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Bodog.com is back...and Alwyn Morris is ready for the ride. Morris Mohawk Gaming Group style.29 May 2009
By Rebecca Liggero
Most people don't know that you've won two Olympic medals, including gold in Los Angeles in 1984. What events did you compete in? Do you still remember those races down to the exact detail? And if so, what are your most vivid memories of those races? And how did training for and competing in the Olympics prepare you for the rest of your life?
We took home the gold medal in the K-2 1000 metre event, and a bronze in the K-2 500 metre event.
The time and energy I dedicated to training and competing in the Olympics easily carried over into my career in government, business and as an aboriginal ambassador. I knew that with enough hard work and dedication I could achieve nearly anything I set my mind to and that philosophy has stuck with me to this day.
You are also a member of the Order of Canada. For those that don't know, what is the Order of Canada? Why were you made a member? And why was the work you did to become a member so important to you?
The Order of Canada is the highest civilian order that is bestowed in Canada - I've been told that it's approximately equivalent to the US Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was an incredibly humbling honour for me as a Canadian, because the Order of Canada recipients include people like Marshall McLuhan, Pierre Trudeau, and Bora Laskin.
I was awarded the Order of Canada for my work with Aboriginal youth in the field of Alcohol and Drug abuse. Alcohol and Drug abuse has always been a concern in the aboriginal community and I wanted to use my newly found status as an aboriginal ambassador to give back to my community while also raising awareness of the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse in youth.
To even be considered for the Order that is commonly granted to geniuses, Prime Ministers, and Supreme Court Chief Justices was an overwhelming privilege – it's difficult to describe.
I was born in November of 1957 in Montreal, Canada. A canoe club opened and I along with many of my friends went to the club to see what the sport was all about. After some trial and error and some unplanned swimming, I decided that it was a fun sport and became hooked.
Prior to your work as chief executive officer of the Morris Mohawk Gaming Group (MMGG), what experience did you have in the online gambling industry? And how has that experience helped you in you current work? Also, what did you do prior to forming MMGG? And how did those experiences help you prepare for what you're doing now?
Prior to becoming CEO of MMGG, I championed the cause of Drug and Alcohol abuse awareness in youth and worked as the Associate Director for the Mohawk Council of Chiefs. Doing so made me principal advisor to some of Kahnawake's most important government and third-party negotiations, including those relating to online gaming.
When and how did you meet Calvin Ayre? What were your first impressions of him? How have your impressions of him changed over time? How long was it from your first meeting with him to when you knew you wanted to license the Bodog name, to when the deal was actually struck?
We were introduced in Montreal by a mutual friend. I was interested in the online gaming industry as it has become a powerful economic engine for our indigenous self governing jurisdiction of Kahnawake. Meeting Calvin for the first time was a great pleasure. I was well aware of his work as founder of Bodog and immediately developed a great deal of respect for him as a very intelligent businessman. It took a few months in late 2006, early 2007 to put the deal together, but it wasn't long after that before the business had been smoothly and successfully transitioned.
What was it about the Bodog brand that you found so attractive? Were you ever tempted to build your own brand? Or did you know for certain that licensing the Bodog brand was clearly the way to go?
I was absolutely considering developing a stand-alone brand. But, while I was confident that the Group could deliver technically and from a customer service point of view, building a brand from zero is both a time-consuming and – if you're going to really do it right – an insanely expensive proposition. Calvin and his team at the time had done such a powerful job of defining and embodying Bodog's brand values – this irreverent, rogue-like, entertainment brand – that the opportunity to license that kind of awareness was, essentially, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
It didn't take me long to make the decision.
To be clear – our brand license agreement only gives us access to the brand for online gaming, and only in our territory. We don't have anything to do with the deals to license the brand for Bodog Fight or Bodog Music or any of the other things they're working on. So, online gaming is all we do.
We manage the product development, maintain the infrastructure, run customer service, marketing, and so on. We get access to some suppliers that service Bodog Europe as well that will, I assume, also service Bodog Asia, but we're running the operation and ultimately supplier selection is our decision to make, subject to certain limited restrictions in our brand license deal. I suppose the simplest way to think about it is as a kind of franchise. In the same way most fast food franchises are individually owned and run businesses, each with their own staff, costs, management, etc., they all license the company brand from the franchisor, and they pay for the privilege. Of course, corporate makes sure that the brand is treated consistently by all its franchisees, so that a franchise in Moscow will deliver a consistent experience as one in Minnesota, and the franchisees have to adhere to these rules when they sign on. The franchisees also get access to company suppliers. On a different scale, that's exactly what is happening here – the MMGG is the equivalent of the local company management, and "Bodog" the licensing group is the equivalent of the franchisor. We hold the exclusive "Bodog" franchise for this market, Bodog Europe owns it for their market, and the Haydock group will own it for Asia.
