Comcast NBCUniversal has announced the launch of SportsTech, a three-month global accelerator for multi-stage sports technology startups that will be based in Atlanta.
The accelerator features what Comcast NBCUniversal calls an “unprecedented partnership” between three of the broadcast giant’s sports brands – NBC Sports, Sky Sports and Golf Channel, as well as NASCAR and a pair of U.S. Olympic sports organizations: U.S. Ski & Snowboard and USA Swimming.
Comcast NBCUnversal plans to house the accelerator at Comcast’s Central Division headquarters at The Battery Atlanta, where Comcast’s The Farm accelerator also operates. Boomtown Accelerators, who also runs The Farm for Comcast NBCUniversal, will operate SportsTech as a completely separate entity.
“We’re a 57-year old company, but it took us 55 years to build an accelerator. We were slow to the game, but 20 years ago, no one even knew what an accelerator was,” says Bill Connors, president of Comcast Cable’s Central Division. “We were very patient and very clear in our intent.”
After months of due diligence speaking with CEOs, founders and others in the accelerator space, Connors and Comcast NBCUniversal “pulled the trigger” two years ago to start The Farm in Atlanta and Philadelphia’s LIFT Labs. However, when both started seeing a critical mass of sports technology-related startups, Connors began to consider the value of a unique standalone accelerator to serve them.
“We started to say, if we decide to do this, where would we be differentiating?” Connors asked. “We started talking with a lot of knowledgeable people. We thought, Comcast is in a lot of touch points of sports right now, but if you could pull this off by bringing a consortium to the table of folks with like interests in the world of sports, that’s something that no one at any scale has done. That would be a differentiator. That would be something we could rally around.”
Initially, SportsTech plans to focus on technologies and products covering fan and player engagement; athletic performance; team and coaching success; event and venue innovation; fantasy sports and betting; esports, and sports business.
In a statement, Sam Schwartz, Chief Business Development Officer for Comcast Cable, highlighted the potential value that company founders could bring to its brands via SportsTech.
“We are delighted to introduce SportsTech to our suite of accelerators to help founders build sports technology and products, refine their business models, tell their stories, and benefit from the unique assets and talent of Comcast NBCUniversal,” said Schwartz. “Comcast NBCUniversal has some of the most prominent sports brands and we are excited to partner with founders through SportsTech.”
SportsTech is designed to jumpstart growth for the 10 selected sports tech startups by providing them access to an international cadre of advisors, $50,000 in investment capital from Boomtown Accelerators and Comcast NBCUniversal in exchange for nominal equity, and an extensive customized sports tech “startup MBA” curriculum shaped by industry experts.
In turn, SportsTech’s partners that may not have innovation pipelines or the ability to evaluate and leverage the innovations they do encounter can learn more about cutting-edge technology trends across all sports that can help modify and grow their businesses.
“Startups can face existential threats on an hourly basis,” says Toby Krout, executive director of Boomtown Accelerators. “Sports tech startups, in particular, find it very difficult to get access to the industry experts, the ones who really know the sports business really well. There’s not a lot on the planet and they’re buried inside sports organizations.”
In addition, Krout says, “they might get someone a little traction inside a particular sport, but they’re building products and services for multiple sports, and so they have difficulty getting cross promotion. This accelerator design resolves those two issues.”
Comcast Ventures, Comcast’s San Francisco-based venture capital firm, will participate in an advisory role. Each partner will serve on an international advisory committee that will influence the innovation priorities of SportsTech. In addition, they will give the selected startups direct access to strategic industry relationships, as well as mentorship and partnership opportunities at what Jenna Kurath, Vice President of Startup Partner Development, Comcast Cable, calls “the unique intersection of sports, technology, and entrepreneurial innovation.”
“That natural catalyst place for us was to sit in the middle of bringing these two worlds together and create that edge where startup founders are really innovating credible things in the technology space and can come together with our six iconic sports brands. I mean, these are billion-dollar companies in their own right. These brands will be the beacon that will attract the best startups from around the world to apply.”
SportsTech provides an opportunity for both companies and partners to tap into a global sports technology market expected to exceed $31 billion by 2024.
The accelerator is also poised to take advantage of the city of Atlanta as both a sports and technology hub. The city currently boasts more than 31,000 tech jobs and has become a top 10 city for industry talent. In addition to fast becoming one of the country’s biggest cities for esports, Atlanta has also hosted three Super Bowls, several NCAA basketball championships, and the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. Two years ago, the city hosted the college football championship game and will host another Final Four this April.
Applications for SportsTech open today and will close May 15; the accelerator’s first cohort will start in August.