How One Major League Baseball Team Is Going to Bat with Rookie Sports Businesses

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With the North American sports market growing at an annual rate of 4.5 percent, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, it’s no surprise that professional athletics organizations are pouring resources into helping young companies develop related products and services.

This year saw the launch of the Los Angeles Dodgers Sports and Entertainment Accelerator, geared toward supporting emerging category leaders and mentoring startups at the intersection of sports, technology and entertainment. The mentor network includes Dodgers owners and experienced investors, as well as entertainment executives from across the U.S. The Dodgers partnered with digital agency R/GA, which runs its own tech-centric startup accelerator, to offer additional business strategy and branding.

The Dodgers Accelerator is hosting 10 startups over a three-month period that will end with a demo day for investors in November. We talked to Dodgers CFO Tucker Kain to learn more about how the accelerator can help entrepreneurs hit their ideas out of the park.

Why get into the accelerator game?

Innovation is in our DNA at the Dodgers. We spent about a year discussing how to position ourselves, approach the market and launch. The Dodgers Accelerator was born out of the team ownership’s interest in and focus on continually advancing and growing business here at the Dodgers, and also in the sports-entertainment business on a broader industry level. It was also born out of a desire to continue to improve our relationship with fans and to offer customers content they’re interested in.

What criteria do you weigh when considering applicants?

We have a few ideas about pillars we want to address and concepts we’d like to get involved in: fan engagement, sponsorship activation and smart arena management. There’s also really great innovation happening in terms of virtual reality, mobile devices and the second screen, with fantasy teams and with youth sports.

But the beauty of this program is the breadth and depth of the applicant pool and the work already being done in industry. We tried to find companies in industries where we want to really add value. Our goal is to offer guidance. We want to encourage people who aren’t sure whether their idea is a perfect fit but are motivated to apply and participate.

Are sports-related startups attracting investor attention?

The sports-entertainment space, particularly as it has grown and developed on the tech side, has garnered an incredible amount of interest in investment capital. For example, there’s a lot of work to be done with athlete management, data and analytics for performance and preventing player injuries.

What makes the Dodgers Accelerator different from other startup programs?

The Dodgers brand is synonymous with and built on baseball, but our network is broader than that. The mentor network we provide is unrivaled in terms of the diversity of experience from across industries.

R/GA also brings services to applicant companies in a meaningful way. Young companies need to allocate resources strategically, but for startups, branding and marketing services can be cost-prohibitive. R/GA provides teams with the actual product development, company branding and business planning. Those services improve a company’s value proposition.