Catena interim boss Henrik Persson Ekdahl will hand over the reins to Per Hellberg on a permanent basis later this year, it was announced on Friday. Ekdahl spoke to Scott Longley about why he’s convinced they have the right man for the job and the strategy from here as it looks for M&A targets beyond the gambling space
Catena Media’s Henrik Persson Ekdahl issued a stark message to operators about its position in the consolidating affiliates space, suggesting operators “can’t live without us” as the company announced Per Hellberg would be taking over the reins later this year
Ekdahl will remain as a board member and shareholder at Catena once Hellberg assumes the hotseat. Hellberg was previously chief executive at Readly International and led NordicBet at the time of its acquisition by Betsson.
Speaking to iGaming Business, Ekdahl, who took over in September on a temporary basis, said the appointment of Hellberg was a long and complicated process due to the demands of the role.
“We had to be really sure about who we were handing the keys to the kingdom to,” said Ekdahl. “We want them to hit the ground running.”
This ground, of course, is a sector which is witnessing a fast-accelerating process of M&A. Catena Media is, Ekdahl agrees, the most prominent consolidator in the space, with 28 deals to date under its belt since 2014 and with the promise of many more to come.
Just following the results, the company announced a new bond issue that will substantially increase its firepower. The new €150m facility replaces the a €100m bond which was due to mature next year and comes with better finance terms.
At the time of the last results, Ekdahl spoke about the three-man M&A team that is employed full time sourcing new opportunities and he said today that the team sees between two and five potential deals every week. “That’s companies that we haven’t seen before,” he added.
What is now evident about Catena Media is the scale of the operation. As Ekdahl points out, Catena media now employs 300 people “only thinking about lead generation”, and when this translates to new depositing customers, it demonstrates Catena’s importance to its operator partners.
“We’re not trying to be cocky,” he said. “We are not super-aggressive. Many of our customers are a joy to work with. They have also upped their game.”
He added that many of Catena’s conversations with operators now occur with more senior staff and is more strategic. “We are the natural partner for conversations about new markets. When we sit down with an operator, we can say that we can send them thousands of NDCs”.
Moving the dial
The scale of the operation also has a centrifugal effect when it comes to further consolidation. Not the least of these is that it means that any acquisitions need to be substantial enough to move the dial.
Pointing to Catena’s fourth-quarter revenues of €20.1m, Ekdahl says that any acquisition target needs be worth at least €400,000 a month in revenues. “Then it might make a difference for us,” he says.
He is also keen to point out that Catena feels it has “set the standard” on multiples paid for acquisitions. Even though the size of more recent deals involving Catena is on the rise- the BayBets deal, for instance, was worth €26.5m upfront while the price-tag on Dreamworx was €9.5m – the multiples it pays have remained stable at between four and six times EBITDA.
He adds that this isn’t the case elsewhere. “In some jurisdictions, I have seen other affiliates paying way too much for an asset that we believe is not worth it.”
The risk as Catena sees it is lies in the business practices of some other affiliates. “We can’t afford to buy an asset and then a month later Google does an update and the business disappears.”
Ekdahl concluded that Hellberg’s task once he joins will be to continue Catena’s push beyond the online gaming space. Although 95% of current revenues comes from gambling, a new departure for Catena Media is the retail financial sector. “We are a lead generator that happened to start in online gambling, but if we want to we can direct traffic anywhere.”
Related articles: Appetite for affiliate consolidation continues unabated (paywall)