Larry Schwartz & Leonard Asper Profiles
Leonard Asper is the son of late media baron Izzy Asper and the CEO of Anthem Sports & Entertainment. He is a member of the Ontario bar, a father of three, an avid hockey fan, a skilled pianist, and a Zionist. Anthem's key competitors are ESPN, FloSports, and USA Networks. The company purchased a majority stake in AXS TV in September 2019.
LEONARD ASPER'S BIOGRAPHY
Personal Background and Personality
- Leonard Asper was born on May 31, 1964, to Babs Asper (late) and Izzy Asper (late). Leonard's father, Izzy Asper, was a tax lawyer and briefly an MLA of the provincial Liberal party before he built CanWest Global Communications Corp into one of Canada's leading media companies.
- Leonard grew up in River Heights, Winnipeg in a comfortable home and had a normal upbringing. As a kid, Leonard Asper used to mimic Baron Van Raschke (The Clawmaster) and wrestle his 6-year-older bother who pretended to be The Crusher, both American Wrestling Association wrestlers.
- Leonard's siblings, Gail Asper, President and Trustee of The Asper Foundation and David Asper, an entrepreneur, PE investor, lawyer, and philanthropist, are both older to him.
- Leonard's father believed that Leonard was more suited than his older siblings to take charge as CEO of CanWest. According to Leonard's sister, "his personality allows him to do CEO things, and flip from one crisis to another".
- In an interview, Leonard makes a philosophical reference to one of Rudyard Kipling's poems (If): "If you can keep your head while all around are losing theirs...you'll be a man my son".
- Leonard, a natural-born leader, held the role of the president through 10-12 grades. He follows a set of 11-12 leadership principles, some of which are 1) "lead by example" 2) "add levity and celebrate success" 3) "engage people on a one-to-one basis" 4) "empower people and give them decision-making ability" 5) "make the company objective and vision clear to everyone".
- Like most heirs of successful entrepreneurs, Leonard aspired to outdo his father's achievements, as a result of which, he took more chances and raised more debt than was healthy. He had an upbringing where his family always encouraged him to aim high and excel to be the best. As of today, he continues to make acquisitions; his company Anthem recently acquired AXS TV, its largest acquisition to date.
- The Asper family's $2 billion of inherited assets shrunk to $341 million during the 2008 financial crisis (and CanWest went bankrupt).
- Though Leonard doesn't follow Judaism and doesn't consider himself to be culturally Jewish, he is a Zionist. He has raised money and strengthened political support for Israel; he is also critical of Canada's unsupportive foreign policies toward the country and has promoted his views through the print publications CanWest acquired in the early 2000s.
- Leonard is married to Susan Asper and has three children, Sarah, Olivia, and Matthew.
- Leonard Asper graduated from Brandeis University (1982-86) with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Government (cum laude, 1982-86), following which he completed a Bachelor of Law from the University of Toronto (1986-89).
Professional Experience and Accolades
- Leonard Asper joined CanWest Global Communications Corp, a company founded in the 70s by his father Izzy Asper, in 1991. Leonard wanted the company to be a real competitor in the international market and was involved in "the company's international business development in the South Pacific, Ireland and entertainment divisions". A few years later, he transitioned from global corporate development to being COO of CanWest.
- In 1999, at the age of 35, he was appointed as the "CEO of Canwest Global ". At that point, the company had a strong foothold in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Ireland.
- A year after Mr. Asper took over as CEO, CanWest acquired most of Hollinger's newspapers to become the largest media conglomerate in Canada. Leonard Asper also led the company's new media and internet initiatives, something his father approached with restrain and continued consolidating the company's international presence. The company doubled in size during his tenure.
- Mr. Asper served as the CEO of CanWest Global for 10 years before resigning in March 2010, citing a conflict of interest--to "bid to stay on as a key investor" at debt-laden CanWest, which was under bankruptcy protection a little after the 2008 financial crisis. He then founded Anthem Sports & Entertainment Corp. (in 2010) and has served as its President & CEO since November 2011.
- Leonard restarted his journey by purchasing a 30% stake in Fight Network, with the option to increase stake to 51% later. In the last decade, his company also purchased major equity stakes in Pursuit Channel (2013), IMPACT Wrestling (2017), and AXS TV (2019). Leonard Asper is a private equity investor too.
