Rick Wolf, the President of Alarm Sports Network, joins Ryan on the show to talk about his growing business empire in the fantasy sports & betting space. Don’t miss this one!

Show notes from Rick Wolf Interview

Ryan Knuppel: All right. Welcome back to another episode of The New Sport Show. I’m your host, Ryan Knuppel here with you each and every time. Today, we have another very special guest with us. I’m super excited about this show. Rick Wolf. The president of FantasyAlarm is with us today. Rick, thanks for joining me.

Rick Wolf: How you doing Ryan? I’m glad to be here and thank you very much for having me today.

Ryan Knuppel: I am super excited to hear about your journey and what you have going on with FantasyAlarm and all of the other fantasy products that you have in your suite of things. So I’m super excited about this one, should be amazing. I know you’ve been in the industry for quite some time. So first things first, how you hanging in there through this COVID pandemic? I think we’re finally, maybe getting towards the end of it. I keep saying that month after month, but we’re sitting here in February, at least here in Florida, we’re able to do a little bit of things, but how’s it looking for you there in New York?

Rick Wolf: Yeah. Well, like every other time that I was a little bit bored in my life going back to all the way to being five years old and being a little bored, collecting coins, and then selling them at lunchtime for other people’s lunch money. We use this time to invent other things and build other businesses, because you had more think time when there was no sports going on.

Rick Wolf: So look, I’m not minimizing the disaster that’s going on in the world. And I did lose a couple of friends, unfortunately, because I’m at ground zero here, just five miles from [New Shell 00:01:24]. So early on I did lose a couple of good friends, R-I-P, but we did use the time, the think time, to invent some other things. So the Alarm Sports Network is now four companies instead of one. And I think that part is exciting. And we were able to also build out a presence for one of the best talents in fantasy industry, Brad Evans, and his crew at Fade The Noise, the FTN sites, FTN Daily, FTN Fantasy, and FTN Bets. Our technology platform runs underneath that in order to help them maximize their revenues.

Ryan Knuppel: Sure, sure. Well, first of all, I’m sorry to hear you lost some friends. I mean that’s never good to hear. So our thoughts and prayers with their families and everybody that’s been impacted through this crazy time that we’re living through. So now let’s get onto the fun stuff. You actually talked to, already introduced a little bit about what you guys have going on with all of the new products and everything, but I want us first, I want you to go back a little bit and tell us a little bit about how you got into fantasy sports. Why are you in fantasy sports and I guess what led you to where you are today?

Rick Wolf: All right. Well, you can listen to SiriusXM, Colton & The Wolfman on Tuesday nights from 10:00 PM to midnight. And we have a segment that I call Forrest Gump. We cover the movies on that show as well as fantasy sports. And I feel like Forrest Gump, I mean I just happen to be in the room with Kennedy and Johnson. I just happened to be in the room looking out and the Watergate hotel being robbed. I just happen to wipe my face and invent the greatest t-shirt of all times. So just feel like I ended up in the right room with the right people. I will say a lot of it has to do with the love of beer. I mean sports fans love beer, and you have a couple of beers with somebody, then you come up with an idea and then all of a sudden you’re executing it.

Rick Wolf: And that’s what happened basically from my early twenties all the way until my early forties. So I started as an IBM programmer and they were basically, well who knows sports? And there’s a room of like 35 developers. And I’m the only one with my hand up. So, oh good, you’re going to work on the sports projects. So then I got a chance to help develop the first ever fantasy game online with Prodigy before the internet. It was five years before the internet even came out. And then I got a chance to put ESPN on Prodigy and I got a chance to develop all the tools for all the sports. I got a chance to parse the first wire feed and put up the first scoreboards and put up the first stats pages, put up the first March Madness bracket.

Rick Wolf: So just got a chance to do all these first things, but really it was just because I happened to be in the room and raised my hand because nobody else likes sports. So it’s better to be lucky than good. And then all that luck just pushes itself all in because the folks down in Fort Lauderdale, starting sports on USA, say, I want the guys who put ESPN on Prodigy. And I was the only guy. So they came after me hard. They only had three people in the company when they came to me and I kind of laughed. I’m like, you have no money. I’m 10 years with IBM. I’m like 40 days from my pension from hitting my ten-year pension.

