Athletes Unlimited had a $30 million funding round.Courtesy Athletes Unlimited
Few areas of sports business have been attracting investment quite like women’s sports. The WNBA raised a $75 million funding round in February, and NWSL expansion team Angel City FC raised a Series A at a roughly $100 million valuation before it had even played its first match earlier this year.
That trend continued last week, with League One Volleyball (or LOVB — pronounced “love,” as it prefers to be called) announcing it had raised a $16.5 million Series A one day before Athletes Unlimited, which operates women’s pro leagues in four sports, revealed a $30 million funding round of its own.
Those two platforms welcomed not only significant capital injections, but also some influential business partners. David Blitzer and Kevin Durant invested in both companies. Billie Jean King was a part of LOVB’s fundraise along with WME agent Jill Smoller, while AU added Sports Innovation Lab co-founder and CEO Angela Ruggiero to its cap table.
Investor demand for women’s sports remains so strong that leaders of the two properties say their recent funding deals were largely unaffected by the slowdown in venture capital markets caused by inflation and rising interest rates. In fact, LOVB co-founder and CEO Katlyn Gao said the company’s funding round was oversubscribed, topping initial plans for a $15 million raise.
League founders highlight several key factors. For one, LOVB’s leadership argues that volleyball is particularly well-positioned to take advantage of the rising tide in women’s sports. “The women’s game leads the sport,” said Gao. “That is a recognition from our investor group as well, that what we’re doing to turn this into the next major league does not have that challenge of the women’s game sitting in the shadow of the men’s game.”
AU co-founder and CEO Jon Patricof added that athlete-led, purpose-driven organizations are increasingly appealing to investors. “This whole idea of stakeholder involvement is important in every industry right now, not just in sports,” said Patricof, who noted that AU became the first pro league to organize as a public benefit corporation earlier this year. “There’s been a tremendous amount of investing going on in the environmental, social and governance category. [That announcement] really caught the eye of a number of investors.”
And of course, women’s sports are offering an avenue to a large — and growing — segment of fans. The regular-season collegiate volleyball attendance record was broken twice just last month, with a new high of 16,833 set at the University of Wisconsin. Across the last decade, softball had the fastest-growing revenue …….