- Mr. Asper is a partner at a law firm focused on the video gaming sector and is also a "member of the Ontario Bar". He served on the Board of Trustees at Brandeis University for several terms and is currently on the "Board of Overseers of the International Business School at Brandeis University, where he founded the Asper School for Global Entrepreneurship". He is also a "Trustee of The Asper Foundation".
- Leonard Asper founded the Joshua Foundation and is a "member of the Board of Governors of the Saul and Claribel Simkin Center," a seniors’ residential complex in Winnipeg, CA. He was on the University of Winnipeg Foundation's board for five years and was also awarded an "honorary Doctorate in Laws" by the institution.
- Mr. Asper was on the "Canada's Top 40 Under 40" list and was also recognized as the "CEO of the year" by a Canadian media publication, Playback.
Hobbies & Initiatives
- Growing up, Leonard Asper was a big fan of hockey and always wanted to be a professional hockey player; he could play the sport well enough to "shoot on the fly" and used to idolize David Keon (Toronto Maple Leafs). Now and then there are rumors that he has a stake in a group that plans to bring back NHL to Winnipeg.
- In September 2002, after Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at Concordia University, Montreal was disrupted by "200 window-smashing protesters", Mr. Asper produced and aired Confrontation at Concordia, a pro-Israel documentary where he compared the incident to Nazi tactics employed during the Holocaust.
- Leonard Asper and his wife founded the Joshua Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on "inner-city issues including poverty, hunger, victims of abuse, and education".
- As a kid, Leonard Asper's parents made him practice the piano for an hour every day, "something he is grateful for today". He is an adept pianist and could play anything he chooses with great ease, even Guns n' Roses.
Anthem Entertainment & Sports
- Players Media Group, a sports-entertainment company in which Anthem is an investor, announced that it will be launching a new sports, culture, and lifestyle entertainment network, PlayersTV, in March 2020 (announced in Feb 2020).
- IMPACT deal signed a multi-year deal with e.tv, a SouthAfrica-based free-to-air TV station, that will enable it to reach 50 Sub-Saharan African countries (Nov 2019).
- Game+ network was launched on Videotron, Quebec's largest cable operator, in November 2019.
- IMPACT Wrestling entered an agreement with AXS TV to broadcast its popular weekly program IMPACT! on AXS (Sept. 2019).
- Anthem Sports & Entertainment purchased a majority stake in HDNet, LLC, the parent of AXS TV and HD Net Movies, from Mark Cuban (Sept. 2019).
- Immediately post the acquisition, Anthem laid off 80 AXS TV workers, including 40 permanent employees (Sept. 2019).
- FITE TV signed an agreement with IMPACT Wrestling to bring its SVOD subscription platform, Impact Plus, to FITE (August 2019).
- Anthem Sports & Entertainment hired Bob Gold & Associates as its corporate communications partner (May 2019).
- Game+ entered a 3-year broadcasting deal with Drone Champions League for the US and Canada (May 2019).
- Anthem Sports & Entertainment became a live broadcaster for Cheddar Esports's daily program (May 2019).
- Game+ entered a deal with VSiN to broadcast A Numbers Game, VSiN's sports-betting show (May 2019).
- IMPACT Wrestling launched IMPACT Plus, its digital video-on-demand (VOD) service that provides access to the "3,000-plus hour IMPACT Wrestling library, groundbreaking original series, reality shows and documentaries, exclusive events from international promotional partners and historical content from old territories" (May 2019).
- IMPACT Wrestling signed a deal with Channel 5 to broadcast its popular show IMPACT! in the UK on the 5STAR channel (April 2019).
- There is no major news related to Leonard Asper in the last 12 months that is not related to the aforementioned company announcements.
ANTHEM'S TOP COMPETITORS
- Overview: ESPN is a sports channel with the broadcast rights to marquee live sports events in the US such as the Super Bowl, NBA, US Open, and MLB. It is the third-most watched TV network in the US after Fox News and MSNBC and it also has a streaming service (ESPN+).
- Why is it a top competitor: ESPN+ has the broadcast rights for UFC, the top MMA promotion in the US. ESPN is the top full-time cable network for men in the 18-34, 18-49, and 25-54 demographic. While ESPN is primarily a mainstream sports channel, it has been included as a top competitor to Anthem (niche sports) as it is the top sports channel for the younger male demographic and also broadcasts the most popular MMA promotion.
- ESPN's website can be found here.
