The global sports industry is arguably one of the most lucrative industries in modern history. This is thanks to the three big money spinners - broadcasting, sponsorship and advertising, and match day revenue. The numbers are staggering, but when you consider the great unifying power of sports, it all makes sense.
Like so many other aspects of normal life, the sports industry was shaken by the sudden emergence of COVID-19. The financial losses were devastating, and for the first time teams, sponsors, and sports bodies had to start seriously looking at innovative ways of generating revenue. This has in turn had an impact on athletes themselves, who rely on the events and the commercialisation off the back of that.
This is a big part of what spurred Mike Sharman, Bryan Habana, Ben Karpinski, Shaka Sisulu and Andy Gilder on to build MatchKit. The platform helps athletes make money regardless of the status of live events. This is really something that athletes had not considered seriously enough pre-pandemic.
“The one thing athletes are poor at is promoting themselves. They like to have deals constructed for them by their agents, but 80% of them don’t even have an agent. So how do they put themselves out there in order to generate new revenue streams and commercialise themselves in a new way?” says co-founder Mike Sharman.
Where before athletes relied on their performance on the pitch to make money, they can now leverage their digital platforms to attract commercial opportunities. Core to MatchKit’s functioning is its integration into existing social media channels to not only showcase themselves, but more importantly, to demonstrate the value of their digital reach to potential sponsors.
The platform also makes provision for crowdfunding, and includes an e-commerce function that allows athletes to sell personalised messages and merchandise, the logistics of which are all handled by MatchKit.
Having started the business in lockdown was a quick, direct response to a pressing need, but the timing brought with it many opportunities the team feels they wouldn’t have encountered under normal circumstances. In fact, you could say lockdown was an accelerator for the business in many ways.
“The upside of the pandemic was that we were given almost unrestricted access to people at very senior positions who we would never have been able to get to had there not been a pandemic. So we definitely have leveraged those gaps and leveraged those networking opportunities in order to open the right doors and to be cash positive,” Sharman tells us.
Since joining the AlphaCode Incubate Programme, one of the most vital insights the team gained is the value of pivoting from a B2C approach, to a focus on pitching to businesses instead. This could be a team, brand sponsor, or sports body, who will in turn bring associated athletes on board in quantities, and gain the ability to report on the overall digital reach of the body as a whole.
This has proven to be a winning strategy as they’ve already signed on South American rugby-playing nations, which together brought on more than 200 players, as well as the US Swimming Olympic Team 2021. These are big wins for a little bootstrapped startup launched in a global pandemic.
While signing new clients and becoming profitable is a priority for the MatchKit team, what most excites them is the prospect of empowering athletes to make their careers work for them, independent of games, broadcasting and agents.