The Future of Sports Lies In The Hands of Athlete Investors (for better or worse)
It feels funny to say this but…
The future of alternative sports, and even women’s sports, lies in the hands of athlete investors.
They also happen to be 90% men and mostly from the worlds of basketball and American Football.
This is perfectly on display in pickleball…
Pickleball is Run By Athletes
Pickleball went from 5 million players last year to over 36 million in the latest report.
And a big piece of this has to do with the team concept.
I wrote about this in my briefing “the death of individual sports” where I argue all sports will now have a team concept.
The ability to own a team — which means ownership and equity upside for the main parties involved.
And who are the owners of most of these pickleball teams?
Publicly, there are 15+ athletes as owners in pickleball teams.
Interestingly, we can name most of them…
But can you name more than 3 professional pickleball players?
In my opinion, pickleball’s success as a professional sport lies heavily in its ability to market the players themselves.
There’s something we can’t forget…
Sports is Entertainment
If you can’t entertain the fans, you can’t build a sustainable league.
A few things must happen for a league to succeed:
tickets need to be sold to bring fans into the revenue flywheel
eyeballs need to be reached to attract media rights and sponsorships
One of the best ways to achieve this is by having entertaining players and putting the spotlight on them.
Alternative sports leagues need characters like Nick Kyrgios in tennis, Rob Gronkowski in football, and Draymond Green in basketball.
“All publicity is good publicity, right?” - as Kyrgios famously said after getting fined $10,000+ for “bad” behavior at Wimbledon.
I think athletes inherently understand the importance of “putting on a show” and know how to achieve it.
This is why I think it makes perfect sense for them to be at the forefront of new sports (as owners).
Newer Sports Leagues
Let’s highlight some of the new sports leagues that have popped up over the last few years.
🚺 Athletes Unlimited: a network of professional women's sports leagues made up of basketball, softball, volleyball, and lacrosse
⚽ National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL): professional women's soccer league in the United States (20+ athlete owners)
🏀 Big 3: 3-on-3 basketball league founded by Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz
🏀 Overtime Elite: professional basketball league for 16-20 year-olds
🏀 The Basketball Tournament (TBT): $1M winner-take-all tournament played each summer in the United States
🏒 3ICE: 3-on-3 ice hockey league
⛳ LIV: professional golf tour financed by Saudi Arabia, consists of a team format and large cash prizes (some players have an ownership stake in their team)
🥍 Premier Lacrosse League (PLL): American professional lacrosse league, composed of 8 teams
🎯 American Cornhole League (ACL): professional cornhole league
🥒 MLP, APP, PPA: the three professional pickleball leagues (15+ athlete owners)
🏐 Pro Volleyball Federation: a women's professional league starting in 2024 (NFL QB Joe Burrow is a founding partner)
I could go on and on — but these are the most popular new leagues (at least in America).
There are two apparent trends in emerging sports leagues that you may or may not have picked up on.
1. Athletes are creating the sports of the future.
While there are the traditional billionaire moguls in new sports leagues, athletes are often the supporting stakeholders.
We’ve never seen this dynamic throughout history.
It’s always been the oil magnates and tech moguls profiting off the entertainment of their high-paid employees, aka athletes.
But the tide is shifting…
2. Leagues are only as good as their most well-known players.
There’s a reason and strategy behind LIV Golf spending absurd amounts of money on famous golfers.
Netflix has even considered investing in new sports leagues and creating content for them.
Don’t assume that 20 years from now the NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL will continue to rule the roost.
Sports will continue to evolve (and so will the leagues/organizing bodies).
Athletes are at the forefront of this — as both players and owners.
Thanks for reading today!
Have an awesome weekend. I’ll be back on Sunday for the weekly roundup.
Keep in mind….The numbers are lagged and only account for ages 18+ so it’s probably closer to 50 million pickleball players.