What do adult entertainment and daily fantasy sports (DFS) have in common?
Well, there’s Bill Asher, the founder of the gaming site Monkey Knife Fight. After working at Playboy and making his fortune in adult films and later bars and restaurants, Asher is tackling a new frontier.
He chatted with PlayUSA about his unexpected beginnings, passion for sports and how they parlayed him into founding what he hopes will become a hit using elements of both DFS and sports gambling.
The path from Playboy to fantasy sports
It’s definitely not a straight line from adult entertainment to DFS, despite the common element of “fantasy” in both.
Asher said entrepreneurial ambitions and his earlier work steered his interests toward fantasy sports.
“I started talking to people about fantasy sports years ago because I had so much traffic on the internet,” Asher commented. “I was looking for places to sell it. Adult sites get a lot of traffic, and one of the ways to make money is figuring out where to send it to, but adult traffic is unique.
“It’s hard to go from an adult site to ‘I want to sell you a coat.’ I felt like fantasy sports had a similar demographic. It’s a great place for me to send traffic, so I started looking at these sites.”
But it would be quite a while until he ended up trying to carve out a niche in DFS.
Asher was born in Juneau, Alaska. His parents migrated there before Alaska became a state. After his parents, who were both lawyers, helped the territory gain statehood and hold its first elections, the Asher family moved to Paris, Ill.
It was in Central Illinois farmland that Asher lived out his adolescence as a sports fan before getting his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College.
He then relocated to get his Masters of Business Administration from the University of Southern California. After completing his graduate studies is when he got his start in the entertainment industry.
“Unlike other people, I ended up at Playboy,” Asher said. “I had a great run there. I moved up and ended up running the Beverly Hills’ office. That was before the internet, so we were on television, videos, VCR tapes and DVDs.
“I did that until I decided the real money in the future was going to be in adult movies.”
Making money, but not in fantasy sports
Asher then assisted an adult film company, Vivid Entertainment, in its rise to dominate its industry. With the capital he built up, Asher then branched out.
“Along the way, I started getting into other businesses,” Asher explained. “I got into bars and restaurants. I found that nightclubs were very profitable, more profitable than adult movies. When you’re selling a shot of vodka for $12, if you can keep the place packed, you can make a ridiculous amount of money … It’s all about image and that went into sports bars and restaurants.
“That was very profitable for me. Under the umbrella of Lucid Entertainment, we’ve had 10 to 20 different establishments. I got into commercial real estate then. I started to buy the properties for the bars and restaurants. I found the better business was owning the real estate.”
Onto Monkey Knife Fight
When Asher began to explore the fantasy sports industry and the products offered at the time, he was surprised.
“I did a deal with a company called DraftDay, which at the time was the third-largest fantasy sports site behind the two big guys,” Asher elaborated. “It didn’t seem that interesting to me. I had never played fantasy sports before, but I’m a sports guy. Everything I sell I like, so I tried it a couple of times.
“I spent all weekend, filled out the thing and picked a team. Then at the end of the day, it was fine. I lost my money to a professional. It’s how fantasy sports work. Basically, you take a math test; then you lose $50.
“I met Nick Sulsky, who was the president of DraftDay. I talked to him. I was just like, I don’t get your industry. How in the world can this be a multibillion-dollar industry? It’s just not fun.”
Building Monkey Knife Fight
Asher’s interest was piqued, and he became determined to redefine the fantasy sports industry with a new product that was not only more equitable for players at large but more enjoyable as well. He hired Sulsky away from DraftDay, along with web developers, and retained the services of legal professionals.
Over the course of a year, he built the Monkey Knife Fight platform in time to have it live for the beginning of the 2018-19 NFL season. Uncertain of the amount of success it would have, he didn’t promise long-term jobs to his employees but launched the site.
However, the growth of the product has been more than satisfactory for Asher.
So, why do daily fantasy sports players love it?
Asher believes there are a few reasons the site has continued to grow. The first is the simplicity of the games. The second reason is the fact that entrants are playing the games against the house instead of what he describes as “sharks” with their computer algorithms.
Asher is most bullish on it because it’s amusing.
“We’re just a bunch of sports guys who love doing this,” Asher stated. “We’re putting together games we would want to play. It’s like two guys sitting at a sports bar, one of whom is a Lakers’ fan and the other says Jimmy Butler is going to shut LeBron James down and that results in a wager.
“We do the exact same thing at Monkey Knife Fight. We say LeBron is going to score 25; do you think he’s going to go under or over? It’s that simple and that fun.”
Some have obviously equated Monkey Knife Fight to something more akin to sports betting, as you’re predicting multiple player performances for possible financial gain.
But it also fits the general definition of paid-entry fantasy sports as a game of skill across the country. That definition has gotten increasingly broader and tested by fantasy operators over the years.
Either way, it’s here and offered in dozens of states.
Where did the name come from?
The name of the site is the embodiment of that jovial attitude.
“I have a bunch of bars with crazy, memorable names,” Asher revealed. “I hated the stupid names other bars had. I can’t keep them straight. They all sound the same to me. They aren’t interesting and they aren’t fun.
“I’m trying to have a good time, so my partner and I sat down with a bottle of tequila and we wrote down names. You just hope that the next morning when you wake up with a hangover, there’s something on that piece of paper that is fun.
“Nick and I did that by phone because he’s in Toronto and I’m in California. We sent text messages back and forth on Slack and, on the list of the names, on there was Monkey Knife Fight. To be honest with you, it was probably autocorrected from money something because I doubt I typed in monkey, but it was the epitome of what we’re trying to do.”
And so Monkey Knife Fight was born. Will the site with the crazy name succeed in DFS where others have failed to make a dent in the market dominated by DraftKings and FanDuel? You might not want to bet against Asher making money.