Business people owning sports teams are not new, but what is often rare is making that sports team the center of a venture firm, which aims to score on the changing nature of live entertainment.
Andrea Radrizzani, chairman and founder of Aser Ventures, knows precisely what it takes. Radrizzani does not just run a venture fund. He also owns a successful soccer team playing in one of the world’s most popular leagues.
The London-based firm plans to make more investments in its goal to make live sports more accessible, paving the way for fans to easily watch events through different mediums. If successful, his efforts will democratize what it means to be a fan.
“[Stadiums have] mobility and capacity issues,” Radrizzani said. “There are budget issues, too, in terms of access to tickets. Technology can democratize the access and distribution of premium events.”
He added that the venture firm is investing not just in media companies that can broadcast matches or other live events, but is also interested in working with start-ups that expand the nature of sports and entertainment.
Radrizzani, and Aser, own the majority stake in Leeds United, which plays in the English Premier League. While not as well-known as such household names as Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, Leeds United itself boasts a stable of solid players and celebrity supporters, including Russell Crowe as a fan. The team has been around since 1919 and has had many ups and downs in its history, from reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001 to relegation (when a team’s low ranking forces it into a lower division). The investment arm of the San Francisco 49ers holds the remaining stake in the team.
Radrizzani believes there is an opportunity to expand the reach of soccer, particularly the European leagues, which can be slightly confusing to an American audience. He noted that American viewers could readily understand the massive differences in how leagues are run in Europe. If the popularity of the Premier League in the country is an indication, he may be right.
Besides Leeds United, Aser’s portfolio includes broadcast platform ELEVEN Group, production company Neo Studios, data technology provider Sports Data Labs, NFT creation platform Da Chain and fan data solutions Sports Innovation Lab.
“We have a very innovative and unique approach to the market because we are combining the distribution of live sports events, particularly soccer,” Radrizzani said. “The next step will be to combine this platform and the ocean of content with live distribution.”
Many VCs have invested in start-ups around the live entertainment sector. Of particular interest for many investors is the idea of the hybrid live event, where concerts or sporting competitions happen somewhere while still offering a virtual component that fans can enjoy from anywhere. Hybrid events hew closely to the idea of the metaverse that many VCs are beginning to investigate.
Changing the model
Radrizzani said the need to change distribution models becomes more important as the next generation of fans – either of sports or music – are less willing to bend to the current distribution models of networks retaining exclusive broadcast rights. Through its portfolio company, Live Now, Aser said it could show the event across different platforms without the need for a subscription.
Currently, most sports leagues are tied to exclusive distribution deals with television networks. In the US, NBC owns the broadcast rights for the Premier League, a transaction worth $2.7 billion over six years, as reported by CNBC.
“The distribution of content is still a bit antiquated,” Radrizzani said. “It’s not disruptive enough and is managed by a big, traditional media company that maybe they are not stimulated enough to change. That’s part of the idea that I want to change.”