William Woodhams, Fitzdares: bringing luxury betting to the ‘real deal’ Canadian market

This week, luxury sports betting brand Fitzdares announced its international debut as it launched in Ontario, marking its first global market outside of the UK, where it has a storied history. 

With over 140 years of operations and a strong reputation as a provider of premium sports betting experiences through its Fitzdares Club model, the firm did not take the decision to expand into Canada lightly. 

But, according to William Woodhams, CEO of Fitzdares, entering Canada is the perfect move at this moment in time, given its luxury niche, Ontario’s concentrated wealth areas and the appetite of the locals to place bets. 

Speaking exclusively to SBC, Woodhams outlined his thought process when taking his company to Ontario.

Bringing British luxury to Canada

“Canada is the fastest-growing economy in the G7,” he explained. “It’s also a very experience-focused province, and people love sport, the great outdoors and have a long history of enjoying wagers – it’s just not been legal. 

“There is an engaged wealthy audience and a sensible compliance and legislation structure., and the province has invested to make this work. What we’re hopefully going to see is a safe gambling environment from the start.”

With Fitzdares’ razor-sharp focus on bringing a luxurious experience to sports bettors, it was essential to identify key markets in which the audience would be receptive to such a strategy, especially in a time when post-pandemic, the global economy is not in the healthiest position. 

Woodhams noted: “Coming in from the luxury proposition, Canadians have good taste – they’re not flashy but they love quality, and that’s what we offer. Canadians are also the nicest people in the world.

“Toronto is one of the most up-and-coming and vibrant cities going, all of the sport is a five-minute walk, the airport is nearby, and there’s a great culture and cuisine. It’s the real deal.”

Many businesses will seek to alter their strategy or tailor their offerings to consumers in different parts of the world to maximize value out of the market. Fitzdares is no different in this regard, but its aim is not to deviate from its strategy at all. Rather, it will double down on its premium and luxury offering. 

“I’d actually say we’re probably going to go more premium because, in the UK, it’s a very crowded market. We’ve been cognizant of not being too snooty in the UK, and we didn’t want to put people off by being too posh. 

“I honestly think Canadians will respond very well to a premium product offering. So in a sense, we’re doubling down on that bespoke element.”

Expanding on what he calls the ‘premiumization’ of gambling, which has been exacerbated by recent economic headwinds, Woodham outlined that consumers are increasingly seeking a better experience with betting products. 

Such premiumization, he states, means that gambling is becoming more of a luxury pastime with the average citizen’s wallet shrinking over the last year given rising inflation. 

But doubling down on luxury doesn’t necessarily mean only rich people can bet, as Woodham explained: “That doesn’t mean you have to bet $500, though. It just means it should be a great customer service experience. 

“The tech should be phenomenal. You should get invited to events that should be a really premium experience, whether you’re a $5 punter or $100 punter.”

Exclusive Super Bowl launch party

Now that the company is setting up shop in Ontario, attention is turning to attracting high-level customers in what the CEO is labeling as a ‘small start’. 

Aiming to be the go-to betting destination for Toronto’s elite, Fitzdares is hosting a launch party pop-up for 100 invited guests ahead of the Super Bowl.

Citing that 60% of Canada’s wealth is located in the Greater Toronto Area, Woodhams detailed that the launch party is part of a concerted effort to target its main demographic before opening up to the wider public. 

“There’s a lot of disposable income in the province, and we’ve just decided to target the top 100 sports punters. 

“In March we will open up our cohort to people who just want to sign up with us, but to start with we want to target a smaller group with the personal service that we deliver in the UK.

“We are starting small, we’re not going in with a $500 deposit bonus, doing marketing on the sides of buses. For us, the focus is on the audience sitting in the good seats of the Leaf’s games. 

“In a sense, if you’re launching in LA, you want the people on the court side of the Lakers as your first 100 customers. In Toronto, it’s the people with the best seats at the Leaf’s game.”