- Overview: FloSports is an OTT service for niche, local sports and covers 10,000 live events annually. The content is targeted at underserved segments like cord-cutters, fans of local sports, and niche sports fans. The company was founded in 2006, it has 250 employees and is based in Austin, Texas.
- Why is it a top competitor: Younger audiences are moving to OTT platforms as it allows them to watch content at their own time; millennials are FloSports’s core audience. While FloSports covers local level “track and field, soccer, softball, rodeo, cycling, volleyball, bowling and swimming”, it also has four sites dedicated to combat-- FloWrestling, FloGrappling, FloBoxing, and FloCombat. Additionally, FloSports is a household name in the OTT space and WWE is an investor in the company.
- FloSports website can be found here.
- Overview: USA Network is owned by NBC Universal and has been the number 1 "cable entertainment network for 14 years". It airs a diverse set of programs that include series and movies, WWE, dramas, comedies, and more.
- Why is it a top competitor: USA Network has the rights to WWE's Monday Night Raw (5.4 million viewers/ week), the most popular wrestling program in the US. It currently targets millennials and most of its audience is from the 18-49 group, unlike earlier when the primary audience was boomers. In August 2019, WWE also moved its NXT franchise to USA Network. Also, like AXS TV and HDNet Movies, USA Network's programming also includes movies.
- USA Network's website can be found here.
According to its Linkedin Profile, Anthem Sports & Entertainment is a consolidation of independent TV channels that targets the hard-to-reach male demographic. To understand the nature of sports and entertainment programs on Anthem's channels, we researched the type of content, reach, and revenue for each channel (provided in the last section of this report). Anthem's programming is largely related to combat sports, gaming, reality TV, outdoor, music, movies, and documentaries targeting male viewers.
At its core, Anthem is a niche sports network that has expanded to films and documentaries through its recent acquisition (Sept. 2019) of AXS TV and HDNet Movies. The average age of most mainstream sports audience is 50+. Anthem targets a harder-to-reach younger male demographic--for example, MMA's target demographic is 18-34-year-olds--through combat sports, esports, and gaming. Therefore, we have identified Anthem’s competitors as any sports and entertainment network or OTT service that targets millennials and broadcasts content similar to Anthem.
In order to determine the top three competitors, we first identified the top MMA promotions and wrestling promotions in the US and then identified the networks with broadcast rights for both promotions. UFC is the most popular MMA promotion and its broadcast rights in the US are with ESPN. The rights for WWE, the most popular wrestling promotion, are with USA Network and Fox Sports. Additionally, we considered sports OTT platforms such as the DAZN, Bleacher Report, Fite TV, and FloSports. While there were no common metrics available (for all three competitors) to make comparisons, we used qualitative information, the value of broadcast rights and anecdotally-observed media mentions and determined the top three competitors.
Anthem Sports & Entertainment Units
Type: live music, entertainment, and combat sport (MMA and wrestling)
Reach: 50+ million TV homes in the US and n “AT&T TV, Sling TV, and Philo”
Revenue: $56 million
Type: films and documentaries
Reach: 12 million MVPD homes in the US and Sling TV
Type: wrestling entertainment
Revenue: “40+ million monthly viewers on YouTube” and also "televised on numerous networks including Fight Network and GameTV in Canada, Twitch.TV and Pursuit Channel in the US, Sony ESPN in India, 5STAR and Fight Network in the United Kingdom, SuperSport in Africa and MVStv in Mexico".
Type: $6 million
Type: a mobile app that provides access to “IMPACT Wrestling library, groundbreaking original series, reality shows, documentaries, and exclusive events from international partners”.
Reach: “iOS and Android, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV, and on the web at impactplus.tv”.
Type: combat sports channel (boxing, martial arts, kickboxing, wrestling, and more)
Reach: 43+ million TV homes in the US, Canada, UK, Europe, Africa, and on Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire TV, and more.
Revenue: $3 million
Type: “features game show formats, both current and past, reality series, drama, documentary series, feature films, sports-based games including esports, card-based games including poker, live sporting events such as rugby and wrestling.”
Reach: 8 million TV homes in Canada
Revenue: $14 million
Type: "sports-wagering programs, esports news and information, fantasy sports programming, high stakes poker, and other action-driven shows and lifestyle programming"
Reach: 1 million MVPD homes in Canada and the US and on Roku
Type: outdoor channel (fishing, hunting, etc.)
Reach: 35+ million TV homes in the US and on Roku
Revenue: $18 million