SEEING THE FIELD

Ripken Baseball, Cal Ripken Jr.’s youth sports business that centers around baseball/softball facilities, tournaments, and camps, raised a significant minority investment from LionTree. LionTree, which focuses on media, tech, and telecom, has been active in sports of late – backing companies like FuboTV, Second Spectrum, and The Athletic.

Ripken and businesses like it can be highly profitable – with camp fees, facility rentals, and hosted tournaments across multiple complexes as the main revenue drivers. While Ripken currently streams the action at its facilities, this investment will primarily focus on expanding the company’s digital capabilities and reach. This is an example of an opportunity to scale a ‘traditional’ sports business by applying tech expertise – with potential applications across media, ecommerce, recruiting, team/league/event management and performance training.


TOP PLAYS
  • Appetize, a POS and analytics company with a large footprint in sports and entertainment venues, raised a $23M Series B. The round brings total funding to $50M and included 32 Equity, the investment vehicle formed and managed by the NFL teams.

  • The Professional Fighters League, an MMA organization competitive with UFC, raised $28M in Series B funding. The league is in its first season, features a tournament-style competition (vs. UFC’s one-off fights), and has a one-year media deal with NBC Sports. The raise shows the continued growth of ‘new’ sports concepts and appetite for unique sports content.

  • iQiyi Sports, the sports business unit of iQiyi, raised $73M following the announcement of a JV to run the sports platform. iQiyi is a video streaming business (like Netflix) owned by Baidu.

  • ESPN secured a multi-year deal with Serie A that gives the network exclusive distribution of 300+ games in the US. From ESPN’s perspective, Ronaldo’s transfer to Juventus increases the value of Serie A content, much of the programming will live on ESPN+, and provides the network a foothold in the top international leagues (NBC has the Premier League, beIN La Liga and Ligue One, and Fox has Bundesliga).

THE SPRINT
  • Fitbit continues to try and transition to a more holistic digital health company (moving beyond its initial wearable business). This week the company launched a wellness program with Blue Cross Blue Shield that will offer Fitbit products to 60 million BCBS subscribers at reduced costs and integrate Fitbit data with BCBS’s wellness program.

  • Sports Data Lab, a startup focused on tracking/distributing real-time physiological data from competing athletes, formalized a partnership with the Professional Squash Association. The deal will make this data (e.g. heart rate) available for commercialization – creating interesting opportunities for media, performance, and gaming.