Oct 27, 2022 - Sports

The rise of sports as investment

Illustration of a suitcase full of different sports balls

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

"Sports" is often narrowly defined: you're either an athlete or you're a fan. In reality, the sports world extends far beyond that — and investors are increasingly taking notice.

Driving the news: Will Ventures, a Boston-based early-stage venture capital firm, just closed a new $150 million fund to continue investing in sports and sports-adjacent businesses.

  • The firm, founded in 2019, has already invested in Future (personal training), Street FC (pickup soccer marketplace) and Candy Digital (digital collectibles), among other startups.
  • They have 17 pro sports team owners on board and they also have an exclusive deal with OneTeam Partners that allows them to leverage athletes to promote their portfolio companies.

State of play: A few decades ago, the idea of a sports-centric VC firm was a foreign concept. But as sports grow more intertwined with media and technology, "investing with a sports focus" is now a powerful thesis.

What they're saying: "A lot of the things that sports is a main driver of — digital media, health tech, the creator economy — are some of the leading sectors within venture capital," says co-founder Brian Reilly.

  • "This perceived niche market is actually the perfect lens to touch massive adjacencies," adds co-founder Isaiah Kacyvenski, a former NFL player.

Between the lines: We often think of "sports" as being its own industry, but it's really more of a cultural touchstone with direct ties to other sectors. A few examples:

  • Media: Sports is at the forefront of the streaming revolution, which is transforming how viewers consume content. And the rise of sports betting is fueling investment in viewer engagement and interactivity (think: on-screen live betting).
  • Health and wellness: Athletes have always been motivated to feel and perform their best. Now, technology is enabling everyone to do that, and athletes are often involved as brand ambassadors or investors.
  • Web3: NFTs took the world by storm in 2021 and sports was at the center of some of the biggest use cases like NBA Top Shot (collectible highlights), Sorare (blockchain-based fantasy game) and digital tickets.

The big picture: Will Ventures is far from the only organization with a sports-centric view on investing.

The last word: Up until recently, "sport and entertainment was an area that could use a more professional investment lens," says Michael Spirito, founding partner and lead investor for Sapphire Sport. "Now there are a number of players, which speaks to how big the opportunity is."

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