Sports media startup WAVE.tv has raised $32 million in Series A funding of both equity and debt which it will use to broaden its reputation within the industry, as well as expand its platforms, develop more talent and push into areas like e-commerce and sports betting.
While WAVE.tv is just now going public with this news, co-founder and CEO Brian Verne says that the deal became official in mid-March – days before the coronavirus pandemic began affecting the economy.
“We were in a blessed position to capitalize on the business at the exact right time,” Verne said. “We went into COVID with a lot of security.”
The Santa Monica-based company was founded in 2017 to provide digitally native fans with programming on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and YouTube.
Over the past several months, Verne says that WAVE.tv’s viewership has increased from 2.5 billion monthly video views to 3.5 billion views. Revenue has also increased by 75% during that same stretch.
Entering 2020, WAVE.tv had already become the fourth-largest sports media property in terms of digital reach, according to Shareablee. With more than 18 media brands under its ownership, WAVE.tv generates upwards of 3.2 billion monthly views and reaches more than 200 million monthly fans.
“As a company now, we’re blessed in general by the makeup of our business in the sense that we are a digitally distributed media company focusing on non-traditional sports moments,” Verne said. “We don’t piggyback much off of live sports content the same way others do. In that sense, COVID has actually been quite good for the business.”
By securing its Series A funding, Verne says that WAVE.tv’s next focus is to further develop its portfolio of media brands onto new platforms. While it covers traditional sports like baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer, the company has also programming around topics like amateur athletics, combat sports, esports, and women’s sports.
One example of this is WAVE.tv’s Haymakers brand, which focuses on combat sports. As of July 20, the account – which encourages social media followers and users to submit their clips to its page – has roughly 1.5 million followers across all platforms. Another is BenchMob, WAVE.tv’s amateur sports-specific profile with upwards of 2.5 million followers and subscribers across its various channels.
Already, WAVE.tv has partnered with various leagues and rights holders and will look to find more to align with. As of July 2020, the sports media brand company has 42 partners representing more than 65 properties such as MLB, MLBPA, FIBA, World’s Strongest Man, National Lacrosse League, and Bellator.
Both Verne and Ishaan Sutaria, WAVE.tv co-founder and president, see the company diving deeper into previously nascent sports like esports and lacrosse. They also intend to double down on their women’s sports programming, including a recently launched Snapchat show called Phenoms.
With the added funding, Sutaria believes that WAVE.tv’s formula for success is paying off thus far.
“[The funding] helps us go deeper in the sense that we’ve figured out a thesis that we believe work and we’ve proven works, which is building digitally distributed communities around different types of sports fandoms,” Sutaria said. “We want to expand the type of content that we’re making, the breadth of the brands that we’re building, and the ability for fans to engage with them long-term. We view ourselves as making the sports entertainment holding company for the next generation of fans, and it’s just keeping on diving deeper and peeling back the layers on what we’ve proven to date.”
WAVE.tv also plans to launch new media brands in areas that have yet to be featured in its portfolio. Through a two-pronged approach, it sets out to organically build new media brands and even acquire businesses with their own unique voices and fanbases that it has identified as growth areas. The company hopes this will help it further connect with its desired Gen Z and Millennial audiences.
“To us, WAVE.tv is building on tomorrow’s economy,” Ali Hamed, co-founder and partner at CoVenture, said in a statement. CoVenture is WAVE.tv’s primary investor, and other investors in this round include GPS Partners, Golden Ventures, and Sweet Capital, as well as several other investors. The company had previously raised $8 million from Sweet Capital, Golden Ventures, angel investor Tom Williams and advertising executive Larry Braitman.
“When we think of Instagram, Snap, TikTok, and other social platforms, we spend a lot of time trying to understand the equity value of the various handles in this ecosystems,” Hamed said. “They themselves hold valuable real estate within those communities. Their followers, their brands, and their engagement all act as barriers to entry. And unlike the last wave of media, this one will be won by the long tail, not the cable networks that were forced upon us by our TV packages. It will be won by a collection of properties highly relevant to the audiences they serve, communicated through authentic voices, and we’re just scratching the surface. A lot of our thesis centers around investing and financing assets that have never existed before, or never been institutionally financed before – these social handles absolutely fall into that category.”
Living in an era where fandom, as Verne said, “cannot really fit in a singular box,” inspired the company to deviate from the norm by creating multiple brands with varying identities under the WAVE.tv umbrella as opposed to one singular brand.
“When you start to peel back the layers, and you look at our business holistically, I think it’s becoming much more clear that all we’ve simply done is go fandom-by-fandom and built this portfolio of digitally native brands,” Verne said. “We’ve become masters of the programming format, and now we’re becoming a creative partner to our 65-or-so rights partners. We’ll certainly continue to evolve and emphasize the WAVE.tv brands at large, but each of our 18+ media brands within the portfolio are equally as important.”