Rick Wolf: I’m like, I’m not leaving IBM for you guys. And then like two months later, they got 5 million from Kleiner Perkins. They got money from IBM, US West. They got money from IMG. Piled up about $180 million. And then came back to me with an offer I couldn’t refuse. And I was on my way to South Florida to help start SportsLine, which became CBSsports.com.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. And what a cool story. I’ve never been given that answer, that beer got me to where I am today. That was a great answer.

Rick Wolf: Pretty much.

Ryan Knuppel: I love that answer.

Rick Wolf: I kept doubling down on that too. I mean, when we started the trade association in ’98, it was because a whole bunch of us were drinking beer at a conference and it didn’t work. We were at a fantasy conference that was supposed to be for consumers. And like 3000 people showed up and in a big venue that was supposed to be for like 40,000. So we got together and we said, why doesn’t everybody love fantasy like we do? And a bunch of really smart people started the association. And then, because I was starting CBS SportsLine, they wanted me to be one of the founding board members. And then again, I was buying all the drinks and that’s how we got the association, what is now the Fantasy Sports Gaming Association started.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s amazing. That’s a really cool story. And I think you’re being a little humble there. I mean, I’m a firm believer that luck is kind of a by-product of having skill and putting yourself in the right situations. You got to, it’s a combination. It’s not all luck, you know that as well as anyone.

Rick Wolf: Yeah, but I’ll go a little further on how beer was important here. Joe Namath was one of the first investors in SportsLine and his agent, Jimmy Walsh. And they were South Florida guys. And we were in South Florida. We were just North of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. And on Friday afternoons, they would bring over a keg of Heineken for all of us. And we would sit around and we’d have a bunch of beers. And then we would go, we would come up with an idea and we would actually go back into the building and build it that night. And so, a lot of the best ideas, [crosstalk 00:06:36]. The first commissioner, the first advanced scout, which now you can call a draft guide and the first online salary cap, we basically copied what CDM and Replica were doing and put it online. Those were all like made on Friday afternoons, the three developers and I would go back in and just start coding away until dawn.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s super cool. What a cool story and that’s awesome. So, man, you’ve had a ton of great experiences. Let’s now talk a little bit about what’s going on today with the Alarm Sports Network. I know you already kind of mentioned how you went from one company to four companies through the last, maybe six to nine months, but explain a little bit more about the Alarm Sports Network, where it got started and where it’s at now.

Rick Wolf: Yeah, yeah, will do. So the alarm sports network comes from after a stint with NBC, because I’m one of the guys who put, Rotoworld out as a destination site in 2001. So we sold that to NBC. And after working with NBC for five years on their digital strategy and helping them with NBCSports.com and NBCOlympics.com. I left because I wanted to stay just in fantasy. I wanted to be back in fantasy. And after dabbling with a couple of startup companies that didn’t make it and losing a bunch of money, I put together a plan for something called Rotonation. And it had pulling a couple of talent together, buying a couple of companies. And I actually had people ready to fund it. And I got a little cold feet and I said I really don’t want this much risk after two failures.

Rick Wolf: So I got together with Al Williams and his brother Dan, who were already running FantasyAlarm, already had great talent and told them my plan. And then they had a plan that was slightly different, but they had the guts to go ahead and buy those companies and acquire those talent that I wanted and then bring me on as president for us to run our playbook together. That was 2014. We had a bump in the road in 2016, because most of our strategy was surrounded daily fantasy sports. And the legislation that came, it took between 40 and 50% of the market out immediately when Eric Schneiderman in New York filed that letter, the cease and desist letter with FanDuel and DraftKings. And so we pivoted and part of that pivot was two things, one, creating our technology platform so that it could be licensable and doubling down on seasonal fantasy.

Rick Wolf: So now that allowed us to create what we now call The Alarm Sports Network. We have layered deals with, like I said, Fade The Noise and a huge media company, arguably the largest media company in the world. They don’t like us to tell folks that we’re powering a lot of their stuff underneath there, but you can probably guess from what I talked about moments ago, who it is. So we’ve created this Alarm Sports Network, FantasyAlarm, WagerAlarm. And we now have a property that delivers out information and suggested bets for wagering. We’re going to add a layer of tools to that. And then we have a data division called FANjections, which this is one is the most exciting to me. In Partnership with Sportradar, we are able to get data, then turn it into products and then deliver those products to the B2B marketplace. That coupled with our be don’t [BeAlarm 00:09:52] division, which provides platforms and games to folks.