You recently regained the bodog.com domain. What impact will this have on MMGG's business plans? What specific things are we going to see as a result of the reacquisition of the domain? Will we see any changes to your casino and poker offerings? How does getting bodog.com affect Bodog's global plans?
Firstly, just to be precise, it wasn't really a "re-acquisition", because the MMGG never owned these domains. We originally had access to the domains under the terms of the brand license agreement as one of the elements that we licensed. We do own them now, though.
Beyond the migration of the site from www.bodoglife.com to www.bodog.com, I'm not sure the acquisition of the domains will have a concrete impact on the product offerings per se. However, it will significantly impact marketing strategy and it has, as you point out, changed the way the other brand licensees will market and interact with one another. Though our businesses are all separate and our licensing agreements essentially limit each licensee's branded business to specific territories, the world – particularly for digital companies – is a very small and connected place.
So, what we have agreed with Bodog and with the European and Asian gaming brand licensees is that Bodog.com will be redirected to the appropriate licensee website depending on where the visitor is located. The geo-location technology to do this reliably is now quite excellent. The benefit of this, of course, is that every brand licensee can now advertise the same domain name, so marketing or adverting that "spills over" from one licensee's territory into another actually benefits everyone and no market confusion results. This reinforces a single, unified brand and also gives the licensees the option of sharing creative assets or even campaign concepts from region to region as appropriate.
We're already seeing a significant uptake in search value for this domain, and while it's difficult to quantify, the impact that this has had on staff morale has been pretty remarkable. And affiliates have been calling every day. The business of the MMGG, but also I'm told the business of Bodog Europe, has been getting tremendous traction and almost every metric is moving in the right direction. The acquisition of the domains and the "return" of the Bodog experience to its rightful home has got everyone firing on all cylinders and extremely excited about the future.
For our customers, we hope they sense this renewed enthusiasm and enjoy the benefits as the products and the experience just keep getting better and better. We have an enormous group of fiercely loyal customers that have stood by us, and we intend to make sure their loyalty is rewarded.
And hey, if nothing else, the new domain means a lot less typing...
There's been a lot of speculation about "Bodog" opening to Canada, which is a market that has never been permitted to play on your site. Is that something we can expect to see?
What changes can Bodog casino and poker players expect to see to their experience over the next few months?
Working hard to improve the user experience, reduce barriers to entry and add in more forms of digital entertainment. We expect to be starting to benefit from digital entertainment that is manufactured by our franchise partners in other jurisdictions and this is a great reason to want to be a part of the edgy bodog brand family.
When it comes to Bodog Casino specifically, there are plans in place to refresh and update the casino lobby itself, while at the same time adding new, exciting games, and offering a wide array of tournaments, contests and promos, giving players even more opportunity to win great bonuses and prizes.
What are the key challenges MMGG faces as it moves forward? Why do you believe MMGG is well-positioned to help grow the Bodog brand?
Great question, but my answer might surprise you. I think our group's most significant challenge over the next twelve to eighteen months is going to be growth management.
Now, be honest...Even though Calvin is supposed to be "retired," how much does he bug you about MMGG's operations? Have you ever visited Calvin at his San Jose compound? How about his Antigua compound? And if so, what's that like? Are the parties with Calvin all they're rumored to be? Come on, share some Calvin dirt!!
To be honest, I was bugging him for months after the deal! He probably just wanted me to lose his number. There was no escaping the fact that Calvin built the brand and that business and team in a way that, literally, no one else could have. I would have been a fool to have let that kind of industry expertise just slip through my fingers. In the brand license deal, I had negotiated for him to continue to do some media and PR for the brand for a period after the MMGG assumed control, mostly because I knew he would be almost irreplaceable in that role, but my ulterior motive was to keep him involved so that we could do as much knowledge transfer as possible while we had access to him. He'd already told me he'd be retiring from the online gaming space at that stage, though, and I had a pretty good idea of his timeline.
I hear all the time that Calvin must still be running things behind the scenes – maybe it's because I'm just much lower profile and I put such a premium on my privacy. I keep expecting him to pop out from a closet or something...
Candidly, though – Calvin has never even been to the MMGG offices.
The only minimal contact I have with him anymore is in his role as one of the stakeholders in the brand licensing organization in Antigua, or if I reach out to him to talk about something specific. Other than that, for good or for ill, the buck stops here.
