The Los Angeles Dodgers broke new ground in the sports and entertainment industry last year when it partnered with New York-based advertising agency R/GA to launch its own startup accelerator.
Since then, more professional teams like the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have followed suit. The Dodgers, meanwhile, just graduated its second accelerator cohort last week.
You can expect more and more franchises to do the same, according to Dodgers CFO Tucker Kain, who helps run the team’s accelerator and is also managing director of Guggenheim Baseball Management, the firm that owns the Dodgers. He told GeekWire that over time, he expects this to “be a real portion of what it means to operate and own a sports team.”
“The accelerator model is one that can position an organization to be open to change and innovation,” Kain said. “I like seeing other organizations do this, because one of us is going to help incubate and accelerate something that will change the face of our industry and benefit everybody.”
Judging by the quality of the Dodgers’ most recent cohort, there does seem to be real value for franchises to house their own accelerator programs, which helps give a team access and equity to the latest and greatest technology innovations.
The Dodgers and R/GA shifted their investment strategy from the first cohort, accepting only five companies versus ten, and focusing more on later stage startups with more traction.
That showed with this class. Participating companies included ShotTracker, which makes wearable technology for basketball players and last month announced a $5 million seed round that included participation from Dodgers owner and NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson, along with David Stern, the former NBA commissioner who retired in 2014 after 20 years as the league’s leader.
Another company is Renegade, which just raised $5 million and makes a cleaning detergent specifically engineered for sports apparel and gear.
There’s also Greenfly, a content distribution platform that recently landed $6 million. WSC Sports Technologies, which creates personalized sports videos in real-time, just raised a $12 million round led by Intel Capital. And finally there’s Keemotion, a video production and content management system used by teams like the Golden State Warriors and media giants like ESPN.
Stephen Plumlee, global chief operating officer of R/GA and managing director of R/GA Ventures, told GeekWire that his firm and the Dodgers decided to focus on more mature startups that already had working products and services. He said they could take more advantage of pilots and partnerships with the accelerator’s strategic partners like Intel, IBM, and Fox Sports.
“Rather than a startup 101 pre-seed program, this is much more about later-stage companies about to hit the hockey stick of growth,” Plumlee said.
This strategy also helped the Dodgers and R/GA focus more on leveraging its network and brand to help the cohort, versus the nitty-gritty aspects of building a startup.
The five participating companies received workspace in R/GA’s Los Angeles offices, access to mentors and support from the Dodgers and R/GA, and $120,000 in funding in exchange for up to 6 percent equity.
This year’s cohort is also unique because of how the startups are working with one another. Last week the Dodgers announced a new collaboration between Keemotion, ShotTracker, and WSC to create a pilot project with Intel and Fox Sports for fans of NAIA basketball. The product will “demonstrate the possibilities for sports media creation and distribution with little to no human intervention while incorporating player performance data and stats that create a new level of fan engagement,” according to the Dodgers.
More than 1,000 startups have applied to the program over the past two years, Kain said. Participating companies have raised more than a collective $21 million since graduating from the accelerator.
For us, the accelerator has served as an incredible funnel to get a better view of what’s going on in the broader sports and entertainment space.
“For us, the accelerator has served as an incredible funnel to get a better view of what’s going on in the broader sports and entertainment space,” Kain said.
Technology is certainly impacting sports from all angles, whether it’s fan engagement, stadium operations, content creation, player performance, eSports, and much more. There are also new applications for virtual reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other technologies in the sports world.
Plumlee noted that new technologies invented around sports can also have value in other industries like marketing, healthcare, and wellness.
“They can have applications outside of just sports,” he said.
Kain said that the Dodgers aren’t putting all their focus on one vertical or technology.
“The beauty of bringing a brand like the Dodgers to bear on this is that it gives us the ability to react to how the market is maturing,” he explained. “We try not to over-index to one technology or one portion of the industry, but instead figure out where our brand can be helpful and drive value.”