Jun 6, 2022 - Economy

Religion of Sports raises $50 million

Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Religion of Sports, the sports media production company co-founded by Tom Brady, Michael Strahan and filmmaker and entrepreneur Gotham Chopra, has raised $50 million in a new series B funding round led by Shamrock Capital.

The big picture: Production companies founded by star athletes are booming in the streaming era, as entertainment networks scramble to find content that will break through.

  • "The market has grown and that has led to an opportunity for networks to invest in niche programming," said Religion of Sports CEO Ameeth Sankaran.
  • "When you're doing something with an athlete or talent people already know, you don't have to set the back story," he added.

Details: The company will use its new capital to grow its unscripted content business, invest more in audio, produce more scripted series and build out side projects, like creating NFTs for athletes.

  • Elysian Park Ventures and Cerro Capital also participated in the round. Brady and Strahan are both active board members and shareholders.
  • The company is not announcing a valuation with the round, but Sankaran noted that the reports that a $50 million round would value the company at $100 million are "far low."
  • "It's not a majority deal or anything. It's a growth equity infusion for us to scale the company," he said.

By the numbers: Sankaran declined to disclose exact revenue numbers, but said the company is "well into eight figures in revenue" and has been since 2021.

  • A vast majority of the company's revenue (90%) comes from unscripted content, Sankaran said.
  • “Religion of Sports has grown at a pace we could have only dreamed about five years ago,” Tom Brady said in a statement announcing the deal.

Catch up quick: Religion of Sports was founded in 2017 with a focus on unscripted, documentary-style programming. It's since launched dozens of titles with many elite athletes, distributed across an array of streaming platforms, including Facebook, ESPN and Apple TV+

  • Some of its most popular shows include “Tom vs Time," which debuted on Facebook Watch in 2018, and “Man in the Arena,” an Emmy Award-winning series that was co-produced with ESPN.
  • The company raised a $10 million series A round in 2020 from Elysian Park, Courtside Ventures, LinkinFirm and Advancit Ventures. It had previously raised $3 million in seed money.

Between the lines: The company's unscripted business is profitable, Sankaran said, but the capital raise will help it invest more in unscripted projects for other athletes. Much of the company's content touches on themes around wellness and inspiration.

  • "Right now we have 17 unscripted productions in those works," he said. The company will either sell or license the rights to about half of those productions.
  • A large part of the new raise will be used to fuel new projects that the company can invest or co-invest in with outside partners and athletes. "Talent is coming to us to tell their stories," he said. The company also plans to invest more in creating NFTs for star athletes.

The big picture: Sports documentaries and series starring athletes have become popular as streamers look for content that could attract new audiences outside of traditional entertainment, like scripted comedies, sitcoms and adventure series.

  • LeBron James' production company SpringHill sold a minority stake that valued it at $725 million last year.
  • Peyton Manning's Omaha Productions has expanded to produce scripted shows for the History Channel and ESPN.

What's next: Sankaran said the company is eyeing acquisition opportunities as the market slows and buyers become more discerning.

  • Asked about the company's long-term strategic plans, Sankaran said Religion of Sports will look at all options, including an IPO or strategic partnerships, as it moves towards profit across all of its business lines in the next three years.
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