Edmonton's The Nation Network scores $15M deal

· The Pulse
By Paul Cashman
in the Business Roundup

Edmonton-based The Nation Network (TNN), a once-struggling Oilers fan website that now boasts a roster of popular sports media products, has been sold in a deal that could reach $15 million to a company that has its eyes on the billions of dollars Canadians bet each year on their favourite teams.

The buyer, Toronto-based Playmaker Capital, bills itself as a "digital sports media company that lives at the intersection of sports, betting, media, and technology" that can "deliver highly engaged audiences of sports fans to sports betting companies, leagues, teams, and advertisers."

"We will be the independent source for sports fans in Canada to read up on their favourite teams and what the best bet of the night may be," Playmaker CEO Jordan Gnat said in a video following the Nov. 3 announcement of the purchase.

The deal breaks down into $6 million cash, another $6 million in shares, and up to $3 million for hitting financial targets over the next 12 months.

TNN properties have scored more than one billion page views since 2007 when co-founders Jay Downton and Clark Murray started it in protest over the Oilers trade of fan favourite Ryan Smyth to the New York Islanders.

The Nation Network co-founder Jay Downton

The Nation Network co-founder Jay Downton is at the centre of $15-million deal. Explore Edmonton

TNN has grown to own more than 10 web properties, including OilersNation, CanucksArmy, Hockey Fights, and Daily Faceoff. DFO alone generates 83 million page views annually; the TNN properties combined reach about 5.4 million social media followers on multiple platforms.

"Nation Citizens, your amazing support is the foundation that made this happen. Nation team, your effort is what gave us the fuel to keep growing. Our investors, we are forever grateful for your belief in us," Downton posted on Twitter.

Chris LaBossiere, the CEO of Altitude Investments CEO which acquired a 20% stake in TNN in March, welcomed the Playmaker deal. "We had one goal," he said on LinkedIn. "Help unleash the potential of this small #YEG hockey entertainment company that had a very special ability to authentically connect with fans."

Playmaker's strategy is "rolling up digital sports media assets," Gnat told the Globe & Mail in August. That was after the TSX Venture-listed company snapped up soccer-focused websites in a deal that grew its operations to 10 offices across the Americas and Europe, with its properties earning 1.4 billion ad impressions each month.

"We are beyond excited to be joining the Playmaker family," Downton said in a news release. "It's refreshing to work with a group that understands and shares the same fan-first culture as we do because, like us, they are sports fans."

Downton, who is also president of Oodle Noodle and co-Founder of Little Brick Café, said the deal will allow more investment in content creation, talent recruitment, partnerships, and strategic acquisitions. "We are excited to get to work!"

Gnat highlighted the coming opportunity for Playmaker as Ontario opens its market to third-party operators, part of a Canada-wide rush of provinces announcing rules for the sports-betting industry after the federal government lifted its ban on single-game sports betting. AGLC launched Play Alberta on Sept. 1 as the province's only regulated, online gambling website.

When announcing the changes, the federal government cited estimates that Canadians spend about $10 billion a year betting on single sporting events illegally in the black market and another $4 billion in offshore jurisdictions where the bets are legal.