SBJ/Feb. 16-22, 2015/Events and Attractions

Group links startups with sports, capital

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At a midtown law office, about 150 New York-area executives from across sports and digital media meet about once a month to discuss industry topics and exchange ideas. But the sessions are unlike any other comparable gathering around town.

They meet at night, which means more informal discussion, alcohol can be served, and attendees stare at their phones far less than during the business day. Invitations are required but not overly difficult to obtain, creating a gathering that is at once intimate and substantial. Nothing except open networking happens for at least the first hour of every session, with content and more formal business taking a background role.

Meetings of the New York Venture Community Sports group produce an “entrepreneurial vibe” through informal networking, business discussions.
Photo: COURTESY OF NYVC SPORTS
Amid its unconventional structure, the New York Venture Community Sports group has become, in a little more than two years, an influential alliance linking teams and leagues, digital media and technology startups and investment sectors in what remains the unofficial capital of the U.S. sports industry.

“The original idea was very simple. It was just, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could get all these parts of the industry together that often have trouble connecting?’” said Jeff Volk, MLB Advanced Media vice president of new business development and an NYVC Sports co-founder. “But what we’ve done is create a setting where a lot of open dialogue can happen.”

Volk created the group in late 2012 with Deepen Parikh, co-founder of sports social media company FanMor and now a partner with early stage company incubator Interplay Ventures. The first gathering involved Volk and Vishal Shah, vice president of media strategy and business development for the NFL, discussing how startups can work with professional leagues. Subsequent meetings have explored subjects such as ticketing, analytics, fantasy sports, and investment strategies, with attendance of generally 150 to 200 people.

“I was that digital startup person, wanting to know how to get access to the teams and leagues,” Parikh said. “We started very small, maybe 20 or 30 people at that first session. But we’ve given a place where startups can go to talk to those properties and investors.”

The setting has proved to be a fertile breeding ground for hires and business deals. Many meetings include a time when attendees can announce to the group their intention to make a hire or strike a partnership of some sort. But even amid more informal networking, the wheels of dealmaking are steadily spinning.

Donna Goldsmith, recently hired as vice president of consumer products for Tough Mudder, formed a consulting relationship last year with the endurance event series in part through NYVC Sports that ultimately grew into the full-time role.

“This is a very different group of people than what you usually see around the space,” Goldsmith said. “It’s a much more entrepreneurial vibe. There are some other groups and events I don’t always get to, but I always make sure to get to this one.”

Jeremy Goldberg, president of youth sports registration platform LeagueApps, made a pair of recent hires through the NYVC Sports group.

“It’s a community that really adds value to all of its members, from inspiration and insight to connections and deals,” Goldberg said.

As NYVC Sports has grown, it’s developed a partnership with the Loeb & Loeb law firm, which opens up a large conference room for the gatherings and helps underwrite a small organizational budget. It also has aligned with longtime industry consultant Tom Richardson and his on-demand student labor group, Talent League.

“There’s probably more true engagement here than most anywhere else I go to these types of things,” said Richardson, who originally started with the group as an attendee and occasional session moderator and now is an organizer along with Volk and Parikh. “Perhaps more than anything, we’ve connected different age groups. You’ve got 20-something startup people with people in their 40s and 50s at leagues or venture capital firms in the same room talking about really interesting topics. That just doesn’t happen very often.”

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