Comcast Corp. is funding a new startup accelerator in a bid to connect its media properties and sports league partners with emerging marketing, media and technology companies, the company said.
Comcast will initially invest more than $15 million annually in the Atlanta-based program, called SportsTech, which will focus on startups across eight categories including sports media and entertainment; player and fan engagement; venue and event innovation; esports; and fantasy sports and betting.
SportsTech will take stakes in companies focused on streaming and content distribution; data-based sponsorships and advertising; athlete and player performance; game analytics; ticketing; merchandising; and ecommerce, among other areas.
Accelerators typically bet on startups relatively early in their investment cycles, providing funding as well as advice and access to other resources to help young companies reach the next level. By starting its own sports accelerator, Comcast hopes to discover emerging-technology companies that can help its business—before rivals do, and before the successes become more expensive to hire, invest in or buy later on.
“It will allow us to see things earlier and be at the forefront rather than go pay a premium after the fact,” said Bill Connors, president of Comcast Cable’s Central Division.
Media companies and marketers are increasingly using technology to connect with fans across platforms. For example, Facebook Inc. -owned Instagram has been recruiting sports leagues, teams and athletes to sell merchandise through its platform. Comcast already has interests in different aspects of sports, including broadcasting live games on its TV networks such as NBC, and a business that brings broadband and other technology to live sports venues. A venture like SportsTech can help advance those efforts, Mr. Connors said.
SportsTech will choose 10 companies to start its three-month program by August. In exchange for a minimum of 6% of equity, SportsTech will invest $50,000 into each company, in addition to providing other financial and business services support, according to executives.
League partners will join SportsTech for terms lasting a minimum of three years, offering the startups in its program counseling and access to their organizations. The leagues will also have the option of taking their own equity in startups that go through the accelerator, Mr. Connors said.
Nascar and two U.S. Olympic sports organizations, U.S. Ski Snowboard and USA Swimming, have signed on to participate.
Comcast, which also has broadcast rights to the National Hockey League and the Premier League, among other leagues, expects its various sports partners to move in and out of the accelerator as it suits them, Mr. Connors said.
Comcast’s NBC Sports and Sky Sports will also be involved, providing access and insights as well as serving as testbeds for startups’ tech. Comcast Ventures, the company’s venture capital arm, will advise SportsTech, the company said.
SportsTech operations will be directed by Boomtown Accelerators, a Boulder, Colo.-based accelerator operator that has previously worked with Comcast on The Farm, a separate Atlanta-based startup hub sponsored by Comcast and NBCUniversal. Comcast and Boomtown expect to hire 15 to 20 people to operate the accelerator.
“Sports tech startups have the same challenges that other early-stage startups have, which is access to sports industry experts—those who understand the nuances of the sport and who can help make the difference between success and failure,” said Toby Krout, chief executive of Boomtown Accelerators. “Tech founders can have instincts about how a product or service can disrupt businesses, but don’t always understand the nuances of particular sports.”
SportsTech is an outgrowth of other investment efforts by Comcast through existing ventures such as Lift Labs and The Farm. Those programs don’t specifically focus on sports, but many of the startups that have applied to them in the past did, which gave Comcast the idea to create an accelerator focused specifically on sports, said Mr. Connors.