Canadian Consortium Acquires MSF – Other Major Acquisitions Are On The Horizon
Ottawa, Canada. Buckley Smith acquired the Marathon Swimmers Federation (MSF), its intellectual property in perpetuity, and the exclusive global rights for its database of information for US$15,550,000. MSF co-founder, Evan Morrison, will be retained for a minimum of three years as the company’s Chief Technology Officer. MSF will be renamed and rebranded with details to be announced later. The terms of the deal were largely kept private, but the transaction was welcomed by all parties.
“These acquisitions are the first of many in my long-term business plans,” said Mr. Smith, a cold water swimmer and channel swimming enthusiast from Ottawa, Canada. “Over the last decade, we have developed a number of online properties in various extreme sports, but our portfolio was missing a signature open water swimming asset. The MSF enables us to start making inroads to elevate the sport as Evan and his co-creators had originally envisioned. A number of our media partners on five continents have expressed interest in expanding the exposure of the open water swimming. We foresee not only global sporting fans, but a significant wave of human interest in the themes of adventure, overcoming obstacles, and competing well into one’s older years that open water swimmers are known for. With the MSF now under our umbrella of properties, we can start consolidating other companies in this space and roll up other open water swimming properties and publications. We take our new responsibilities with all the humility and seriousness that the acquisition deserves.”
Steven Munatones, founder of the World Open Water Swimming Association was not surprised with the news. “Since first hearing recent rumors of this deal, I suspect there will be a flurry of mergers and acquisitions in our sport. With Evan staying on, I also heard Daniel Slosberg has been recruited for a major position in the new roll-up. The details of Daniel’s role have not yet divulged, but I suspect Evan has negotiated positions for his like-minded colleagues and friends. The sport has continued to grow exponentially since the pandemic began, although nearly all the local, national and international events have been postponed for at least a year. In hindsight, now is perfect timing for consolidation and acquisition of the MSF and other properties. The sport is ready to for the next level. I have high expectations for their success and wish them well.
The only question – and hope – that I have is if a portion of this large influx of funds be directed to swimmers like Sarah Thomas and Jaimie Monahan. These women certainly deserve real sponsorship and would be unleashed with the ability to fund a series of dream swims. Same with marine advocates like Bruckner Chase and Doug Woodring. But, I also have a strong feeling that Evan has other plans up his wetsuit sleeve – like going for the Oceans Seven or knocking off the California Triple Crown.“
The announcement may cause many brand owners to reconsider how they fund their events and the future of their own online properties. Is it time to start shopping around for other financial backers? “Thinking about it, it was probably the ideal time for MSF to seek investment and expand. They have redefined the accepted distances of channels around the world – including the iconic English Channel – and have documented a massive number of exploits performed by over 25,000 swimmers. That number sounds like a lot, but 25,000 marathon swimmer will be a relatively small drop in the bucket compared to where the sport will be in 5 to 10 years,” predicted Munatones.
Morrison also welcomed the transition to work under the new ownership. “Buckley is a very talented entrepreneur. He is a writer, programmer par excellence, and a budding technical expert on all aspects of the sport. We immediately saw eye-to-eye and we quickly came to agreement on both the smallest of details and the longer term vision. Buckley foresaw the potential of the sport early on and has quietly forged a voice among the world’s beginning and average swimmers. From my perspective, he has no peer.”
Mr. Smith was equally complimentary of Morrison, “Talking about having no peer, Evan is it. Scott Zornig identified Evan many years ago as the person who will forever change and elevate the sport. And that he has.”
The unexpected acquisition of the International Swimming Hall of Fame by Brent Rutemiller of Swimming World Magazine in 2018 caught many in the pool swimming community by surprise. The move by Buckley has similarly shook the pillars of the aquatic world. “Things will never be the same in open water swimming,” said Munatones. “The consolidation era has begun and Buckley has emerged as the King of the Sea with Evan and Daniel as his chief navigators.”
Historically, given the fits and spurts of cyclical growth in 20 – 30 year periods since 1875, the global open water swimming landscape was poised for a major shake-up. The latest major shake-up was the consolidation of professional marathon swimming by FINA in 1991-1992. Before that, the establishment of the World Professional Marathon Swimming Federation in the 1960s led to growth and global recognition.
