Comcast NBCUniversal launches SportsTech; will infuse resources into sports startups

Astrid Stawiarz/NBC
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Comcast NBCUniversal, seeking the next game-changing ideas in sports technology, will match startups with partners, including some of sports’ biggest brands.

SportsTech is an accelerator program that begins in August with a three-month curriculum for at least 10 startups in the first year.

The global application window began Tuesday at ComcastSportsTech.com.

The deadline to apply is May 15 for the program that’s based at Atlanta’s The Farm, about 40 feet from SunTrust Park’s right-center field wall.

Each chosen startup will receive $50,000 in investment, in exchange for a minimum six percent equity, shared between co-investors Comcast NBCUniversal and Boomtown Accelerators, the accelerator operator.

Plus, access to industry insiders across six partners: NBC Sports, Golf Channel, Sky Sports, NASCAR, USA Swimming and U.S. Ski & Snowboard, plus Comcast Ventures, the company’s ventura capital arm.

“The demand for sports technology across the globe has never been greater, yet most sports startups don’t have access to the resources they need to succeed nor an ability to develop relationships with the right people inside the industry,” said Jenna Kurath, Vice President of Startup Partner Development, Comcast Cable.

SportsTech was borne out of Comcast’s previous, non-sports specific accelerators that increasingly attracted ideas that fit sports technology.

SportsTech founders laid out eight categories: media and entertainment, fan and player engagement, athlete performance, team and coach success, venue and event innovation, fantasy sports and sports wagering, esports and sports business.

NBC Sports and Golf Channel recently incubated and grew two sports tech businesses.

SportsEngine is the largest provider of youth sports software to relevant organizations and national governing bodies.

GolfNow is the largest online tee-time reservation service and technology provider to golf courses.

“They started off as business ideas that happened inside of our company that, via acquisitions and investment, we’ve been able to infuse with all the resources of Comcast and NBCUniversal and turn them into the leaders that they are in their spaces,” said Will McIntosh, EVP, NBC Sports Digital & Consumer Business. “Our hope, as part of participating in this accelerator, is we might find the next GolfNow or SportsEngine, of sports betting, of esports, of whatever that might be.”

NASCAR, so long known for its innovation with cars and safety equipment, is also looking to improve its fan experience.

“Starting to add some emotional elements to some of the physical things you’re seeing,” said Craig Neeb, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer. “What’s Kyle Busch’s heartbeat up to right now? How much sweat is on his hands?”

In the Olympic world, national governing bodies want to improve athlete performance. In swimming and skiing and snowboarding, a hundredth of a second can be the difference between gold and silver medals.

Troy Taylor, U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s high-performance director, has a background in sports science and sports physiology. Wearable technology for athletes (projected to be a $305 million business across all sports in 2020) and artificial intelligence-assisted coaching has piqued his interest.

That kind of sports tech could trickle into the fan experience, too.

“Maybe, some day, the opportunity to virtually race against Mikaela Shiffrin,” Kurath said. “There’s something unique here bringing the right partners together for that cross-sport exposure to really stand up something that can be different, unique and put us at the forefront of shaping the future of sports.”