The concept provides startups with access to investors, mentors and, of course, more than 2,000 NFL players. The program is launching with six founding partners, including tech heavyweights Intel, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, the Harvard Innovation Lab, Madrona Venture Group, Sports Innovation Lab and LeadDog Marketing Group.
Startups at all stages of growth focusing on fan engagement, data analytics, sports nutrition, fantasy sports, mobile fitness, virtual reality and gaming are being encouraged to apply. The NFLPA joins other professional athletes pro sports teams investing in tech including Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, Kobe Bryant and the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"We don't see this as a short-term opportunity, but rather as a long term investment," said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc., the union's licensing and marketing arm. "We're not trying to hit any quarterly numbers. This is to help our players and our organization." NFL Players Inc. earns about $160 million in deals annually for players whose average career is about three years.
"It is clear to that technology is infiltrating and transforming the sports world," said Scott Jacobson, a managing director at Seattle-based Madrona. "Categories like machine learning, virtual and augmented reality and sensor technologies, are examples where we see opportunities for new companies to benefit from the NFLPA and its members."
Selected startups will be able to pitch their ideas to the OneTeam Collective, which will then decide whether to invest or pass -- get it. In exchange for some equity, the startups will get an NFL player or two as their teammate to pitch, help with product research and development.
Since Wednesday's announcement, more than 50 early stage companies have contacted the NFLPA, Nassar said. He adds that potential investors have also come calling, wanting to know more about the collective and how they can get involved.
"I wasn't expecting this kind of response so soon, so that's a really great sign," said Nassar, who's hoping players unions from Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association may get involved -- hence the name -- OneTeam Collective.
The NFL players' union had been contemplating getting into the VC game for two years, Nassar said, but it became more solidified earlier this year when Super Bowl 50 was played in Silicon Valley, the tech industry's playground.
The union arranged for about 50 players to take a tour at tech companies across the Valley including Facebook, Uber, Twitter, Intel and Electronic Arts, creator of the popular NFL Madden video game. The players did more than just take pictures and grab some souvenirs, he said, they were able to have discussions with those companies.
There, players like Pro Bowl tackle and then-Seattle Seahawks star Russell Okung, a self-professed "geek," took advantage of the opportunity. He's now on the collective's athlete advisory board.
Last year, Okung, now with the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, created the GREATER Foundation, which provides technology education and leadership programs to students in Seattle and Stillwater, Oklahoma, where he was a standout All-America player at Oklahoma State University.
"There isn't a business that technology isn't touching in some facet," Okung told the Denver Post. "It's affecting jobs, it's changing productivity, and you just have to be aware of what's going on. I think it's something that guys should definitely take seriously."
Nassar is optimistic the OneTeam Collective will be able to host its first Pitch Day during Super Bowl week this season. The big game will be played in Houston in February.
"We're still finalizing the details," he said.
First published on December 7, 5:10 p.m. PT.
Update, December 10 at 5 a.m. PT: Adds more information and comments.