By Andreas Themistocleous, Contributor
Reading from the official website: “The third annual Players Technology Summit, presented by Bloomberg, is an exclusive and intimate gathering of world-class athletes, entrepreneurs and investors taking place on Thursday, June 27th 2019 in San Francisco. The summit provides a forum for some of America’s most celebrated athletes and business leaders to share their success stories, lessons learned and consumer technology trends to watch in an environment that promotes networking.” It’s out there and it’s happening people.
The intersection between athletes and corporate entities has historically been focused on brand ambassadorships and endorsement deals. The largest brands in sport have leveraged the power of individual stars to market products and reach consumers. However, in the last 5 years or so, NBA stars in particular, as well as other prominent athletes are taking ownership of equity-based relationships and opportunities, having identified technology as the “thing” of the future.
According to the PWC 2018 Sports Survey, the sports industry is predicted to grow by 7% over the next three to five years. The survey reported that “the industry stakeholder group who were most optimistic about future growth prospects were sports tech firms, reflecting the wealth of opportunities in this market.” Therefore, it is not surprising that investing in sports tech (and technology in general) has been an area of focus for athlete investors. NFL stars such as Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, NBAers like Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, former greats like Shaq and Kobe, European footballers like Fabregas and Henry, tennis stars Andy Murray and Serena Williams and many more are all investing in technology that is based on everyday life activities and needs. Michael Jordan, among many other investments, is a major part of the sports data company known as “Sportsradar”.
This growing trend is based on the fact that athletes are high net worth individuals with access to funds, access to opportunities and access to the greater public, due to their high visibility through social media, and other channels. It should be mentioned that this has been facilitated by the growing influence of athlete education, which renders athletes better prepared and more intrigued, as well as increasingly receptive to building a network in the venture capital industry, as a means of developing long-term investment opportunities. It should not go without saying that the fast rise and huge success of social media, as a means of technological platforms, have also played a role in athletes adopting this specific mindset.
Moreover, it should be noted that athletes are by nature very goal-oriented, success driven and always eager to find new ways to succeed. They have a champion mindset, looking for ways to work smarter instead of harder and looking to ensure that their hard-earned salaries go to good use that will allow them to enjoy the benefits down the road; very similar to what they have been doing their whole life in sports.
According to comments made at the Tech summit, athletes should invest only the money they could afford to lose. They should be very careful, if not picky, in their investment choices and look for companies that the athletes would want to give their money and not companies that are asking for their money. Investing takes a lot of listening and a lot of homework to be successful. Additionally, athletes should be patient in learning, observing and becoming familiar with the overall investment theme, prior to signing off any cheques. 3-time Olympic gold medalist and prime tech investor, Kerri Jennings, said that “surrounding yourself with the right network of mentors is an easily transferable tenet from sports to investing”, which is something that many athlete investors are already doing.
One of the biggest tech investments, easily accessible to athletes, has been the e-sport industry, which is expected to bring revenues of up to $2.4 billion by the end of 2020 and an audience of up to 276 million people by 2022 (according to gaming research firm Newzoo). Several athletes understand that this is an international market, a fast-growing market and it makes perfect sense to the athletes based on their lifestyle. Another area of great interest to athletes appears to be health tech and helping build a brighter future for others by positively influencing the lives of people within the communities they operate. Again, this stems from the athletes’ background and exposure to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) that is a theme taught to all athletes from a young age.
On the other hand, it’s not just athletes that are taking a strong interest in this athlete-tech relationship but also companies and start-ups themselves; athletes are highly sought out investors. This is because athletes can add value and validity to any company they support, being highly credible as influencers, having strong ties with communities and having the ability to introduce products to the public in a unique way.
Iguodala and his advisors are now building a platform to connect more athletes to the forefront of technology and investing. The NBA Summer League in Las Vegas is also taking key steps to expand beyond the traditional basketball networking event and become a forefront of connectivity between the worlds of sports, technology, and investing. The good news for athletes is that tech investing is not a winner-take-all market. It is a symbiotic relationship between all parties involved that is driving the industry and is benefiting all of us.
Andreas T. Themistocleous (BSc, MA, MBA) is a native of Famagusta, Cyprus. He is a former basketball player, a NCAA Division I student-athlete and now a sports management/business professional. He has served in the sport industry from several positions, most notably in club football management, as a Board member of sport federations and as lecturer in academia. He is currently in the sports services industry. To connect and network with Andreas, you may find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.