This article originally appeared in the summer edition of OBJ's newsmagazine. Read the full issue here.
Slightly more than a year ago as the sports world was shutting down in the wake of the pandemic, boxing fans Matt and Scott Whitteker quickly realized their favourite athletes were about to suffer a major financial body blow.
“We were wondering how fighters were going to be able to make it through this phase without boxing,” says Scott Whitteker, who, like his older brother, has been enamoured with the “sweet science” since he was a kid.
The Ottawa natives also happen to be entrepreneurs to the core who opened their own gym when Scott was just 19 and Matt was 23. They knew from experience that most boxers, mixed martial artists and other combat fighters have few alternative sources of income beyond what they earn in the ring or octagon.
While the brightest megastars in many other sports rake in millions of dollars a year through endorsements and merchandising deals, the majority of combat athletes are so focused on their next fight they don’t have time to dive into other aspects of the business such as the exploding world of e-commerce, Whitteker explains.
“Most of these guys were buying 30-50 shirts, bringing them to their local boxing gym and just selling them there to help pay for their training,” he says. “Fighters want to fight and train. They don’t want to worry about managing online stores.
“We thought, ‘Let’s give them an alternative.’”
Coming out swinging
The result is Millions.co, a new venture that combines elements of social media with an online marketplace where athletes in combat sports such as boxing and MMA can sell merchandise, post videos and interact directly with fans.
Millions came out swinging from the get-go, generating more than $10,000 in revenues in its first month while forging partnerships with fulfilment centres in Canada, the U.S., Mexico and Europe. The platform splits profits from merchandise sales with athletes, who also earn a percentage of fees from customers who subscribe to the Millions app and pay to watch livestreams of events.
In many cases, Whitteker says, the fighters themselves are the driving force behind the content. Washington, D.C.-based boxer Jalil Hackett, for example, came up with the idea of offering paying fans an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at his pre-fight prep before his pro debut on the undercard of the Floyd Mayweather-Logan Paul bout in Miami on June 6.
“The athletes have really done a great job at being entrepreneurial and figuring out different usages for the platform that we missed as entrepreneurs,” Whitteker notes. “It’s been really cool to see that. The better they do, the better we do. So any ideas that they have we always take really seriously.”
The veteran businessman thinks he and his co-founders have tapped into a market with plenty of upside. He says that while there are competitors – including video-sharing site Cameo and live-streaming services Streamlabs and Twitch – they offer more limited options for fans and fewer revenue streams for merchant-athletes.
“None of them do it all,” Whitteker says, adding Millions is the only platform devoted specifically to combat sports stars and their fans.
More than 100 athletes have signed on to the platform since it went live in early May, and the Millions team expects that number to balloon to at least 5,000 by the end of this year.
Although the site is laser-focused on combat sports right now – “We speak the language, we know the players in the game,” as Whitteker puts it – Millions is aiming to expand to a much broader audience through partnerships with other major sports organizations.
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to watch the Super Bowl with one of your favourite athletes on our platform one day.”
“There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to watch the Super Bowl with one of your favourite athletes on our platform one day,” says Whitteker, an executive at Ottawa-based PSL Mechanical Heating and Air Conditioning.
While the Whittekers by themselves are an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with – Matt helped launch Ottawa software powerhouse Assent Compliance 11 years ago and spearheaded the hugely successful Fight for the Cure charity boxing gala, which Scott now runs – the platform’s backers include other heavy hitters from the worlds of business and sports.
Co-founder Adrian Salamunovic launched Ottawa on-demand printing firm CanvasPop more than a decade ago before embarking on a successful career as a bestselling author and sought-after business adviser and mentor.
Chief marketing officer Brandon Austin, meanwhile, is a serial entrepreneur with a string of successful startups to his name who began his career in Ottawa and now lives in Austin, Tex.
But the most recognizable member of the Millions team is longtime UFC ring announcer Bruce Buffer, known to millions of mixed-martial arts fans as the “veteran voice of the Octagon.”
Buffer, who first heard about the company from Salamunovic, eagerly embraced the concept and has been a tireless promoter of the venture ever since.
His involvement has piqued the interest of big-time players in the industry.
“Mike Tyson wants to talk to us. That’s amazing,” Whitteker says with a trace of awe in his voice.
“Who’s better known in the MMA community than Bruce Buffer? It’s just such a feather in our cap. We’re really excited about what Bruce can do for us.”
The company is also in talks with pro wrestling legend Chris Jericho and former MMA champ Georges St-Pierre. It’s a rapid ascent for a startup that was little more than an idea in the Whittekers’ heads a year ago, but Scott thinks the ride is just getting started.
“It’s infinitely scalable,” he says of the Millions platform. “We don’t see why we can’t get into every market. It’s just a matter of figuring out how we can get these products to the people most likely to buy them.”