Arguably the biggest week in sports technology, most companies associated with the industry will attend either SXSW's SXsports or MIT's Sloan Sports Analytics Conference this weekend (perhaps even both). But only a few years ago, if you'd said "sports tech" to someone, they would have likely returned blank stares (trust me, I know all too well).
Describing the landscape in early 2013, venture capitalist Carmichael Roberts noted, "The amount of dollars going into sports versus opportunity is out of whack. Even though you see it increasing (investment), the opportunity way outstrips the amount of capital going that direction."
Quickly, the industry has completely changed. TechCrunch reported that nearly $1B was put into sports tech in 2014. And today, there are investment funds almost entirely dedicated to sports. Explaining the change, billionaire and sports investor, Michael Rubin, said "You've got very smart people entering the sports business; people are finding scale...if you really look at sports in 2014 versus a decade ago I think the sophistication of some of the entrepreneurs is definitely better."
As momentum in this sector continues to surge, here are 10 of the most significant events that helped get us here:
- Nike enters the wearable tech market with its Fuel Band: Taking on pioneers like, Fitbit and Jawbone, the apparel giant is known to define industries with its every move. Though it later discontinued Fuel Band, Nike helped legitimize this category of sports tech, with Adidas later purchasing Runtastic for $250M.
- IMG is sold to William Morris Endeavor (WME) for $2.3B: Though IMG is involved with many businesses other than sports tech, the eye-popping transaction size ignites unprecedented investment interest in the overall sports category.
- Major League Baseball (MLB) invests in DraftKings: The daily fantasy site becomes an official partner of MLB and later raises $24M led by RedPoint Ventures. Chief rival, FanDuel, later completes a comparable partnership with the National Basketball Association, and the race to acquire customers and produce terrible commercials is afoot.
- Robert Morris University creates a varsity gaming team: Most people were well aware of how massive eSports had become, but this gesture speaks volumes about its future. eSports has now become so mainstream that one can receive a scholarship to play in college.
- GoPro becomes publicly listed on NASDAQ: Dramatically increasing the quantity and quality of content, the hardware maker nurtures an ecosystem of publishers and storytellers. The tremendous value of that ecosystem is acknowledged in its ability to go public. While are many video devices on the market, including our phones, GoPro has established itself as the leader, ensuring that more sports content can be captured.
- MLB Advanced Media (BAM) begins streaming HBO Go: Many people knew that BAM's sophisticated streaming capabilities had been leveraged by other companies, especially in sports. But this move underscores BAM's formidable reach, as it is now helping Hollywood distribute its video content, at scale. Now well documented, BAM slowly and quietly has grown into one of the most valuable sports tech companies on Earth.
- Under Armour buys MyFitnessPal (MFP) for $475M: The third in a string of acquisitions for Under Armour, MFP is its largest in sports tech and is a major coup in creating the "world's largest health and fitness community." The purchase not only underscores the value of such communities but also fuels the fire around digitized training, nutrition, and the rich data that consumers crave.
- Accel Partners leads a $72.5M investment into Hudl: This staggering sum of money acts as a lightning rod for sports tech investing, highlighting the substantial value in sports software companies, other than fantasy platforms.
- Los Angeles Dodgers launch an "Accelerator:" This marks the first time that a professional sports team has dedicated such infrastructure to align itself with early-stage companies. Dodgers ownership also creates Elysian Park Ventures, joining scores of dedicated sports investors, like Raptor Group and Bruin Sports Capital.
- Time, Inc. acquires three digital sports companies: One of the most storied publishers in U.S. history, Time adds to its existing assets to create "Sports Illustrated Play." Focused on the youth sports market, the new unit reflects sports tech's pivotal role in its future plans.