- Professional athletes are looking to private companies to grow their wealth, or as a second career after sports. Others are looking to specialized venture capital firms like Next Play Capital who invest on behalf of wealthy, but lesser known athletes.
- An athlete’s seat at the cap table can be especially valuable based on their social media following, often lowering marketing costs for companies.
- “If you’re an entrepreneur looking at the value proposition of an athlete, it’s usually their social media presence,” says Paul Rabil, professional lacrosse player and early-stage investor.
The world’s premiere athletes are getting an early look at venture capital deals â partially thanks to their social media game.
Athletes’ Twitter and Instagram followers give them a direct line to fans, which in some cases can be used to promote portfolio companies they invest in.
Jon Sakoda, founding partner of venture firm Decibel, said start-ups often spend a “lot of time and money” to accumulate millions of followers on Instagram. But an athlete might be able to leverage a devoted audience immediately.
“Especially if you’re a consumer company â you want name recognition, the athlete brand and the audience distribution,” said Sakoda, who invests alongside San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman. “Social media is the primary acquisition channel for almost all start-ups and influencer marketing and tends to be the most successful and effective form.”
There’s economic upside for both parties. A star athlete’s endorsements help with marketing and can lower the cost of customer acquisition for portfolio companies. That can translate to a lower minimum investment for athletes and celebrities. Sakoda said there are often separate deals for doing events and promotions, but it’s rare that athletes get any sort of “discount.”
Founders often weigh which investment dollars are the most strategic, according to Paul Rabil, professional lacrosse player and founder of Rabil Ventures. Especially for consumer athletics brands, it’s often a pro athlete’s investment dollars that go the furthest.
“If you’re an entrepreneur looking at the value proposition of an athlete, it’s usually their social media presence,” Rabil said. “A founder might reach out to that athlete specifically and build a sports advisory board, or give them stock options that are directly tied to a certain amount of social media posts or wider PR.”
Impossible Foods is one example of a consumer brand leaning on celebrities and athletes to up brand awareness. Its high-profile backers include Serena Williams, Jay-Z, Katy Perry and Questlove. The company earmarked a percentage of its most recent funding round for strategic investors that included celebrities and athletes, according to the company.
Investors highlighted the relatively short careers in professional athletics, especially with risk of injuries. Sakoda pointed to recent examples like former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who shocked fans by retiring last year at 29 years old after battling multiple injuries.
“They all have anxiety about what comes after they’re no longer able to do what they do â you can only play at a professional level for so long, whereas in a career is like acting you can have decades of success,” Sakoda said. “It’s important for them to figure out how to make the most of that time and to prepare themselves for what comes after the game.”