Drowning punters in lobster and champagne

Asked about the firm’s marketing strategy upon launch, given the tight restrictions in the Ontario igaming market, Woodhams was unapologetically luxurious in his response. 

“I won’t lie, I want to drown the first cohort of customers in lobster and champagne. I think what we’ve done took us 100 years before we cracked it in the UK – the Fitzdares Club concept – which is putting the customer in the lifestyle pages of the newspaper rather than the trade or the sports pages.

“If we were to launch a fashion brand in Toronto, how would we do that? We’d have a store launch, we’d have a drinks party. We’d speak to all the hockey players and invite them. So in a sense, that’s our strategy at launch.”

Fitzdares’ CEO was incredibly upbeat about the regulatory framework in place in Ontario, given its strictness with regard to advertising, noting that the province is “doing a better job than 90% of US states” on regulations and striking the right balance.

He detailed: “There is an engaged wealthy audience and a sensible compliance and legislation structure., and the province has invested to make this work. What we’re hopefully going to see is a safe gambling environment from the start. 

“We’re going to see an open market in the US and then see legislation piling in, like with the White Paper coming in the UK. Ontario has set the benchmark in the right place. They’re probably going to cancel using sports stars, and tweak the model, but won’t have to do a huge step back as some US states will. 

“I can’t think of a better place for our model to work.”

Noting that AGCO’s reporting is second to none, Woodhams also praised the regulatory framework in Ontario, adding that it sets the benchmark for other global markets. 

“This will be the benchmark for how states in the US should open, and the rest of the world – such as the Middle East and Asia – should look to the province too,” Woodhams explained. 

“When the province went live in April, there was a push for a first mover advantage, but this advantage wasn’t as big as many thought. The province is now settling and the numbers that came out recently are phenomenal.”

Looking ahead, Fitzdares aims to find retail locations for Clubs across Ontario to replicate its UK operations. Whilst downtown Toronto is clearly on the top of the list, the firm also has plans for an out-of-town location in a tourist hotspot. 

Again, aiming for exclusivity, the firm wants to invite high-profile bettors to the Muskoka Lakes during the summer to offer a luxury experience, placing those users on the lifestyle pages. 

And in aiming to propel the company’s global ambitions, once again Fitzdares is going to its roots in a bid to attract those customers.

“A lot of our target market goes to Muskoka Lakes. Everyone in Toronto who’s awesome and in our target audience jumps on a small plane and goes to Muskoka Lakes for the weekend in the summer. 

“So we’re going to do a pop-up this summer. There’ll be no gambling, it’ll just be a really cool lake house where we’re going to put up screens and have a barbecue every night.”

Woodhams explained how this strategy is an advanced version of its previous launches back in the UK, concluding: “We’ve been working with three or four influencers in the province who are introducing us to people, which is how Fitzdares within the new incarnation started 15 years ago – just meeting people in London and getting introductions.”

Hockey is everything

Though Fitzdaes is marking its North American debut by launching alongside the Super Bowl, the company is all too aware of what the real sporting priority is in Canada. 

Having already set out his ideal customer as those with the best seats at the Maple Leafs fixtures, Woodhams noted that hockey betting markets make up a significant portion of its plans for Ontario. 

Whilst explaining that the Super Bowl will potentially garner the ‘biggest single handle in Ontario’ so far, the CEO was bullish on the Stanley Cup and the wider hockey calendar. 

He observed that betting markets will continue to evolve as bettors learn more about the products available and that hockey player props could be a huge part of this evolution. 

“The really interesting thing will be hockey and how people bet on it, and how that affects the market. At the moment, people bet $50 on their local team. The first ever bet that was taken in North America was $10 on the Yankees to win the World Series. So I think that market will evolve and I’d be interested to see the player props on hockey.

“Hockey’s the religion, you’ve got to remember hockey is everything,” Woodhams concluded. “Everything else is just entertainment.”

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