. Thank you so much for joining us once again, another episode recording this kind of around the holiday time. All of us are dealing with little colds and you can hear my voice a little bit different.  I’m battling that a little bit of that today, but we really appreciate you tuning in for another episode. Hopefully we can bring you some value. Today, we’re joined by another special guest. As you can see, we have Phil Canavan, the Director of SEM Global with us, Phil, thanks for joining.

Phil Canavan: My pleasure – Enjoy catching up Ryan.

Ryan Knuppel: Absolutely. Phil and I are our recent acquaintances, recent friends, we got to hang out what was this last year now and in Vegas at GTV, I believe is where we got to kind of meet each other and hang out over a beverage and just catch up a little bit. So it feels like two years ago or something now, but I guess that was only about a year ago. Right?

 Phil Canavan: I think so. Yeah, I certainly missed that this year. I mean, live shows are always a great way of keeping in touch with everyone in the industry and would be fun to share.

 Ryan Knuppel: Absolutely.  Well, I want to hear a little bit about yourself and a little bit about your background. I know you’ve got a lot going on in this space. And I think the listeners would just love to hear about your background. So, tell us a little bit about yourself how you got started in this crazy igaming world?

Phil Canavan: Well, my background originally was a media. I worked in newspapers here in the UK and magazines in Australia for two years. I originally set up my own independent agency in that particular industry. We were offering outsourced sales to media organizations. Through that I fell into some sports media titles we were working alongside, and from there merged with my now long-term business partner Ryan Horn, he was running a sports agency. So we started to work in sports sponsorship. It was probably around the time that gaming operators started to become a big part of that particularly in UK football. So that pushed us towards those types of partnerships. With operators, we built some strong relationships in the space. As time went by, I became the sole focus of the agency and very glad that it did, because it’s a fantastic industry to work in, made some good friends and good business associates.  Hope that we can continue to be successful in the space for a number of years to come.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. That’s cool, great experiences to get you to where you are today. So speaking a little bit about where you are today, give us a little bit of background of SEM Global. I know you mentioned to me offline, that there’s some other business happenings in the works as well tell us a little bit about what your companies are about today. What are you guys focusing on today from a business perspective?

Phil Canavan: I will try to keep it brief in terms of what SEM does, and our primary function. We’re a sponsorship consultancy. We work more as a buying agency for operators. There’s a number of bigger operations out there who are sales houses, and we work on behalf of sports teams and individuals to secure sponsorship deals, we’re very much the other way around and actually made a conscious decision to flip the business model around probably six or seven years ago. We would operate closely with the B2C businesses in the gaming space, understand what their growth objectives are, what their key markets and territories would be. Then the budgets have been a key factor as well, we will then go to the market and do the research and due diligence to make sure that we’re prese

nting all relevant opportunities. We’ll make recommendations on strategy, whether it should invest, what our forecasted, our allies would be on the different deals. Then marry the two organizations together when the deal is ready to be done. So, we’ve worked in that way in the UK and European sports for a number of years. The US has obviously become a focus in more recent times.

Ryan Knuppel: I was gonna ask, US cause obviously, being very near and dear to my heart here living in Orlando, Florida. I follow that industry here in the US very closely. It’s amazing how much growth we’ve seen, even through the COVID pandemic, we’ve continued to kind of see growth in space.  I was curious to hear what all you are doing in the US and if that was one of your goals.  As a business to start working with US companies and US operators as well. I think you kind of answered that.  Anything to expand on the kind of the US market and where your goals and visions are with that.

