Despite the coronavirus lockdown that has prevented teams from playing, those in the know never gave up on the sports industry’s ability to be a fertile ground for innovation and entrepreneurship.
That’s the gist of the remarks made by Wayne Kimmel, a managing partner at SeventySix Capital (Conshohocken, Pa.), during an online innovation chat hosted by James Barrood, advisor to Tech Council Ventures and the Jumpstart NJ Angel Network.
Ian Goldberg, cofounder and CEO of iSport360 (Manalapan), added that sports apps like his have proven to be even more important to coaches and parents who want to keep their kids on top of their sports and to encourage team camaraderie during this time. The company has recently decided to give the iSport360 platform and app away for free to any coach or team that needs it to stay connected this season.
A video of the online event can be found here.
Kimmel said that he still believes people want to do three things: First, they want to play sports or work out. Second, they want one of their kids to be a great, great player, and they’ll do anything to make them the next LeBron James, Michael Jordan or Serena Williams. “They’ll spend tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. And, third, they want to watch sports.
Now there’s a fourth thing that people want to do, he added. They want to bet on sports. Another new trend is that young people want to play competitive video games, and there are more than 200 colleges that will give them a scholarship to do so.
“SeventySix Capital invests in the entrepreneurs who are passionate about the sports industry and want to do the next great thing. And we want to get behind them to help them,” Kimmel said.
The VC firm also sponsors an athlete venture group, which involves “experts” — athletes who play or have played at the professional level — in evaluating products in their field. “This enables us to bring athletes to the table. They have an opportunity to invest with us. They have an opportunity to learn. They have an opportunity to get involved in businesses that they know something about,” he explained.
“And it’s really been incredible because they not only know some of the physical sports, but a lot of these athletes are also very much interested in the world of esports, and they’re big-time gamers. … They are incredible at some of these games, but they also help the company and help the brand, and we’re able to then use the social capital that these athletes have to help move our companies forward.”
Kimmel advised entrepreneurs, “Continue to build your network, and this is a great time to do that. …We were starting and we are continuing to see a lot of opportunity. We also believe that this is also a very unique time where you can actually start to build the technology side of your business, and really shore up some things, and also think about and work on some areas that you may not have had time to. A lot of us are just moving so fast and flying around and running all over the country. This is a great time to focus. And that’s what we’re seeing from these entrepreneurs all across the country in sports.”
Goldberg noted that iSport360 has had its ups and downs during the lockdown. The company’s platform was built to be a tool that complemented practices and games, a tool through which coaches could share feedback after a game. They could “conduct a player evaluation and help support the training process,” he said.
“Little did we know that the COVID crisis was going to come along and bring a suspension to youth sports. … At first, we thought it was going to be all doom and gloom. We were in the midst of a $3 million raise that certainly is being postponed,” he added.
“But what started to happen was that coaches started to sign up for virtual youth sports platforms faster than ever before. Many coaches are using Zoom to do virtual training practices with their kids, but they still need something to complement that, they still need a way to share training videos with their teams, share practice assignments with their teams, have a virtual locker room where the teammates can communicate, stay connected and stay active.” Goldberg noted that his company had gotten some good publicity in the Washington Post about how its “platform is being used during this crisis.”
Goldberg believes that the pandemic will seed a cultural change for youth sports. “I see a lot of blue sky at the end of this crisis. …Youth sports has become such an industry that we forgot it’s really just supposed to be an activity for kids to have fun. And for the first time in many years, we’re seeing parents out in the yard, kicking a soccer ball around with their kids. That used to be reserved for a coach or a trainer to do with their kids,” he said.
“We see parents working out with their kids. They’re doing yoga, they’re doing speed and agility, they’re taking bike rides. We didn’t have time for this just two months ago, when we were so over-scheduled with youth sports. So, I think there’s a lot of good things happening in the youth sports space right now. And we should see some real cultural changes in the whole youth sports industry.”
Talk to Advisors, Investors
Barrood asked Kimmel and Goldberg to give one piece of advice to the audience.
Goldberg said that, in the middle of this crisis, “it is extremely important for entrepreneurs to navigate a safe course to success. And I think one of the most important ways to do that is to surround yourself with incredible advisers. We had a tough decision to make a few weeks ago, when we postponed our round of investment.
“At the same time, I went to my investors and I said, ‘I’m considering giving the platform to teams and coaches that are struggling this season to keep their teams connected.’ We decided together that this was what we were going to do. We sacrificed all of our revenue this spring to make sure that we’re helping our community, we’re helping our customers. … So, I think having a strong advisory board is so important for entrepreneurs. You cannot make those tough decisions alone.”
Kimmel agreed, saying, “You can’t know everything, no matter how smart you are, how amazing you are. Having advisers and having people around you, they may see things from a different angle. …We’re so into sports. We’re so into this industry. And someone may just say, ‘In the healthcare world we looked at it like this.’ We would have never thought about this. So, I think it’s so important to always invite feedback by other people with different types of ideas and thoughts.”