More slowly than I would like, because it’s not a field in which I’ve had formal training or extensive practical experience, I’ve been learning about the world of startup companies and venture capitalists that discovered the sports world in the 1990s and have proliferated during the past decade.
Usually with their founder making the contact, many of these young companies have reached out to the MHSAA, hoping we will embrace and endorse or utilize their new product or service. Almost all owe their existence to the World Wide Web and to the passion of their founder, either for sports or for a concept they think solves some need of athletes, coaches or fans . . . or advertisers and sponsors.
And almost every one of these startups is looking for an exit; looking for a bigger fish to swallow them whole. And paying them handsomely for consuming the young guppy. A lucky few make what the industry calls the “Big Exit,” like a major network buying the startup for many millions of dollars.
We hear from many of these startups that the advertisers are clamoring for this or that they are promoting, but we usually see one of two things happen. Either the advertisers show so little interest that the startup fails, or what support the advertisers do provide goes to the venture capitalists and not to those providing the content.
As we screen the plethora of proposals to capitalize on high school sporting events in Michigan, we look for two kinds of assurances. First, that the suitor doesn’t have an exit strategy; and second, that the initiative will have direct benefit in terms of both money and message to those providing the content: i.e., schools.
Most of the initiatives we screen will assist schools with neither money nor message, and some of them would actually provide a message that is contrary to the mission of educational athletics.
So we’re guarding the gate, in both directions – controlling the entrance to the high school sports market in Michigan, as well as the escape of those who are in our market for a fast buck and quick exit, big or small.