Phil Canavan: Yes, for sure.  The first thing I’d say is it’s been since the “inaudible”. It’s been great fun, watching the expansion of gaming in the US and I think we’re all If we take a step back to where we were two years ago, and look at what’s happening now, and what’s projected to happen in 2021, it’s incredible the speed at which it is all coming together. We’re glad to see.  One of the first outtakes is, it’s just been very refreshing to work in a market with this in its infancy, rather a kind of saturated and slightly cynical market that we operate in over here.  There’s a lot of agencies, there’s a lot of operators, and there’s kind of tried and tested relationships and methods that it’s quite difficult to shift on. It’s been really nice working with sports organizations who are going into gaming partnerships for the first time.  Open to suggestions and also operators are happy to listen to our input and work closely with us. We’ve got a number of operators that we speak to regularly in the US. We’re hopeful for 2021 will be a good year for us.  We’ve been consciously moving into that space since passport appeals, actually born. So the network’s growing, and hopefully, we can do some good business in the next year or two.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. I painted a picture there that we’ve been growing in the US and are still doing all well through this COVID pandemic. Let’s speak a little bit about what you’ve seen during 2020. Everybody’s had a challenging year, everybody has had to adjust and migrate and adapt to the changing times and kind of where we’re at.  How have you guys seen or handled this COVID pandemic? Have you seen a major drop in activity and action? Or has it been kind of business as usual this year? To follow up on that – are things starting to kind of pick back up, as you’ve seen here near the end of the year? Can you speak a little bit about that? This crazy 2020 that you’ve seen from a business side.

Phil Canavan: As you pointed out, it has been a very strange year.   When pretty much all lives stopped, then budgets and revenues, operators were hit premium supremely hard. I think that’s even now, a lot of uncertainty as to being allowed back into stadiums. Sponsorship, deals will be structured, that’s probably the biggest downside for us, contracts are never going to be the same game with any kind of deal that is dependent on football and in state your activations. Hopefully, that’s not going to be forever. But it’s certainly still a very, very important factor at any time, contractual components of the deal.  I think there’s a number of big operators who were a little more bulletproof than some of the challenger brands, which is a little bit of a shame, because some of the smaller guys then probably set it back 18 months and two years, because they live sports stop for what, two, three months, every single day that goes by the operating losing huge amounts of cash that you just can’t replicate out of nowhere. I think what it has done is, is foster innovation, it’s forced people to think differently. We diversify in terms of whether their product development lies.

Now, what we can tell in the US, particularly the operators who have kind of come out of it the strongest and sort of different returns of live sport, came with them in reasonably strong positions with those that had a solid gaming and an online casino offering. Because the numbers and that was obviously up during the break from life sport. So it’s been tough, as a business, we operate more as buyers by client base. I tried to take a step back from everything really, in March when COVID really took hold, because we don’t ever want to be the guys who are trying to force people to spend money because it generates income for our business.  We want to be consultants that work with our operators when they need us. We want to advise on what the absolute best strategy is for them in our eyes. To be perfectly frank, when there was uncertainty flying around, we don’t want to be pushing people to transfer money. So you know, there is business happening, we’ve closed the deal. I can’t go into any details in the last few weeks. That made sense for everyone. It was a very slow and cautious process we went through to make sure that everyone’s protected if we do the work and excited about that. So maybe we can talk about that next year when we reconnect, but you’re certainly a challenge and hopefully, the operators, our clients will start speaking to us a little bit more positively about partnership deals in the next few months.

Ryan Knuppel: Congratulations, pre-congratulations on that deal that hopefully we can hear about in a few months. You can come back on and tell us all about that deal. It’s kind of a good segue though into my next question. It really focuses more around the future and what else is going on? What is 2021 looking like?  What’s in the future for you personally and from a business side? What do you guys have far as growth, activity and future?

