With Cowboys’ Backing, Blue Star Set to Boost Sports Startups
Dallas—Partners with a deep well of subject matter expertise and capital are on the top of any entrepreneur’s wish list.
Now an accelerator tailored to sports technology startups might be giving those founders a connection to the ultimate in sports and marketing royalty: the Dallas Cowboys.
The new Blue Star Accelerator, aimed at nurturing young tech companies in sports and entertainment, is expected to open up shop after the start of the new year. While details of the accelerator are still being worked out, ultimately the program is expected to be housed at the Cowboys’ headquarters in Frisco, TX, about 30 miles north of Dallas.
“We haven’t seen how each deal is going to be structured,” says Jerry Mooty, chief business and legal officer with Blue Star Sports, the company that would run the accelerator. “Each one will be looked at on an individual basis. Some may or may not need capital; they may need office space.”
The accelerator is a joint project between Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his family and Rob Wechsler, the CEO of Blue Star Sports. Jones, along with Providence Equity Partners, funded the eight-month-old company, which is being set up to be a one-stop shop for youth sports technology needs, including league websites and registration systems. (Providence has sports-related investments in the Ironman Triathlon, Major League Soccer, and Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network, among others.)
Since April, Blue Star Sports has been on a buying spree, picking up half a dozen tech startups in sports software and payments systems.
“The Dallas Cowboys organization is dedicated to the development of youth sports at all levels,” Jones said in an April press release announcing the start of Blue Star Sports. “The future lies in the hands of the youth, and working to enhance the participation of young people in sports is very important to us.”
Mooty says that it was in the process of Blue Star’s acquisitions that Wechsler saw the opportunity of hatching an accelerator. While some of the companies he was meeting were too early stage for Blue Star Sports, Mooty says Wechsler was intrigued by their potential.
Prior to setting up Blue Star Sports, Wechsler had been a longtime financial tech entrepreneur, specializing in payments companies. He founded Century Payments in 2009 with partner Austin Ventures and sold the firm to Bain Capital and Worldpay in 2013. (Weschsler also sold another payments company, CPA, to Bain Capital and Worldpay in 2010.)
Blue Star Accelerator is now taking online applications from interested startups that would at some point make a presentation to the Jones family, Wechsler, team executives, and other investors.
The Cowboys organization isn’t the only major league team getting involved in the development of young sports tech companies. This year, other professional franchises such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Minnesota Vikings have each launched similar incubation startup labs and accelerator programs. The Dodgers hosted their first demo day last year with startup products such as prediction software for fantasy sports, private social networks for college coaches’ recruiting, and a human performance software platform.
The Vikings have a broadcasting studio for aspiring sportscasters, while the 76ers are working on an innovation lab with the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.
Mooty says the Blue Star accelerator is interested in a broad variety of innovations, including in health IT, performance-enhancing devices, and other ways that technology could be used in youth sports all the way to the professional leagues.
“Sports technology is a quickly moving area,” Mooty says. “Anything that we can do to help these companies, especially by bringing in the visibility of the Cowboys and Mr. Jones’s and Mr. Wechsler’s acumen, we want to do.”