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Volume 21 No. 1
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NFL has stake in Ross buyout target YinzCam

YinzCam, the in-stadium app developer Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is suing but also is negotiating to acquire, counts the NFL as an equity stakeholder in the company.

The NFL four years ago quietly traded in-stadium licensing rights for the league’s RedZone channel to YinzCam in exchange for the equity position, a source said.

Kansas City Chiefs President Mark Donovan, who is a member of the league’s fan-experience committee, confirmed that the NFL holds an equity position in the company. While the size of the ownership stake was not available, the league having the equity position is something that has not previously been publicly revealed.

The NFL has owned equity positions in companies before, but those positions came from deals in which the league received public stock as part of a partnership, such as with Reebok and Sirius Satellite Radio.

It is unclear if the league currently has any other equity positions similar to YinzCam. An NFL spokesman declined to comment on the stake in the company.

YinzCam CEO Priya Narasimhan also declined to comment. Narasimhan started YinzCam, developing its prototype in 2007.

The league’s investment in YinzCam is not part of the NFL’s equity fund venture with Providence Equity Partners that was created last year. The venture was created with Providence to seek sports and entertainment related investments. No such deals have been announced to date.

But the impetus behind that fund sounds similar to the offerings that YinzCam provides. The fund grew out of the idea that many businesses were growing in size working in and around the NFL, with Under Armour and Twitter two examples given. So the original idea behind the fund was to have the NFL directly invest in these kinds of businesses.

YinzCam would fit that model, with its in-stadium app used by 25 NFL teams and now about 16 NBA teams as well. (YinzCam did not swap equity for its NBA association.)

The NFL updated owners and their staff last week on Ross’ efforts to buy YinzCam, sources said. Ross’ Kangaroo Media owns FanVision, a handheld device offered for rental at sporting events that features highlights, stats and, in NFL cases, RedZone.

Ross bought FanVision in 2010, expecting NFL teams to swiftly adopt it. However, the rise of smartphones and apps snuffed that chance, with many of the features offered by FanVison available for free through apps developed by YinzCam.

Two years ago, FanVison sued YinzCam, alleging patent violations. Publicly at the time, it was not known that essentially one NFL owner was suing a company owned in part by the NFL. Now, that owner, Ross, is negotiating to buy YinzCam as part of settlement talks.

Team officials questioned at the league meeting last week had little to say about that prospect, saying the purchase had not yet happened and that the league’s presentation was very brief and made no conclusions.

The camera angles, RedZone and highlights featured on YinzCam’s apps are keys aspects of the NFL’s quest to enliven fans’ in-stadium experience.