Aug 15, 2023 - Economy

Exclusive: Matthew Berry's Fantasy Life raises $2M from famous athletes and entrepreneurs

Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Fantasy Life, the fantasy sports and sports betting media company founded by NBC Sports analyst Matthew Berry, has closed a $2 million friends and family round from a slew of big-name investors, including John Legend, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and more.

Why it matters: The star power involved with Fantasy Life's raise speaks to the popularity of fantasy and sports betting among the establishment class in sports and tech.

  • It also underscores the power of Berry's network. Berry is considered the most popular fantasy sports analyst in America.

Details: The round included investments from well-known athletes, investors and technologists.

  • In addition to Legend, Burrow and Allen, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, and LRMR Ventures — the family office of Lebron James and entrepreneur Maverick Carter — also participated in the round.
  • Co-founder and former CEO of YouTube Chad Hurley, Miami Marlins co-owner Roger Ehrenberg, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Tony Khan, and Wasserman chairman and CEO Casey Wasserman are involved, too.
  • Other major entrepreneurs also participated, including gambling industry analyst Chris Grove, Bruin Capital CEO George Pyne, private equity investor and former Cleveland Browns president Alec Scheiner, investor and operator Jason Stein, and Fox Bet CEO Kip Levin.

Between the lines: Several investors, including Carter, Hurley and Wasserman, have joined Fantasy Life's board in addition to a slew of media entrepreneurs with specific expertise in building newsletter businesses.

  • Other members of the board include Bleacher Report co-founder Dave Nemetz, Morning Brew co-founder and CEO Austin Rief, theSkimm co-founders and co-CEOs Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin, former Yahoo Sports and ESPN executive Geoff Reiss, Workweek CEO Adam Ryan, former ESPN digital executive John Kosner, public relations guru Matthew Hiltzik, and influencer marketing giant Influential CEO Ryan Detert and CCO Chris Detert.

By the numbers: Berry launched Fantasy Life as a daily email newsletter in 2020, naming the email after his best-selling 2013 book. The newsletter originally launched as a promotional effort for Fantasy Life's merchandise store, but it has since evolved into the anchor of a sizable media business, with 350,000 email subscribers and more than 2 million unique visitors visiting fantasylife.com per month.

  • Today, Berry told Axios, Fantasy Life is profitable and brings in seven figures of revenue annually. The company has been bootstrapped to date.
  • The firm, which has 13 full-time employees and several contractors, makes most of its money selling ads and sponsorships.
  • Fantasy Life also makes money producing content for other media partners, including a weekday show for SiriusXM's Fantasy Sports Radio channel and a Fantasy Life Pick n' Play game on Facebook.

Zoom in: The site also offers users access to a slew of free fantasy and betting tools that, to date, aren't monetized but are meant to bolster user engagement.

  • "Right now, our mantra is free," Berry said. "We will always be majority free, but there may be a premium offering later on."

Catch up quick: Berry left ESPN for NBC Sports in 2022 in part to be able to continue building Fantasy Life as a stand-alone media company. He hired the firm's first employee, its CEO Eliot Crist, last year.

  • "One of the primary reasons I came to NBC Sports was their promise to allow me to continue to operate Fantasy Life, and they've been incredible from the start," Berry said in a statement.

The big picture: More journalists and talent are launching their own media brands in conjunction with their day jobs. That trend is forcing media companies to figure out mutually beneficial ways to manage their talent contracts.

  • NBCUniversal has a strong track record of allowing journalists to build ancillary brands. CNBC's Jim Cramer has his own investment club. NBC Sports' Mike Florio has his Pro Football Talk blog.

What's next: Berry told Axios that the new funds will be used to expand the company's product offerings and headcount and to begin paid marketing campaigns to acquire more users.

  • While Fantasy Life and Berry combined have over 3 million followers across all social media channels, all of that growth, to date, has been organic.
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