The NFL Players Association program, called OneTeam Collective, is designed to give sports technology companies such resources as access to investors, mentors and NFL players.
Budding sports technology companies soon will have a chance to create apps and hardware that involves some of the most high-profile football players.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is launching an accelerator for tech startups that develop any kind of technology related to sports whether it be apps for devoted fans, tools for athlete training or analytics for teams.
The OneTeam Collective, as the program is called, will give startups resources such as access to investors, mentors and NFL players themselves. The program is launching with six founding partners in the business world, including Seattle-based Madrona Venture Group, as well as Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Intel, the Harvard Innovation Lab, Sports Innovation Lab and LeadDog Marketing Group.
OneTeam Collective has assembled an advisory team of players to work with the companies, including former Seahawk lineman Russell Okung, who now plays for the Denver Broncos and who is an investor in Matcherino, a Seattle e-sports startup and Shyft Technologies, a Seattle shift-swapping app.
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The idea was born, in part, when a small tech company that made emojis approached the NFLPA. The company wanted permission to use players’ likenesses in the app.
The association was interested, but the startup couldn’t afford the cost to license the rights, said Ahmad Nassar, president of the association’s for-profit marketing arm, NFL Players Inc.
Nassar’s team tried to find a way to take equity in the company instead of accepting a fee but couldn’t nail down a deal in time.
It was an expensive missed opportunity, Nassar said. The company was acquired for a “sizable sum” not long after.
“We absolutely would have taken equity if (OneTeam Collective) had existed,” he said.
The accelerator will accept companies into the program on a rolling basis, a break from many similar tech programs that have a set timeline for each cohort of companies. Accepted companies will get a chance to make deals with the NFLPA and other founding partners.
The founding members of OneTeam will decide if and how much to invest in each company in exchange for equity. More established companies can also apply, Nassar said. There is no set amount of equity each company must give up.
Madrona has hosted NFL players at its offices in the past and sees the accelerator as another way to push technology into every industry, said Madrona managing director Scott Jacobson, who will sit on the OneTeam board.
He pointed especially to the amount of data collected in sports. Many tech companies across industries are trying to figure out ways to make use of the huge amounts of information companies and organizations collect.
“It’s a fun way to expand the set of relationships we have and the people we work with and the potential deal flow,” Jacobson said.
The Players Association is hopeful the program eventually will benefit current and former athletes of the league. The union organizes internships and opportunities for players to visit businesses, nonprofits and venture capital funds as part of programs to launch retired players’ second careers.
“We’re broadening that out,” Nassar said. “We want to appeal to as many players as possible.”
About 400 players retire from or leave the league every year.
The accelerator program has started accepting applications and will host its first pitch day in Houston in February.