Rick Wolf: Those two are very powerful compliments to each other in the B2B area. And then Fantasy Sports, Daily Fantasy Sports and Wagering within the B2C infrastructure. And you have the Alarm Sports Network. Now you can probably guess that there’s going to be more spokes coming out of the middle of that wheel. So whether, we’ve already started to work on e-sportsAlarm, which will launch next year. We are launching pieces of it on FantasyAlarm and WagerAlarm, as we speak. We’ve already developed projections for LOL, CSGO and COD. And we’re considering whether the next spoke is HorsesAlarm or maybe it’s something outside of sports or maybe it’s CardCollectorAlarm.

Ryan Knuppel: That’s such a big industry right now. I mean that industry is booming.

Rick Wolf: Yeah, and I got 20,000 baseball cards here somewhere from my childhood, all these seventies and eighties baseball cards.

Ryan Knuppel: Got some gems in there. I’m sure.

Rick Wolf: I guess I got some bent corners from flipping them at lunchtime.

Ryan Knuppel: Exactly.

Rick Wolf: But anyway, that’s the long winded way of saying you can tell I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish so far. And I think the future is bright for us to take the ability to take this platform, take our B2B mentality and turn it into B2C businesses.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. That’s super cool. You should be proud of what you have going on. I mean, that’s a big undertaking to have all these different spokes of a business and all these different areas. I mean, all this area in the sports is just booming right now. So I’m curious obviously it was probably a natural progression because you spent almost all your time in the fantasy sports area now kind of jumping into the betting area, which is where I’ve heavily kind of been in my career. I’m just curious, I guess, how that came about. I mean, it was just such a natural progression or was it like a decision that you’re like, “Hey, we got to finally do this.”

Rick Wolf: It’s the opposite of that. It started with betting. I mean, I used to be at Yonkers racetrack every day when I was between 17 and 20 years old. When I started the job at IBM, we used to go to Mets and Yankee games. We would stop at the bank first and pick up 50 singles. And then we bet balls and strikes while we were at the game. Or play the cup game, which you’re probably familiar with, which is a great game for baseball. And when I went to SportsLine, I went because it was a betting company. It was a gambling company. SportsLine. And originally I created contests and contest engines for sports betters, but there weren’t as many sports betters as there were regular sports fans, team fans and fantasy fans. Fantasy players at that time in ’95 represented about nine to 10% of the population and sports betters were about three and a half.

Rick Wolf: You know, now it’s 12% for sports betters and over 20% for fantasy players. So it’s really, the boom and the growth really happened between ’95 and now, but no, I mean, I helped prop up VegasInsider.com, which was a SportsLine property and we were betting first for sure. A 100%. And WagerAlarm also came out well before FantasyAlarm. It’s platform to deliver odds alerts to your phone was purchased, the technology was purchased, licensed. And so we couldn’t use it. So we put WagerAlarm on moth balls until it become legal. So both companies started as wagering in sports betting first.

Ryan Knuppel: Yeah. That’s interesting. That’s interesting. I had that backwards on you and that’s really cool insight into how you kind of got started with all of this.

Rick Wolf: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Any time you want to make a wager, we can figure that out.

Ryan Knuppel: I’m in. I’m in for a good friendly wager. So, you’re super intriguing to me, because you’re one of those guys that just seems like you have everything together. It seems like you’ve just made all the right moves. You’re really doing well in this space. But I know as an entrepreneur, I know as a business owner that it’s not always rosy, everything’s not always great. Give me maybe one of your biggest challenges right now, or maybe, I don’t know. You never know who’s listening to this. Maybe there’s somebody listening to this could help you with or something you’re looking for in business currently, are you guys going through any kind of challenges or is everything truly rosy and great?

Rick Wolf: Yeah. The biggest challenge for business people in fantasy or in gambling right now is balancing reinvestment in your company versus pushing money to the EBITDA, to the bottom line. Because when people are taking a look at your company, they always want to know how profitable you are. And so of course being more profitable is better, but at the same time, investing in your business will help you grow faster and help the EBITDA for next year be better. So you have that difficult balance, I think all the time. And then also the balance between personnel and technology. Where do you automate things? What do you automate? And how do you make sure that all the people who are on this journey with you feel important, feel like they know what their role is, feel like they have an important role, feel like their voice is heard, feel like they’re going to be an important part?

