Comcast sports tech accelerator will leverage NBC, Golf Channel, Nascar, and Universal theme parks

Daniel Roberts

When people think of Comcast, they likely still think of Comcast cable. It’s easy to forget the breadth of what Comcast now owns, including: NBCUniversal (Comcast acquired a 51% stake for $6.2 billion in 2011), Universal Studios (obtained when Comcast bought out GE’s remaining 49% stake in NBCUniversal in 2013), and Sky (Comcast outbid Fox for Sky in 2018, paying $39 billion).

Now Comcast is pooling from all of its divisions and broadcast partners to launch a sports tech accelerator, it announced last week.

The program, Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech, will invest $50,000 of seed funding in 10 sports tech startups, plus what Comcast says will be an estimated $1.7 million in “additional perks” including connectivity to Comcast data and cloud services, and software support.

The 10 winning startups will go through a three-month accelerator boot camp beginning in August 2020 at “The Farm” in Atlanta, an accelerator owned by Comcast and operated by Boomtown Accelerators.

Of course, many big corporations have tech accelerators, incubators, innovation labs, or investment programs. Comcast itself already had a handful, including The Farm (where it has funded 29 startups), Lift Labs, and Comcast Ventures, which has invested in a number of notable unicorns including Lyft and Slack.

But what’s potentially interesting about this new accelerator is the focus on sports-specific ideas (which Comcast said came about because so many sports tech startups were applying to its existing programs), and the breadth of different Comcast arms that will touch these startups.

A technician's vehicle sits in the parking lot at a Comcast facility in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S. January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

The SportsTech accelerator has seven official partners at launch: NBC Sports; Sky Sports; Comcast Ventures; Golf Channel (Comcast bought out Tribune’s stake in Golf Channel in 2003); Nascar (broadcast on NBC Sports); and two U.S. Olympic sports organizations: U.S. Ski and Snowboard and USA Swimming. (NBC has Olympics broadcast rights through 2032; with the accelerator starting in August 2020, it will be too late for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but the tech could easily make its way into the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.)

Beyond those seven explicit partners, Comcast says the winning startups could also potentially access any Comcast division or partner, if the tech makes sense for them.

Take, for example, a startup working on tech having to do with jumbotrons at games—there are a few of them. “That would be in the category of fan engagement in a venue,” says Bill Connors, Comcast’s central division VP. “So think about our partners: Nascar, which holds their events over multiple days with hundreds of thousands of people, there’d be direct interest of Nascar in that; Golf Channel, because of the fan participation component of golf... Think about within our own company Comcast NBCUniversal: Our direct ownership of Universal theme parks, and... over 140 sports venues in the domestic U.S. where Comcast cable [operates], including the Braves stadium SunTrust Park, that idea would get touched by all those partners.”

NBC Sports also has broadcast deals with the NHL, IndyCar Series, Tour de France, and the new Premier Lacrosse League, to name a few.

The potential to access those sports, and to use Nascar tracks, Universal theme parks, or baseball parks as testing grounds for new tech, is a pretty appealing pitch for startups at the seed stage, possibly better than taking money from a traditional VC firm.

What does Comcast get in return? “The ability to touch, feel, and see much sooner in the innovation pipeline,” Connors says. “And the ability to see early on how we might bring them into our product suite of assets and relationships.”

That sounds like the SportsTech accelerator will also be an avenue for Comcast to make new acquisitions.