November 17, 2022
Kicking off a new series on the podcast, we brought in two of our members' CEOs, plus a bonafide industry expert, to discuss some of the key topics to have hit their in-tray this week.
Regular host Yanni Andreopoulos was joined by Don White and Nathan Peterson, CEOs of Satisfi Labs and Tagboard, respectively, as well as sports sponsorship and comms guru Andy Sutherden. Andy has counselled major brands such as HSBC, Procter & Gamble and Adidas, led the sponsorship planning and activation for six of the major sponsors at London 2012 (and subsequent Olympics), and today advises companies from startups to FTSE 100s on partnership strategy.
First up for dissection was the pros and cons of growing startups hiring talented people out of the big tech companies. We then turned our attention to the idea that many Silicon Valley VC firms are seeking returns so vast that they're overlooking viable investment opportunities in order to discover the next 'super unicorn'.
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October 31, 2022
Kiki Mills Johnston is full of admiration for founders. "They just see through blockades," she says. "They see how to cross mountains and figure out how to get things done. That's why we do this job – it's just so inspiring to speak with founders every day."
Kiki is our podcast guest this week, and in a wide-ranging conversation, we learn what drew her to the industry, the sectors that are exciting her right now and how she's working to improve the representation of women across the VC space, the startup world and the sports industry. We also dive into the founding story of Drive by DraftKings, its investment thesis and what the team looks for in the founders behind potential investment opportunities.
Drive is an early-stage VC firm led by CEO and managing partner Meredith McPherron. It focuses wherever sports meets tech and media, counting Sports Loft member FEVO, fitness wearable scale-up Whoop and publishing platform Just Women's Sports among its portfolio. Its founding partners include sports betting company DraftKings and VC firms General Catalyst, Accomplice and Boston Seed Capital.
October 18, 2022
Our 'Investor's View' series continues this week with Nikhil Bahel, managing partner at Elysian Park Ventures. Nikhil heads up Elysian’s London base, with the goal of broadening the footprint and horizons of the Los Angeles-based firm.
We were keen to catch up with him to discuss the rapid growth around women’s sports versus traditional franchises, and dive into what Europe can learn from the American sports model. The conversation also spanned the hangover of the pandemic and its impact on the sports ecosystem.
“Coming out of the pandemic when no live sports had been played, I think it made everyone sit back and say, ‘is our model working?’ And the ones who came out of it well were the US sports franchises,” says Nihkil. “There is a precedent where the US teams and leagues have got the model right from a commercialisation, monetisation and professionalisation perspective. I think there’s been an acceleration of the European leagues and federations across sports looking at the US sports model and asking, ‘how do we replicate that?’”
Looking ahead, we also discuss where Elysian is looking for its next opportunities. The surprising answer? Don’t ignore what's going on in the Web 2.0 space.
Elysian Park is the private investment arm of the LA Dodgers Ownership Group and counts more than 50 companies within its portfolio, including Sports Loft member Greenfly, football publisher Copa90, personal fitness app Freeletics and betting platform DraftKings.
October 3, 2022
Imagine being able to exactly capture how Ronaldo steps over the ball in the World Cup final, how Serena Williams serves during a crucial Wimbledon set, or how McIlroy tees off at the US Open. Now imagine off the shelf action cameras and some AI-powered software being the only tools needed for the job. No ping pong ball sensors. No silly suits. No specialist studios.
That’s the promise of motionless motion capture developer Move.ai, Sports Loft’s newest member. In this episode, Yanni chats with co-founder Ant Ganjou to hear more about “where artificial intelligence meets the metaverse.” Along the way, we learn how capturing athletes movements on the field of play will become the most valuable IP in the media industry, discover the implications for gaming and movie production – in both the amateur and professional fields – and explore the disruptive potential of reducing motion capture costs from the hundreds of thousands to hundreds of dollars.
