Except for sports betting, football seems to have little to do with gaming. But for Matt Sodl, his four years playing defensive tackle for Columbia University served as a potent training ground for his later success as a financial wizard for investment firms working with the casino industry.
Coach Tom Gilmore was a key mentor to Sodl, who was All-Ivy League for two years, despite going 0-30 for his three years on the varsity team.
“Not only was Gilmore my defensive line coach my senior year, but he was previously the Ivy League Player of the Year at Penn a few years before me. He pushed me to maximize my potential. I felt if I could out-work and be the most focused, intense player, I would succeed. That mindset paid off,” says Sodl, who obtained a B.A. in economics and remains active with the Columbia football program in a number of areas.
Steve Rittvo and Steve Szapor, Sodl’s partners in Innovation Capital, also mentored him as they launched the investment firm 13 years ago.
“I look at my relationship with Rittvo and Szapor in a similar sense as Coach Gilmore,” he says. “They achieved great success in their careers and we push each other as partners, but I’ve learned to embrace it as it has made me a better businessman.”
As partner and managing director, Sodl oversees a firm that has established itself as a leading boutique investment bank serving the mid-market gaming, leisure, restaurant and retail industries. Prior to Innovation, Sodl held a number of positions at large investment banks where he developed casino gaming industry expertise as well as execution skills including debt financing and merger and acquisition transactions. He’s completed nearly 100 transactions aggregating over $5.5 billion for nearly every segment of the gaming/hospitality industry. Over the course of his career, Sodl has also advised on transactions aggregating over $30 billion.
“For the mid-sized clients we work with, these transactions in many cases are game changers,” says Sodl, who lives in Manhattan Beach, California, with wife Cathy and children Katie, Kelly and Patrick.
The future remains bright, he says. The capital markets for casino gaming are robust, with investor appetite strong. Much of that capital is allocated to finance mergers and acquisition transactions as consolidation activity takes center stage.
“Investors still have an interest in financing new-build casino projects. However, they are much more discerning over financial projections as gaming supply across the country has dramatically increased over the past 10 years. With that said, as new markets open up, there could be some interesting opportunities for investors in the near future,” says Sodl, who has coached his son’s Pop Warner football team for the past few years and serves on the board of the organization in El Segundo.
The mindset of industry players in the U.S. focuses on providing customers with high-quality gaming venues across the globe to build brand loyalty, he believes.
“We also see Native American tribes becoming much more aggressive in expanding their tribal business beyond on-reservation casino gaming,” he says. “A number of tribes look to diversify and make commercial casino acquisitions, and invest their capital in businesses where they have industry expertise.”