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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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Bear Market for Sacks and INTs? The Difficult Road of Sports Stock Markets

  • Many companies have attempted to develop a successful athlete stock market.
  • Scaling these operations with casual sports fans have proved very difficult.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one truism of the sports industry, it’s that somebody at some point will again try to blend pro sports with elements of the stock market. And in nearly every instance, it’s been an uphill climb. 

For more than 20 years, a series of different companies have sought to use either the on- or off-field performance of athletes and turn that into some version of an investment-grade asset. The approaches have varied, with some veering closer to the realm of traditional fantasy sports or sports betting, others existing as a repackaging of other celebrity brand investment vehicles. 

But in every instance, the core idea is largely the same: take investment concepts core to Wall Street and combine them with the affinity fans have for sports. 

The latest entrant is Vestible, which allows fans to buy and sell shares based on the future on-field earnings of college pro athletes. The Kansas-based startup has gained approval from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and it now plans a March 18 initial public offering centering on Broncos linebacker Baron Browning. Fans can buy shares priced at $10 tied to 1% of Browning’s salary income. The Denver linebacker, who keeps 80% of IPO funds, is currently in a rookie contract paying about $3.1 million this year, but he is set for a big pay bump in his next deal. Part of the hook here is for fans to get in on the ground floor, so to speak, on Browning’s upside. 

Swings and Misses

Investors will receive monthly dividends, and they can buy and sell those shares. Vestible, however, is merely the latest in a long list of companies to try, without lasting success, some version of this idea. Among the company’s many predecessors:

  • ProTrade: The granddaddy of them all in this space. Created by Mike Kerns—former chief of staff to super agents Leigh Steinberg and Jeff Moorad—and Jeff Ma, part of the famed MIT blackjack team that beat Las Vegas at its own game, this company formed in 2004 as an online stock market of athletes. Unable to scale that operation, Kerns and Ma renamed the business in ’08 to Citizen Sports Network and shifted to a variety of social networking and fantasy-sports-oriented applications, ultimately leading to a successful sale to Yahoo! Today, Kerns is a partner at influential investment firm The Chernin Group, while Ma is an active entrepreneur, author, podcaster, and speaker.
  • Fantex: Similar to Vestible but structured around endorsement income instead of on-field salary, this company sold shares between 2013 and ’16 before closing the following year. 
  • Mojo: Backed by Timberwolves owners Alex Rodriguez and Marc Lore, this athlete-oriented stock market also ventured into sports betting and fantasy sports, but it sold or shut down much of its business late last year and is now focusing on back-end pricing support for other betting operators. 

Plenty of others are still attempting similar concepts, including PredictionStrike, which raised $10 million last fall for its fantasy-sports stock market. But in virtually every prior instance, an inability to reach large swaths of casual fans has helped prove fatal. 

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