Have I been to Calvin's places? Yes, certainly. I stayed at the Bodog compound in Antigua when the initial negotiations around the brand licensing were taking place. It's beautiful – right on a private beach and with the Bodog boat moored fifteen feet from the door. His place is beautiful and the beaches are obviously fantastic, but it's probably a lot less ostentatious than people might expect.
As far as "Calvin dirt" goes, I don't think I'll be of much use, I'm afraid. You see, what a lot of people don't fully appreciate is that the Calvin that was in front of the camera was not Calvin "the executive". When the cameras shut off, he took off the brand ambassador hat and became a serious, dedicated and at times very demanding executive. He wanted his team to be the industry elite and Bodog customers to simply love the entire experience, and there was a zero-tolerance policy on mediocrity. You were the best or you were gone. That's the Calvin that I know, and that's the culture and attitude we try to inspire here.
The World Series of Poker is coming up. What sort of presence are you going to have there? What sort of presence is MMGG and Bodog going to have there? Will you be running any WSOP promotions that we need to be aware of?
The WSOP is the biggest poker event in the world and Bodog will have an on ground presence similar to that of last years. Our focus this year will not necessarily fall on on-site events, but will rather focus on the online. We will be qualifying and sending a team of players to the WSOP in a manner and style that could only be done by Bodog, but our big push will be in the online space. Our poker pros will be twittering live, from the tables, as they compete for glory, pictures and videos of our pros and qualifiers will be distributed through numerous social and alternative methods online, a number of special promotions and events will be undertaken and the Bodog brand will definitely be well known by all those not only attending the event, but watching it and reading about it from the comfort of their homes. We'll even be running special online promotions for those not fortunate enough to be attending the event in person. Beyond that, you'll just have to stay tuned for more details.
Now that you have bodog.com back, is there a Bodog online store coming up soon?
My group is heads-down on making the customer experience and product suite absolutely second to none – that is their sole mandate and total focus. No one would dare suggest anything else in front of me. So, to answer your question - the MMGG won't be putting up a retail store. However, I do know that the Bodog licensing group has a number of irons in the fire, and an online store is certainly one of them. That's a question better directed to them, though.
Out of curiosity, what are the most popular slots at Bodog's casino?
As you no doubt already know, Bodog's Casino offers hundreds of different game types ranging from the classic table games like Blackjack and Craps, to numerous video poker and slots games, and even Keno, but when it comes to slots specifically, the three most popular games are Food Fight, Cesar's Empire and Jackpot Piñatas. In addition to these games, Bodog offers two games that cannot be found anywhere else, Mystic Shuffle Hi-Lo and Dirty Martini slots.
A lot of the Bodog brand is about living the good life. What do you do to live the good life?
I think the "good life" is different for everyone. For some people, it's about income or prestige. For others, it's the freedom to travel or spend time with your family. As terrible as the economic crisis has been; the one good thing that I think it has done is recalibrate how people think about "the good life". For me, the good life is wanting to leap out of bed everyday to help build something remarkable, something that entertains people. Of course I want to provide for my family and to create a business where my staff can develop and provide for their families as well.
That's the good life to me, and I'm living it.
What can affiliate marketers expect out of Bodog in the coming months?
The cut over to the new structure with MMGG running everything is done, and now we are focusing on increasing conversion rates, improving upon people's ability to easily access and enjoy the Bodog experience, and revitalizing the Bodog brand in the United States.
Affiliates are an incredibly important part of Bodog's business. With this in mind, we know the top item on every affiliate partners wish list is high conversion rates, and we feel the resurrection of Bodog.com will go a long way in leveraging the Bodog brand on an international scale, giving new and existing affiliate partners a huge opportunity to convert new streams of traffic into solid revenue growth. Along with the increased global visibility of the Bodog brand, there are numerous other advancements Bodog affiliate partners can look forward to in the coming months, including: new measures to improve a new players ability to successfully deposit and convert, raised awareness and presence of the Bodog brand both on and offline, an expanded player marketing team focused solely on marketing to new and existing players, and a reinvigorated sales team focused on acquisitions and improving the on boarding process.
It is going to be a momentous year for the Bodog brand on the global stage and we're very happy to be a part of it.
And finally, what are three things nobody knows about Bodog? What are three things that nobody knows about you?
1.Well, I'm not sure nobody knows, but one thing is certain, the business and varying supporting teams behind it are incredibly strong. The Bodog brand is known around the globe and we're very happy to have our team as one of the driving forces behind the brand's expansion and notoriety.
2.For a group so insanely, fanatically, pathologically obsessed with sports, our company hockey team is really pretty sad.
3.President Obama's dog "Bo" was originally going to be named Sportingbet until our crack PR team got involved.
1.I love James bond movies.