“That’s the beautiful thing about computer vision, the beautiful thing about AI and the beautiful thing about being in the software business,” says Ganjou. “Within six or eight weeks anyone anywhere on the planet – whether you're in Sub-Saharan Africa, or native Chile or in an Alaskan substation, you can literally download an app and start incredibly high fidelity motion capture. It's designed to reach hundreds of millions of people and to create truly scalable animation.
September 20, 2022
The fourth in our 'Investor's View' series welcomes Sports Loft advisory board member and partner at Causeway, Jasmine Robinson, enabling us to dive into how growth-stage venture capital differs to early investment models. Along the way, the conversation touches upon using angel investment as a 'foot-in-the-door' strategy, the challenges of investing in B2C businesses in a downturn, and what makes web3.0 startups such an interesting proposition in these times.
Causeway, founded by Wyc Grousbeck, Bob Higgins and Mark Wan is one of the most respected names in growth-stage sports, media and entertainment investment, with a portfolio that spans broadcasters such as FloSports, rights holders like Formula E and tech scale-ups like Zwift and Freeletics. So, it's fascinating to hear what it takes to keep an ear to the ground across all these verticals within the sports environment.
Jasmine also explains her relationship-driven approach to seeking out Causeway's next big investment, discusses how to have tough conversations with founders and the Causeway style of nurturing their portfolio companies.
"Because we're so relationship-oriented, one of the things that was really hard about the pandemic is that we like to have a handful of personal interactions with the CEO and management team prior to making an investment," Jasmine told us. "We don't really like having to do everything over Zoom, so we're glad that the travel is more back to normal. We really go try to spend dedicated time and show up and get to know the team – to gather as much information as we can – as well as just be really clear about the kind of partner we are. And make sure that that's really what the management team is looking for."
Our host Yanni calls Jasmine, "one of the smartest people around", so have a listen and learn why.
August 22, 2022
“What we realised early on is that the consumer sentiment is shifting," says Deepen Parikh, Partner at Courtside Ventures and guest on this week's Sports Loft Podcast. "When you look at a younger consumer and the way they interact with sports – whether it’s through live streaming or audio, whether they’re fans of a team or players, even what they view as sports – these were all areas that were dramatically shifting.”
When Courtside was founded in 2015, it was this realisation that informed the investment strategy of the New York firm, leading to successful early stage backing of startups operating across the sports, tech and media landscape, including adjacent sectors. Part of the founding team, Deepen instrumental in Courtside's involvement in sports media giant The Athletic, personalised nutrition business Gainful, esports and lifestyle organisation 100 Thieves, and many more.
We caught up with him to dig into where he sees the opportunities today (and which sectors Courtside is avoiding), to find out what VCs can offer founders beyond the funding itself, and to ask how the firm goes about making its investment decisions. Here's just one nugget from the conversation:
"We like taking models that we know really well in the US, and then finding what we believe are the most compelling teams in more nascent markets but where the TAM is incredibly large and so we're diving [into sports gaming] really heavily," says Deepen. “We’re looking a lot more at wellness as a category, nutrition, and a lot of other areas that we think there's a lot of growth opportunities that are still fairly nascent. So every fund within the world of sports, collectibles, gaming and wellness we’ll go really deep in a couple of areas. Our goal is to talk to as many companies as we can to understand the market landscape and ultimately make investments in areas we think we can be really helpful to the founders in.”
July 25, 2022
"You're working with imperfect information, trying to piece things together. It feels like a puzzle: should we or should we not make an investment in this opportunity?"
That's how Lance Dietz, partner of KB Partners, describes his job of identifying successes and investing across the sports, tech and media startup landscape. It's a turbulent time for the investment space, as well as the wider economy, which seemed the perfect time to catch up with Lance to discuss all aspects of the industry.
Our discussion spans how best investors can provide value for their portfolio companies beyond cold, hard cash, the opportunities around Web 3.0, how to best engage with the Gen Z audience, and the pros and cons of operating a compact investment partnership.
