May 16, 2022

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Comcast NBCUniversal Accelerator Program Focusing On Sports Technology Startups

4 min read

In January 2020, Comcast Corp. announced that it was launching a program for sports technology-focused startups. The idea was for the telecommunications giant to take small equity stakes in early-stage, promising companies and provide them with capital and access to high-level executives to help them hone in on their business plans.

Two months later, when the coronavirus pandemic began and the sports world shut down, Comcast executives wondered whether the initiative would ever take off. But this week, nearly two years later, Comcast is welcoming the second class of startups to the program, which is officially called the Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator. The program is focused on companies in the following areas: media and entertainment; fan/player engagement; athlete/player performance; team and coach success; venue and event innovation; fantasy sports and betting; esports; and the business of sports.

“At that point (following the onset of the pandemic), it was sort of like, ‘Oh my goodness, now what do we do?,’” said Jenna Kurath, the head of the accelerator program and vice president of startup partnerships at Comcast. “But actually the need for innovation and for being able to do things in different ways changed our focus areas.”

Indeed, the pandemic has actually hastened the growth of technology in sports as leagues, teams and investors re-assess their businesses and seek innovative ways to do things more efficiently. Comcast’s inaugural SportsTech accelerator began in February 2021 with 10 startups and was done virtually due to the pandemic.

This year’s program is similar in that it features 10 startups and lasts 12 weeks. But while most of the programming and sessions will be conducted virtually, the participants will come together in person for a few days in late March and early April in Texas and get behind-the-scenes looks at the NASCAR race at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, the PGA Tour’s Valero Texas Open in San Antonio and WrestleMania 38 in Dallas.

A total of 811 startups applied for this year’s program, which is co-sponsored and run by Boomtown, a Boulder, Colo., company that has worked with hundreds of startups since its founding in 2013. A board comprised of three Comcast executives and two Boomtown executives selected the 10 companies to participate.

Each of the companies receive a $50,000 investment, split evenly between Comcast and Boomtown, in exchange for an equity stake in the business. During the next 12 weeks, the startups will have a program tailored towards them that will help them with business strategy, marketing, finance and other topics.

The startups are each assigned an advisor, who is an executive from a Comcast subsidiary (NBC Sports, Sky Sports, Golf Channel and Comcast Spectacor, the owner of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team and the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia) or from the PGA Tour, WWE, NASCAR and three U.S. Olympic sports organizations: U.S. Ski & Snowboard, USA Cycling and USA Swimming.

“The $50,000 is a very nominal investment from a dollar standpoint,” Kurath said. “It’s really about the connections and the access and giving (the startups) a deeper understanding of the program and what they’ll get out of it.”

She added: “You’ll find a lot of times a company will come in and they’ll say, ‘I just need to figure out marketing,’ and then they’ll realize, ‘Oh wait a minute, I thought I was a consumer product, but I have a better play in white labeling and B2B (business-to-business.’ That completely changes your entire go-to-market strategy, which eventually ends up to be your marketing plan. A lot of times there are pivots within the program.”

From last year’s cohort of 10 startups, there have so far been 29 pilot programs where the companies had a chance to test whether their product/innovation works in a real-world setting and five commercial deals where the companies completed revenue-generating deals. The commercial transactions included XiQ, which developed a digital key for golf carts and signed a deal with the Comcast-owned GolfNow tee-time booking app, and Eon Media, which inked deals with three U.S. Olympic sports organizations to use the company’s technology to detect on-screen logos during sporting events and measure the value of such logos and sponsorships.

From a monetary standpoint, the program isn’t a huge investment for Comcast, which generated $116.4 billion in revenue last year and is among the top 50 U.S companies by market capitalization. Still, the company views the program as having the potential for a big payoff down the road or at least provide a look at companies that are on the cutting edge of technology.

“One of the most important aspects of why we do this work with startups is to keep that entrepreneurial mindset alive and well within our company,” Kurath said. “When our employees get to work side by side with an entrepreneur, that enthusiasm and mindset of constantly challenging assumptions, testing, experimenting, iterating, that’s really what keeps us much more entrepreneurial, which is not easy to do for a company of our size.”

The companies selected to participate in the SportsTech accelerator this year are:

·     BookSeats.com, which allows people to book flights, hotels and tickets to events;

·     HeadVantage, which is developing a camera that shows the vantage point of an athlete;

·     Ice Cream Social, a social media platform;

·     LetzChat; a service that translates phone calls, text messages and other customer interactions to another language;

·     Local Sports Network, a digital media company for high school sports;

·     Meetlete, a platform through which fans can meet their favorite athletes;

·     MoneyLine, a fantasy sports app;

·     Movrs, an artificial-intelligence-based platform that tracks the movement of athletes;

·     tiptap SPORTS, a wireless receiver that allows people to make payments and donate money; and

·     Uru Sports, a professional social networking platform for athletes.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/timcasey/2022/02/22/comcast-nbcuniversal-accelerator-program-focusing-on-sports-technology-startups/