P.E. Roundup: Mars Reel, Sparta Science and Barstool Sports Close on Funding Rounds

Mars REel

While JohnWallStreet focuses on publicly traded companies, there have been several noteworthy sports-related private-equity deals announced in January; Mars Reel, Sparta Science and Barstool Sports have all raised capital to grow their businesses. Below is a summary of each transaction:

Mars Reel, a sports streaming company that posts video highlights (i.e. dunks) of high school athletes on various social media platforms to draw the eyes of talent scouts, raised a $2.7 million round from a series of investors including LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Shane Battier and the rapper NAS. The company, which also has a player-driven diary series and links to individual player websites, received 148 million unique views in 2017 and is credited with raising the awareness of Spartanburg Day School star Zion Williamson (committed to Duke).

Sparta Science, a sports-tech company that uses data and technology to measure and reduce player injury risk and maximize performance, has raised a $7 million Series A round. The investment, led by Playground Global, will be used to further software innovation and grow its team; efforts that will enable the company to expand beyond the sports world and into the Clinical space. The software, currently used for injury prediction and rehabilitation, is used by various pro & college athletic teams including the Cavs, Falcons, 49ers, Rockies, Nationals, UT, KU, RU and AU.

Barstool Sports, a “controversial” sports and lifestyle digital media company, has raised $15 million at a $100 million valuation. The investment comes from the Chernin Group, who had purchased 51% of the company in January 2016 for $10 million. The company intends on using the capital to double its staff (to 160), expand its amateur-boxing promotion and to create new properties; including a line of branded alcohol and a Barstool themed bar. Barstools also announced it would also begin to sell subscriptions to fans who seek exclusive content.

Howie Long-Short: Sparta Science had raised just a $2.7 million seed round prior to closing on their Series A round, so there aren’t a ton of ways to play the company; but Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) participated in the seed round. There are no publicly traded corporate backers invested in Mars Reel or Barstool Sports.

Fan Marino: In a recent Recode Media podcast, Bleacher Report CEO Dave Finocchio was asked his thoughts on Barstool. Finocchio answered the question fairly, pointing out their particularly loyal fan base and offering complimentary words for Barstool CEO Erika Nardini. The interview made headlines though, for a quote pointing out the obvious; “they’re not politically correct. They’re definitely more, it feels to me like, white males who want to join a country club. They’re never going to be as big as we are because we work very hard to be inclusive and we don’t offend people.” Naturally the Stoolies disputed the allegations (the comments are fairly entertaining), but the fact remains they’re untouchable from a corporate advertising standpoint. Peter Chernin sits on the boards of American Express, Twitter and Pandora, but those brands won’t advertise with Barstool; their target clientele includes women. Barstool can sell a ton of merchandise, offer subscription fees and draw crowds at events; but, they’ll never draw an audience the size B/R does.

Want more JohnWallStreet? To join our free daily email newsletter list, sign-up here!

Seahawks, Microsoft Partner to Prevent Player Injuries

The Seattle Seahawks are using Microsoft (MSFT) technology (Microsoft Azure and Power BI) to analyze and plot sports-science data as the team tries to prevent player injuries. MSFT’s Sports Performance Platform utilizes machine learning, predictive analytics and historical data to spot trends between “practice loads and player durability”, with coaches and trainers using the actionable insight gained to customize training regimens for individual athletes. Not everyone is on board though: some players are concerned that the data collected could be used against them (and lead to cuts), while others question the efficacy of the program, with several key Seahawks on season-ending I.R. (Sherman, Avril, Chancellor). Microsoft has plans to “deploy the platform to a broader set of customers.”

Howie Long-ShortMSFT grew revenue 12% YOY (to $24.5 billion) in Q1 ’18, with net income up 16% (to $6.6 billion) over the same time frame. Sparta Science is another company playing in the sports-science space; creating money ball methods to assess injury risk. The company which already works with the Cavs and Falcons, recently signed its first EPL partnership with Stoke City F.C. Sparta Science is privately held, but Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) participated in the company’s seed round.

