Ask just about any startup about how the first year of business went and the word “pivot” is bound to come up.
It’s a natural part of the startup game, particularly for those founders working inside the ever-changing world of Web3.
One startup that knows how to play that game is Atlanta-based The Players’ Lounge. The startup got off the ground in January of 2022 when former UGA football stars Keith Marshall and Aaron Murray were looking for a way to use NFTs (non-fungible tokens) to connect athletes to their fans. While NFTs were all the rage at the start of the year, general interest has faded a bit and has changed as the crypto markets faltered over the course of 2022.
To keep up with the changing times, The Players’ Lounge to figure out what was the best way to move forward in the evolving NIL (name, image, and likeness) space.
“We’ve had to constantly pivot to make sure we were staying ahead of trends and staying relevant and ultimately position ourselves in line with what consumer sentiments were,” co-founder Keith Marshall told Hypepotamus. “We’ve repositioned ourselves a little bit…it’s all about the value that we’re providing to the athletes, which is the ability to create engaging communities that allow fans access like never before.”
Today, The Players’ Lounge is focused on improving the fan experience through content, digital assets, and real life experiences. That looks like creating exclusive messaging boards and opportunities to buy unique athlete-specific memorabilia that help athletes grow their individual brands.
New Funding, New Faces
The Players’ Lounge and its focus on NIL has attracted new outside investors and stakeholders recently.
After bootstrapping most of its first year, The Players’ Round is ending 2022 with a seed investment from Silicon Valley’s Draper Associates. It has also inked some impressive content partnerships, including with Brinx.TV. The content distribution platform was founded by host and producer John Brenkus, who is known for his work at ESPN.
“To have [Brenkus] on the team and to have him bought into what we’re doing, and to support our vision with [his] ESPN-quality production and distribution history, is huge of us,” Marshall added.
Investors said they are drawn to The Players’ Lounge’s growth, particularly as the startup has brought on more 250 student-athletes and generated more than $1.4 million in revenue.
“Keith, Aaron, and the TPL team embody the passion and authenticity of college athletics. Their player-first approach to fan engagement has them perfectly positioned to capitalize on the shifting landscape of the NIL, and we’re thrilled to be a part of their journey.” states James Walker of Draper Associates.
The Changing Nature of NIL
It was no doubt a rocky year for startups in the NFT and crypto space. But given The Players’ Lounge focus on the NIL space, the startup is poised for new growth opportunities moving into 2023.
College athletes earned an estimated $917 million in the 12 months that followed the NCAA rule changes allowing amateur athletes to make money and mint endorsement deals. Southeast athletes at football powerhouses UGA, Alabama, and Clemson took home some of the major NIL deals over the last year.
“The whole industry is trying to figure out exactly what it’s going to look like moving forward. And we’ve been right at the center of that. It’s exciting and it’s forcing us to stay on our feet,” Marshall added.