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Olympic sprint champion De Grasse named ambassador for Coolbet

TORONTO — He's all business on the track, but Andre De Grasse is anxious to show he also has a lighter side. Coolbet, an online sportsbook, unveiled the champion sprinter as an ambassador Thursday.
Andre De Grasse of Canada reacts after winning the bronze medal in the Men's 100m final during the summer Tokyo Olympics in Tokyo, Japan on Sunday, August 1, 2021. The sprinter signed a multi-year deal to be a brand ambassador for Coolbet, an online gaming company. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO — He's all business on the track, but Andre De Grasse is anxious to show he also has a lighter side.

Coolbet, an online sportsbook, unveiled the champion sprinter as an ambassador Thursday. The multi-year partnership comes after Ontario's fledgling sports-betting industry opened up fully Monday.

"People like to say I stay cool under pressure so I thought it was a good slogan that fit right there," De Grasse said in a telephone interview. "I thought it was a perfect fit with my brand to have some fun and also now be able to bet on my favourite things like the NCAA final four, college football or basketball games.

"On the track, most of the time it's all business, all serious. But this will be trying to have people laughing and enjoying it in a fun type of way."

De Grasse said a key element of the partnership is delivering the responsible gaming message.

"I felt like I could use my platform to help get that message across so people don't go crazy and continue to literally stay cool," De Grasse said.

A fact not lost upon Kris Abbott, who runs Coolbet's North American operations.

"The first thing we're going to do right out of the gate is focus on the responsible gaming aspect of this," Abbott said. "It cannot be lost on operators in our industry that when anything is not done in moderation . . . . it can be dangerous.

"Gambling should be a fun activity, gaming should be a fun activity. They shouldn't be serious or not within your means."

Landing De Grasse is big for Coolbet. 

The 27-year-old from Markham, Ont., is Canada's most decorated male Olympian (six medals) and the defending Olympic 200-metre champion.

Abbott said De Grasse will be Coolbet's face in Ontario. He'll be the focal point of its advertising campaign and appear in social media, television, billboards and website videos in the coming weeks.

"We're striving to be different and stand out from the crowd, kind of go in the opposite direction," Abbott said. "All the advertising you see in our industry is about the slick guy in the suit going through the casino . . . we're not trying to sell some kind of dream here.

"We just trying to show the playful side of it all."

That's good with De Grasse.

"I think I'll get a chance to kind of show my acting skills a little bit," he said. "I think this is definitely going to be more on the humorous side and I'll get to show my personality in that way."

Added Abbott: "Hey, if we can help him showcase a side of himself he'd like to get out there, absolutely. Our whole play on Andre is he's a cool guy. I think he already has that kind of brand out there but if we can show him being a little bit more playful and having a conscience about responsible gaming, definitely. Whatever direction he wants to take it we're open to."

In addition, Coolbet is a shirt sponsor of Major League Rugby's Toronto Arrows. It also has partnerships with Canadian curlers John Epping and Rachel Homan, PGA Tour golfer Taylor Pendrith and the National Lacrosse League's Toronto Rock.

De Grasse is the latest big name to sign a partnership with an Ontario sports-betting operator.

BetMGM has both Connor McDavid and Wayne Gretzky, the current and former Edmonton Oilers captains, respectively, as ambassadors. Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs has a multi-year agreement with Bet99, a grey-market sportsbook in Canada that hasn't yet been approved to operate in Ontario.

Actors Robb Wells, John Paul Tremblay and Mike Smith — better known as The Trailer Park Boys — are aligned with PointsBet Canada. Comedian Susie Essman and actors Rex Lee and Gerry Dee have appeared in ads for theScore Bet and last month broadcaster Rod Black became a host/brand ambassador for NorthStar Bets.

"I'm a big fan of Wayne Gretzky and Connor and I go way back so we're looking forward to seeing some of their stuff," De Grasse said. "I feel like with myself and my creativity and enthusiasm, I'm going to try and make these commercials look cool and be as humorous as possible. 

"That's kind of the goal, just to have fun with it and get that key messaging across."

Abbott said the timing of the partnership announcement was by design.

"We're one of the few operators that was operating in the grey market so Canadians know us already," Abbott said. "The market is certainly saturated right now with content so we wanted to let the excitement kind of die down a bit, then come in.

"Andre has this demeanour about him, it's a calm, a steadiness, he's wholesome, he's trustworthy. Establishing trust in our industry is also very important. There's nothing more pure than running. Everybody can do it and there's something about somebody who's just so explosive, so powerful, so good at that. I'm super excited about all of the potential we can do with him and his team."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2022.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press