The timing of Buckley was uncanny. In the lull of the organized events worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in the sport seemed to be waiting for the norm to return. There was an ongoing vacuum and Buckley filled it. “Swimmers everywhere all just wanted to participate in events that had been postponed or shut down over the past year,” Munatones commented. “The pandemic not only hit the sport hard from the perspective of race directors, but lockdowns also led to many pool swimmers venturing out to the open water. No one could have predicted that in January 2020. The increase in swimmers in lakes, bays and seas was clear to everyone with a coastal view. Buckley’s move is welcomed, but it was certainly the pandemic and its aftermath that led to the shake-up.
In the midst of the unexpected slowdown from March 2020, Buckley saw a vacuum that he knew needed to be filled. He has a comprehensive vision of the sport, partly by dabbling in the sport himself. He had confidence that his ideas and funds, combined with Morrison’s technical skills and Slosberg’s extensive knowledge and networks, could be executed quickly. Strong personalities at the helm, backed by a large reservoir of funds, bodes well for everyone.
Since the summer of 2020, Buckley worked tirelessly and confidentially behind the scenes, strategizing to eventually consolidate the leading properties in the sport over time. He admitted, “For years, I had positioned myself and plotted the steps necessary to execute a global strategy to take the sport to a completely new level. Now is the time. Evan is the man.”
Buckley is backed by a number of well-known financiers who remain unnamed and behind the scenes. But he let on that his co-investors are principals in leading venture capital firms in Silicon Valley and family foundations largely centered around London. “When I swam at Aquatic Park in San Francisco Bay, they literally lined up for breakfast meetings with me at Bucks and Il Fornaio. They wanted to back me because they were looking for global growth opportunities, outside of software and medical innovations. Just like in the movies, we initially sketched out our plan on napkins while eating sushi and drinking sake. Honestly, it was flattering to be in such high demand among people who always seem to be in the news and on television. They were intrigued about the possibility of the new company becoming the first unicorn in the aquatics world. Evan knows how to scale his technology.
We are lined up to explode in an aquatic Big Bang. It is one thing to be known at the Dolphin Club and the Olympic Club, but my friends at the Serpentine and in Hampstead Heath have high expectations of our potential. Their ideas are also matched by a network of visionaries at the The Ned and The Wolseley in London. I am grateful for everyone’s support and encouragement.”
“Buckley is one of those personalities who come around only once in a few generations,” said Silverado Winthrop of Sequoia Falls Partners. “If he was into app development, we would have backed him. If he was in nutriceuticals or medical devices, we would have backed him. The fact that he was positioned in an underdeveloped sport like open water swimming presented an opportunity that we could not pass up. The high valuation was, frankly, a little surprising. But once we sat down with him, and mapped out the future, it was clear that Buckley is the Elon Musk of aquatics, and Evan is the Steve Jobs of open water swimming. One day, we will look back and realize that our initial valuation was a steal. I am confident that more capital investment will be forthcoming.”
Montel Walsh of CalPERS (California Public Employees’ Retirement System) was one of the many firms who were too late to the game, “I just wish we could have been one of the selected firms in his initial plans, but we look forward to participating in the second round.”
“Yes, I think this is just the first move of many,” commented Ken Smith, an angel investor who scored big-time with early positions in Pixar, Tesla and Snapchat. “We already know Buckley has plans to buy SwimSwam, Outdoor Swimmer and the Global Swim Series. Because of his position, respect and financial resources, those deals should be fairly friendly takeovers. It is only a matter of time before we see further consolidation on a larger scale. But I don’t see the management team buying events like the Great Swims in the UK, the aQuellé Midmar Mile in South Africa, or the Sun Moon Lake International Swimming Carnival in Taiwan.
Word on the street hints that Buckley will aim to create synergistic media opportunities with the Discovery Channel or Red Bull Media House and, possibly, partner with Action Sports Media or EXTREME to bring open water swimming in all kinds of niche markets. Really, the future is the group to shape and grow to unprecedented levels.”
In the meantime, Buckley will start to reshape MSF as he sees fit. “Innovation, transparency, and new digital platforms are where we are heading. Evan launched MSF, but swimmers worldwide will be pleased to learn of our future growth plans and the creative changes that are coming soon. We are open, we are inclusive, and we are friendly. We will release a number of initiatives under my direction over the next several months that will continue to shake the sport to its roots.”
For more information, visit MarathonSwimmers.org.
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