Rick Wolf: If there is a capital event, they’re going to be an important part of the next journey. So those things are the most complicated things, the human elements, because humans are more unpredictable than machines. So understanding the ins and outs of every single person I think is a really important challenge to everyone who’s in business. Especially in sports where you generally are paying people less money than you’re paying them in other industries because they, hell, they get to work in sports. So it has to be fun. It has to be exciting. There has to be a future where the money is going to come and those things are hard to communicate, balance and have people believe in you that you’re going to get there.

Ryan Knuppel: Absolutely. Love that answer. Great answer on that one. So I know you guys recently acquired what was it? FantasyRundown.com I believe. A big site you guys recently required acquired. I’m curious, is that one of your strategies going forward to continue looking for those types of properties to possibly acquire and bring into the network?

Rick Wolf: Yeah, like I said, we have a strong infrastructure right now, both technology and content. We got 40 content providers and we have a technology base that’s driving some of the biggest media companies in sports. So we know we got those two things covered. So now it’s time for us to reinvent ourselves. This summer we’ll do a relaunch, FantasyAlarm will be a brand new FantasyAlarm. There’ll be a couple of the things I can’t say yet that’ll be coming out, but acquiring sites like FantasyRundown and other sites that aggregate traffic is important. Also because we were so B2B oriented, we’re about the industry. So acquiring properties that distribute traffic to many different sites is good for us and for our partners and then allows us to do good things for the entire industry, which is sort of what we’ve always been about.

Rick Wolf: I mean having been one of the founding board members of the trade association means that I hopefully have helped give advice to lots of different companies that I have no financial basis in, but they’re part of the ecosystem that is fantasy sports or sports gambling. So we’re just proud of the whole industry. And we feel like this particular acquisition was an industry acquisition more so because we’ll do it right. Like if somebody else bought that, they might just funnel all the traffic to xyz.com. We’re going to continue with the model that exists on FantasyRundown, which is a distributor to the entire industry. And we’ll continue to be industry first, but that kind of element allows us to monetize a site that wasn’t currently being monetized and we’ll continue to look for sites like that.

Ryan Knuppel: Cool. Cool. Very cool. So speaking of, I’m almost done here, I know you got, you’re a busy man and I won’t keep you much longer, a couple other questions. So the fantasy sports and gaming association. So you’ve been with that forever. Founding, you mentioned it a couple of times, you helped found it back in the day. What’s the status? Are we going to get any live events this year, next year? Or are we all virtual these days? What’s your outlook on this actual event future, I guess in this space?

Rick Wolf: Yeah. Well the semi long answer, I apologize for this, I’ll try to keep it in about a minute, but we had planned to continue to have the January and Vegas was open and 50% of our members said they would go. The association voted that the optics of that would not be good. And true, look, I lost two friends. I’m sure a lot of people lost a lot more and, or have sick people in their family right now. And in the winter time it just wasn’t right. We think when we get to the summertime, it will be right. Enough people will be vaccinated. We’ll do testing. People will understand how to run events perfectly, because they’ve been running them. We have great events coordinators, and we’re planning to run our summer conference in Frisco, Texas.

Rick Wolf: So just outside of Dallas and at the Omni there, we have it scheduled for that. We’ve been building to have a live event there. It will be a larger space than we normally have, so everybody can keep proper distance. I’m not sure about the requirement for masks, but I’m like 90% sure that there’ll be a mask requirement. And we’ll make sure that everybody is safe who wants to make the trip. We know it’s difficult for a lot of people, but being where it is and in Texas means that people will be able to get in and out of Dallas. And we hope that that makes it available. And then we’re planning to be in Las Vegas next January as usual.

Ryan Knuppel: Very nice. Very nice, Rick. Awesome. Well, I appreciate your time, Rick. Any last words for the audience before we jump off here?

Rick Wolf: Yes.

Ryan Knuppel: Ah, good.

Rick Wolf: I say, do what feels good for you. So if it feels good to play fantasy, because it makes the games more fun to watch, do it. If it feels good to bet, do it. Be careful about betting or playing too much that it affects things. But fun is the best thing to have. And if sports and fantasy sports and betting or e-sports, or any of these things are more fun for you and create excitement and fun in your life. Do it.

Ryan Knuppel: Great advice from one of the great ones in the industry. Rick Wolf with us here once again. Rick, I appreciate your time that you gave us here today.

Rick Wolf: All right. Thank you, Ryan. Appreciate you.

Ryan Knuppel: All right. Thanks for being here, Rick. Thank you all for listening and tuning into this episode. I appreciate you all. As always, stay safe and until next time have a great day. Bye bye.

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