NFL Players Start a Venture Firm Using Tom Brady as Capital

  • Players union to trade marketing rights for startup equity
  • Kleiner Perkins, Madrona, Intel and Harvard among partners

Tom Brady.

Photographer: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The National Football League players union is starting a venture group, using athletes’ collective cachet, not cash, as investment capital alongside millions from established investors including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers LLC and Madrona Venture Group LLC.

The OneTeam Collective, as the group is called, is designed to trade the rights to football players’ images for equity in sports-oriented startups. It’s a unique proposition. Other tech investors in the pro sports world, including Kobe Bryant, the L.A. Dodgers and the Philadelphia 76ers, put up seed capital but not intangible assets like marketing rights.

When it comes to NFL players, those rights are valuable. Companies like Electronic Arts and Nike pay the NFLPA handsomely to use the players in commercials, video games and other promotions.

“The idea here is that younger companies would be able to tap into that same value without having to put up that same cash,” said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc. The union’s licensing and marketing arm earns about $160 million annually, and it could choose to invest some of that money in the new companies as well, or make players available for product research, development or advice.

With the support of six founding partners --  Kleiner Perkins, Madrona, Intel Corp., the Harvard Innovation Lab, LeadDog Marketing Group and Sports Innovation Lab -- the group is interested in companies that touch sports, technology and media. That broad category includes data, performance and training, fitness, fantasy sports and gambling, wearable technology and virtual and augmented reality apps.

For the founding partners, “the value is really twofold,” said Rouz Jazayeri, a partner at Kleiner Perkins. Startups currently in the firm’s portfolio can get connected to the NFLPA, and the firm gets a new influx of sports-focused investment pitches.

The investors aren’t putting a limit on how much they’ll stake, and there’s no specific duration like other accelerator programs have. “It will be more like admission to a club,” said Scott Jacobson, a managing director at Madrona. Startups will negotiate deals on a case-by-case basis, including how much equity to trade for what NFL-related benefits, as well as any cash investment from the founding partners.

The union’s investment vehicle will have an athlete advisory board that includes Mark Herzlich of the New York Giants, Russell Okung of the Denver Broncos, as well as former players Dhani Jones and Isaiah Kacyvenski.

The OneTeam Collective will host its first Pitch Day February in Houston, the site of the Super Bowl.

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