Lance joined KB Partners in 2018, as part of the investment team after spending time as an investment banker with JP Morgan. Prior to that, he was an officer and engineer in the US Army, stationed in Germany, Afghanistan and across the US. He also played competitive basketball at West Point in the Patriot League.
Among the many insights offered up by Lance, one was that now might not be such a bad time to invest as it might seem.
"Now could be a great time to be supporting companies and founders in spaces that you find attractive with models that are sustainable and valuations that have become more rational," he says. "I think if you capitalize those those companies well and give them enough runway, you could build a really attractive portfolio in the next twelve eighteen months at prices that seem less frothy."
May 6, 2022
As far as strategic investors goes, having a direct line into tech giants Microsoft and four-time Superbowl winners the Green Bay Packers is a pretty good starting point! In our latest issue of the Sports Loft podcast, Cordero Barkley, Partner at TitleTown Tech, shares his story from college athlete to early stage VC, and how as a firm TitleTown Tech are supporting the growth of their portfolio companies, including our very own Slate.
Cordero also gives us a sneak peek to where their focus will lie for their second fund, including which aspects of NFTs and the metaverse look post appealing for investment.
Our favourite quotes:
“Leveraging the connectivity that we have in marketplace…, that's one of the perks of having the Packers and Microsoft, you can really get connected to anyone in the world and pick up the phone to call someone to say hey, we have a company that fits your thesis would love for you to take a look at it.”
“The founders are taking all this risk, they’ve been told no 300 times, and here they are still fired up, talking to me. That’s so fun to me to watch - I always say the founders are some of the most courageous people we ever deal with.”
“As a former athlete myself, the competitive nature of identifying talent, finding the right deals to get into, being able to carve out a niche that fits your thesis - it's something that makes the job very fun and it gives you kind of that feel of being in the game again”
February 25, 2022
The sports media landscape is evolving rapidly, and navigating and understanding that evolution can at times be tricky. With the likes of TikTok driving a push to short form content, but Netflix demonstrating clear demand for binge-worthy episodic series, how should rightsholders be deploying their time and resource to deliver value to fans and partners?
In this episode of the Sports Loft podcast, we are joined by ATP Media's Chief Strategy Officer Nick Bourne as he takes us through his journey as commercial lead at sports media disrupter Copa90 to his position at one of the biggest rightsholders in the industry. He shares his perspective on how the industry should be approaching its content strategy today. Throughout this journey, Nick has brought an outsider’s perspective to the industry, whether through driving a disruptive brand and new content formats at Copa90 or bringing different approaches to the tennis world.
January 14, 2022
The Atlanta Hawks’ State Farm arena has been ranked as the best NBA Game experience in both 2019 and 2020. With the focus on the game experience in the NBA and heightened consumer expectations, that’s no mean feat – especially when, in the first year they won they award, the team wasn’t doing well: “When the team’s winning, the beer is colder and the hotdogs are warmer.”
So for teams, how can you deliver a better experience for the fans across all aspects of their experience – from before the game, at the venue and after the venue. How do you help them get the information that they need to ensure that they have the best experience? How do teams compete against other ways that people can spend their time?
In this episode, Yanni spoke to Donny White, CEO at Satisfi Labs and David Garcia, Senior Vice President, Experience & Innovation at Atlanta Hawks. They discussed the approach that led the Hawks to be ranked as the #1 gameday experience in the NBA, what David has been able to bring from his background with Amazon and Disney into the NBA and how the data captured by Satisfi’s AI assistant is informing changes to the fan experience at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena.
Quotes from this episode:
David - “When fans rate their experience at a game, it’s tied to the amount of information they have before they arrive and the expectations that they come in with. For example, the bag policy doesn’t change from one guest to the next. But the guests that knows you can’t bring a bag will have a better experience than the guest that didn’t know and shows up and has to deal with that.”
Donny – “The new fan is a data giver. They’ll ask questions, they’ll tell their friends, they’ll be on social media, they’ll communicate - they have an expectation that brands will respond to them.”