Phil Canavan: Well, myself and Ryan during the down period we’ve been speaking to a couple of other guys for a number of months about launching another consultancy. More focused on the i gaming and online casino space and retail casino, potentially. We had a number of calls, we spent quite a lot of time during the lockdown year, and we lost Creation I gaming as a consultancy for that space. Ryan and I are very much sales commercial brand focused, and the other two guys in the business are extremely experienced in the B2B side and the technology side of the gaming sector. Between the four of us we felt we could offer something a little different. We’ll be hopefully facilitating the creation of some semi gaming solutions between developers and sports organizations.  We are working towards a few deals in that space right now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to tell you more about that in the coming months. It’s exciting and again, so before when things go bad and when times are tough people look at alternative ways of bringing money in relevance to the times.   I gaming online casinos have flourished over the last 12 months. So it seems sensible to use networking with guys that we like and trust to try and find a way to help people out and get a good business as well.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing –  sounds like you have your hands full. You’re dipping your hands in many businesses. I understand the challenges that come with that. But like you said, you got to grow, you got to move on and adjust to what’s going on. Congrats on Creation I gaming looking forward to seeing what you guys do with that and if I can help at all in any way.  You know where to reach me and I’m assuming there are other listeners as well that may be interested in learning more Creation I gaming or SEM Global? Where can they find you and your companies?  Where are the best channels to get a hold or learn more about you guys?

Phil Canavan: You can get the website information upon my LinkedIn profile. That’s always the best way to connect with them. Certainly without the physical shows and expos over the last year, LinkedIn has been the absolute lifeblood of our activity and building your networks. I don’t know if you found the same thing. But, the lack of shows has been really tough for us smaller independent agencies.  Personal relationships are what we’re all about and build things on. So we’re not having that interaction on a kind of my monthly or quarterly basis. Makes you realize what kind of good job you guys do.  So look forward to hopefully being able to reconnect with everyone properly and in person next year, for sure.

Ryan Knuppel: The virtual event serves their purpose, but they just aren’t quite the same to guys like yourself and me who just thrive on that personal interaction, not only from a business side, but for my sanity side.  To be able to sit down and talk face to face with someone. I mean, this is great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just nothing like that real personal interaction that you get from from an event and, and just the buzz around something like that, where everybody’s there with kind of the common purpose, the common goals, it’s like a little family, right.  I definitely miss that personally and business side as well. But, I think it’s coming back.  I think 2021 is going to be a good year for a lot of that. I hope to see, especially here in the US, where I’m really focused.   I hope to see some explosion, because I think they had some momentum on those events. Back in 2019, there was really a lot of momentum from the first kind of wave of these events. then it kind of died off and I was like, man 2020 is gonna be huge. Then I’m like crap, so maybe 2021 will double or triple and just kind of really explode on some of those events. But you’re right, those companies do a great job hosting and really bringing some value through events to some of us in this industry. So I missed that for sure. Hopefully next year!

Phil Canavan: I think once we’re able to do it again, it’s going to be a huge demand for attendance.  It’s a great way of educating yourself in the industry, getting that buzz and getting excited about the growth, particularly with us and where it’s going and the speed that the market is coming together. we will come back very soon. We’ll certainly be over in the US for a couple of events, at least in 2021. If we can.

Ryan Knuppel: Good. Well that’s great. Phil, I don’t want to keep you. I know you’re a busy man operating business and doing all sorts of things and looks like getting ready to celebrate the holidays there with the Christmas tree behind you. It’s that time of year where we all get to reflect and enjoy the holidays. I wish you Merry Christmas. Pre-Merry Christmas and have a great holiday Phil.

Phil Canavan: Absolutely. Fantastic holidays to you and the rest of the family, I hope you stay safe and well during the festive season for sure.

Ryan Knuppel: Any last words for the audience? I typically ask that before I let you go – anything on your mind that we didn’t really get to talk about or that you’d like to say before we depart here?

Phil Canavan: No, nothing specific. We’re always open to conversations, it doesn’t necessarily have to be any kind of commercial agreement or arrangement. We’re always happy to consult and discuss with anyone who’s in the industry. It’s one of the great things about gaming. Industry work is that you can meet people, have discussions open and friendly and help each other out and giving you a path is important. Happy to connect with anyone and have a conversation. Look forward to next year.

Ryan Knuppel: Phil, we really appreciate you being here. This is Phil Canavan, Director of SEM Global owner of Creation Igaming. Thanks again for being here Phil.  Thanks to all the listeners. We appreciate you tuning in. Have a safe holiday. Stay safe out there and we’re looking forward to seeing you all as 2021 comes around. All right, Phil, have a great day. Thanks.

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