Fan Marino: Speaking of Microsoft, the company will remain the NFL’s official sideline technology sponsor through the 2018-2019 season; meaning MSFT will continue to supply Surface tablets (it’s not an iPad, Mr. NFL announcer) for officials to use on video reviews. Coaches and players will also have access to Surface tablets on the sideline, giving them the ability to review previous plays. The deal comes as the existing 5-year $400 million contract comes to an end. Financial terms of the new deal were not disclosed.

How the Seahawks use Microsoft’s new high-tech performance platform to prevent injury and plan practices

For the balance of today’s newsletter, sign-up here!

Sparta Science is Creating Money Ball Methods to Assess Injury Risk

The University of Pennsylvania has signed an exclusive 3-year deal with Sparta Science, an injury management technology company that uses historic data to create models that can predict the risk of injury (both in volume and severity) for athletes. Sparta’s product, marketed as a way for athletic departments to minimize injuries while maximizing performance; has given teams a method of instituting an analytical approach to the athlete’s body (aka money ball for injuries). The software, compatible with triaxial force plates that measure biomechanical movement, offers custom training and rehabilitation programs based on the results of a 60-second test. Since Penn began working with Sparta Science two years ago, the athletic department has seen a 30% decline in the number of injuries and $400,000 annual reduction in related insurance premiums; which offsets the cost of the product.

Howie Long-Short: Sparta Science company could have pursued contracts with the seven other Ivy League institutions, but instead chose to look long-term; focusing on its product over short-term profits. The exclusive nature of the partnership provides Sparta Science with access to Penn’s medical school and to the Wharton School data analytics program; both are participating in research studies with the company. Sparta Science is privately held and has raised just a $2.7 million seed round to date, so there aren’t a ton of ways to play the company; but Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) participated in the round.

Fan Marino: With pro athletes earning millions each season, injuries are costly. It’s estimated that ACL injuries alone cost NFL teams an estimated $63 million per year. During the 2016 MLB season, teams spent an average of $26 million in salaries on injured players; so it’s not surprising to see professional franchises joining the Sparta Science client roster. The company has contracts in place with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Nationals, Colorado Rockies and San Jose Earthquakes.

Sparta Science Brings Injury Reduction Tech To University of Pennsylvania

For the balance of today’s newsletter, sign-up here!


The NFL is getting smarter, as its teams and players embrace the recent explosion in digital health & athletic performance applications. Here at JWS, we look to put the companies (that you can invest in) behind those applications on your radar.

Zebra Technologies (ZBRA); Catapult (ASX:CAT) – Both companies track the movement of players during games, providing next generation stats based on location, speed and acceleration. ZBRA places radio frequency identification tags on each player and receivers around a stadium, then triangulates the position of the tags. CAT uses GPS and accelerometers to determine location and movement.

Sparta Science – Strength tool used to measure the force a player applies to a plate in the ground as he jumps (i.e. the push off). Qualcomm Ventures (QCOM) is among their investors.

STRIVR – Developed a virtual reality system that runs players through practice reps. BMW (ETR: BMW) i venture is among their investors.

Kinduct – Intel (INTC) backed data management company, that converts data into actionable insights; recently partnered with Zebra Technologies.

Howie Long-Short: The NFL has its own private equity arm, 32 Equity. The firms most recent investment was in Blue Star Sports, the Jerry Jones backed sports technology provider. The investment capital will be used to fuel technology acquisitions that enhance the youth sports experience and foster youth sports participation.

Fan Marino: STRIVR was developed at Stanford and first used by David Shaw’s team during the 2014 season. Kevin Hogan was the first QB to use the technology. If you’ve never seen STRIVR in action, check out this 30 second clip!

NFL Technology: What’s New for the 2017 Season