Sports teams leverage fan loyalty to enter the startup scene

July 20, 2017


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Sports franchises spanning the NBA, NFL, MLB, and more are leveraging the loyalty of their fans to invest in innovative startups in the industry.

The Philadelphia 76’ers have cut the ribbon on their new Sixers Innovation Lab, opening up a whole new type of court to compete on. The lab offers the opportunity for young startup CEO’s to make use of the Sixer’s brand as well as access perks like free housing, marketing and branding services, legal counsel, and even free food, while they work on innovative new products.

“We want to develop a relationship with your company so we can help you as you continue to reach new heights. Whether as board members, advisors, or just someone you can call for advice, the Sixers Innovation Lab Crafted by Kimball will continue to be as much a part of your business as you want moving forward,” says the lab’s website.

The Sixers lab offers a unique investment package to innovators that includes wide spaces to grow, no pressure or deadlines for coming up with products, and guaranteed funding.

The managing director of the lab is Seth Berger, the founder of And1 who took the US basketball apparel company from selling screenprinted t-shirts in the back of a car to its peak in the early 2000s, a $285 million revenue business.

Berger hand-picked startup Monster Roster to break-in the new space in February. The 20-year-old CEO Dylan Elder designed the app after dropping out of Georgetown University. The app outperforms usual users in picking fantasy lineups on FanDuel and DraftKings. “I’m learning more in the last 11 months than any class or teacher has taught me,” Elder reported to the Sixers.

This is not the first time we have seen sports teams penetrating the tech industry. The current reigning NBA champions Golden State Warriors credit a big part of their business success to their tech investments such as SportVU.

SportVU uses an array of camera sensors to analyse the players’ movement and reactions. The technology is now adopted by all NBA teams to gain that extra edge on the court.

Other sport fronts have also hopped on the tech startup wagon, like the NFL, which has created the business accelerator, OneTeam Collective (OTC). OTC focuses on sports-related tech and provides innovators with mentorship, investments and access to over 2000 NFL players. The initiative is a collaboration between tech giants such as Harvard Innovation Lab and Intel.

In baseball the six-time World Series title holders Los Angeles Dodgers have also made their move through their Dodgers accelerator to invest in sports and entertainment tech, leading the movement in the MLB and baseball world.

There has been little news on other sport fronts such as soccer as it’s mostly ruled by sports giants like Nike and Adidas. However, we wouldn’t be too surprised by news of incubators being created by leading stars. Who knows?Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi could even get in on this.


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