Comcast NBCUniversal is introducing a new startup accelerator intended to bolster the sports media giant’s innovation efforts, while keeping a pulse on emerging technologies coming down the pipeline.
At launch, the new Sports Tech accelerator will offer startups the chance to undergo pilots with six partnering brands. They include NBC Sports, The Golf Channel, NASCAR, Sky Sports, USA Swimming, and U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
Startups can now apply for the Sports Tech accelerator through May 15. The three-month program will begin In August at Comcast’s “The Farm” incubator in Atlanta and will be operated by Boomtown Accelerators, an accelerator founded in 2014 focused on general tech startups. Comcast also houses an innovation lab in Philadelphia called Lift Labs.
“What we learned from our own accelerators launched in the last 24 months is that many of the total applicants really had the look and feel of sports tech,” said Bill Connors, president of Comcast Cable’s Central Division, adding that the outcome served as the genesis for bringing the Sport Tech accelerator to market.
According to MarketsandMarkets research cited by Comcast and NBC, the overall sports tech industry is projected to reach $31.1 billion by 2024. Every partnering brand, from NBC Sports to third-party sports leagues like NASCAR, is looking to reap the benefits of the new sports venture early on.
“We’ve been approached by almost everybody,” said Connor. “If we fast forward a year from now, there are additional logos up there. The good news is we don’t need additional brands to be successful.”
The goal of the Sports Tech accelerator is to attract startups with expertise around eight specific industry categories: Media and entertainment, fan engagement, fantasy sports and betting, esports, venue innovation, player performance, team and coach success, and the business of sports – ecommerce and marketing, as examples.
Comcast, a provider of technology used to power more than 140 venues in the U.S., including the Wells Fargo Center, Wrigley Field, and Levi Stadium – is also looking to better monetize the data gathered from fans through the Sports Tech accelerator.
NBC, on the other hand, is more interested in finding the next GolfNow or SportsEngine, according to Will McIntosh, executive vice president, digital and sports consumer business, at NBC Sports. GolfNow is an online booking service for tee times, while SportsEngine serves as a content management system for youth sports leagues. NBC Universal currently owns both companies.
“Those two businesses together have about 1,500 team members and started as ideas, then small businesses, that when infused with the Comcast and NBCUniversal resources have grown into the respective leaders in their industries,” McIntosh said.
As a sports league, NASCAR’s objectives are different than both Comcast and NBC Sports. The governing body wants to both improve the venue experience for spectators at its tracks and use next-generation technologies to help usher in the sport’s next wave of fans, according to Craig Neeb, NASCAR’s chief innovation officer.
“These new ideas and new concepts that could come through this program will certainly give us a wider lens into the world of opportunities that we may not be able to find just on our own,” he said.
Neeb added that fans regularly underestimate how big NASCAR tracks are. Some may also not realize that NASCAR events stretch out over multiple days. In those instances, NASCAR is looking to help fans navigate venues to get the most out of their time at racing events. For fans watching at home, it is also keen on making fans feel closer to drivers.
“We’re developing our next-generation car right now that we hope to launch in the coming year. So the question becomes, how do we create a new experience from a fan standpoint with all that data that’s coming off of that car in real-time?” said Neeb. “An experience that gives that fan the sense of being in the car. For instance, what Kyle Busch might be experiencing during the Daytona 500 so that you see his blood pressure going up, you know, his heart rate rising.”
The six inaugural partners of the accelerator all have existing relationships with Comcast through media rights deals – for example, Nascar has a 10-year media rights deal with NBC Sports that runs through 2024. More partners will be added in the future that will also provide one-on-one mentoring to industry newcomers, Comcast said.
The 10 startups chosen as part of the inaugural Sports Tech accelerator cohort will receive a combined $50,000 investment from Comcast NBCUniversal and Boomtown Accelerators, in return for a 6% stake in their company. Participants will also receive north of $1 million in discounts from brands, such as Amazon and Comcast Business services.
In the past, Comcast has made investments in 29 startups through The Farm accelerator program in Atlanta. Those companies to date have generated $5.3 million in seed funding. Boomtown Accelerators has itself invested in 138 startups since its founding back in 2014 that have additionally generated north of $153 million in revenue.
The plan for Sports Tech is to expand the accelerator beyond Atlanta and into Philadelphia. Comcast and Boomtown also disclosed ambitions of launching an international hub in the U.K. soon, in efforts to attract more international applicants.
“This accelerator is designed to get early-stage startups in the program, but we’re going to see a lot of later-stage type companies as well,” said Toby Krout, co-founder and managing director of Boomtown Accelerators. “And when they fit with the innovation priorities of our partners, we’ll direct them in that direction, and they can pilot a licensed technology or partners can look to acquire those companies.”