How We Built a Business to Support the Youth Sports Industry
July 20, 2021
Yesterday we announced our $15MM Series B round led by Contour Venture Partners. If you’re interested in the news release you can read the full announcement here. What’s not included in that announcement are my thoughts on why this is such an important milestone as we work to strengthen and support the youth and local sports industry and ensure that all kids and communities have the advantage of sport.
When we started LeagueApps 10 years ago, our goal was to make sports seamless by creating the best-in-class platform for the maturing youth sports industry. As we set out to do that—and we have by becoming the operating system for thousands of enterprising organizations and 10 million participants—we came to appreciate the central role of youth and local sports leaders who are defining the future of sport. Everything we’ve done since then has been through the frame of serving these entrepreneurial sports organizers.
The impact of sport is not theoretical for us. Our own experiences playing sport have shaped our leadership styles and given us enumerable advantages in life. We began to appreciate that many kids were systematically missing out on the benefits of sports. We realized it wasn’t enough to just build an amazing company with the ubiquitous use of our technology—we had to do more. That’s why our vision embraced the ambition of being the most impactful company in sports, to strengthen and serve an industry that powers youth and local sports experiences for all kids and communities.
Nothing crystallized the importance of youth and local sports like having it taken away from us. The COVID-19 pandemic tested us all. Our revenue dropped by nearly 95% literally overnight. We processed more than $50M in refunds for our partners. With pride, we also refunded 100% of LeagueApps fees to our sports organizations. It wasn’t easy—and it was nerve-wracking.
But as LeagueApps investor and two-time NBA champion Shane Battier reminded our community at a virtual event in April of last year, “crises reveal who you are; they don’t define who you are.”
Investors As Teammates
The industry survived—and the pandemic not only revealed who we are, it made us realize how important the return to play is for all of us. As our partners rebound and participants flock to fields and courts across the country, we want to accelerate our initiatives in innovation, community, and impact—and further serve youth and local sports leaders.
We are thrilled to have worked with new and existing LeagueApps investors to raise an additional $15MM to be able to invest further in our vision.
Existing investor Contour Venture Partners led this round. Major League Baseball and Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm of the ownership group of the World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers, were among the other participating and existing investors.
We know the best teams are diverse teams. We were intentional about the inclusion of underrepresented investors and including only those that were aligned in purpose and values.
Our newest investor teammates include:
- Julie Foudy, broadcaster, Olympic Gold Medalist & World Cup Champion, and founder of the Julie Foudy and espnW Sports Leadership Academy;
- Swin Cash, Pelicans VP of basketball operations and team development, NCAA, WNBA & Olympic Champion;
- Derrick Dockery, 10-year NFL player and co-founder, Yellow Ribbons United
- Peter Holt, Chairman of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, holding company of the San Antonio Spurs, San Antonio FC, San Antonio Rampage, and Austin Spurs & CEO and General Manager, HOLT CAT;
- Laura Dixon, former Spurs executive and founder and president, [PRO] Sports Assembly
- Hamilton Lane, a leading global investment management firm.
Alongside other existing investors, including David Robinson, Paul Rabil, Shane Battier, Dhani Jones, David Blitzer (76ers/Devils/Crystal Palace owner), and Nancy and Arn Tellem (Pistons owner), this group of values-based sports and business leaders shares a commitment to strengthening the youth sports industry.
Investing In the Future
We will use the new funding to expand our array of technology solutions, advance our community-building efforts, and further realize our mission.
We recognize the imperative for constant innovation.
The investment will accelerate the LeagueApps engineering and product development initiatives and allow us to continue building a best-in-class operating system for youth sports organizers and their members. We’re excited to invest more in our website-building service, Design Shop, and to continue enhancing our mobile apps—the free LeagueApps Play and Branded Apps. As we do so, we’ll continue to build a technology ecosystem that helps our partners grow their businesses and support their participants.
The investment will also be used to scale the NextUp community, a professional development and networking platform that unlocks new opportunities for local leaders to impact their communities, as well as continue our commitment to the FundPlay program.
Working With the Best to Advance Youth Sports
All that we have accomplished, and all that we want to do, is a testament to our championship-caliber team.
Today, LeagueApps is made up of 94 people, many of whom have had formative sports experiences. Our team is home to former collegiate athletes, Olympic qualifiers and gold medalists, rec league enthusiasts, weekend sports warriors, youth sports parents, and coaches. Those who haven’t played sports have at least fallen in love with Ted Lasso—and believe in our mission of community-building through sport.
We’ve won awards, such as the Front Office Sports Best Places to Work, Aspen Project Play Champions, Deloitte Technology Fast 500, and the Built In NYC Best Places To Work. Our SPORTSDOG values define expectations, guide our actions, and influence how we build our team.
But our work isn’t done. We are actively hiring in every department, including engineering, product, customer success, sales, and people. Though we have offices in Union Square in Manhattan, we have a distributed workforce—and are excited to work with the best to help us advance youth sports.
Ubuntu: LeagueApps Is Because You Are
A few months before the pandemic, Brian and I spent a few hours with the late former NBA Commissioner David Stern. He shared the story of leading at a time of an unprecedented virus, and the role that the NBA—and sports, in general—played in responding to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
David once commented that “you will be defined by the sum total of your responses to circumstances and events that you couldn’t anticipate or imagine.”
We’ve been awed by the perseverance and resilience demonstrated by our partners during the past 18 months. We’ve been inspired by how our team has responded. We’re grateful for the belief and support of our investors who share our vision and ambition.
We’re motivated by how much more we can do. In the immortal words of Muhammad Ali, which have become a rallying cry at LeagueApps, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.”
At the end of our visit, David stopped to show us his photographs with Nelson Mandela, and we spoke about Mandela’s amazing life story, and his core belief in the “power of sports to change the world.” Mandela’s words grace every one of our office walls—and, as an organization and as a team, we live by his words.
At a time of the kind of disruption we’ve experienced the past year and a half, at a time of conflict and division, there may be no more important industry to respond to what is happening in our world than the youth and local sports industry. We need what sports has to offer.
The importance of sports was not just Mandela’s lived experience, but tied to his philosophy—a concept known in Africa as ubuntu.
I am because you are. We are in this together.
Ubuntu is why we need to care that not all kids have the benefits of sport—every one of us loses when others are left behind. Ubuntu is how we feel about our partners. We can’t be what LeagueApps wants to be without our partners realizing their goals and aspirations.
Ubuntu explains why the LeagueApps team is so special—those who are here now, who were here before, and who will join in the future—as we recognize we succeed because of each other.
Thank you to all that have made us who we are. We stand ready to help you be what you want to be.