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Courtside to invest $35 million for sports focuses start-ups; gets WPP backing

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MUMBAI: WPP has lent its backing to Courtside Ventures - an investment fund, which will help finance technology and media start-ups with a focus on sports. 

The fund will invest $35 million to support innovative technology disrupters across sports and media that have the potential for broader applicability across other markets. 

Bruin Sports Capital, the media, sports, marketing and branded lifestyle venture launched in 2015 by George Pyne inked a strategic partnership with Courtside Ventures. Along with WPP, the venture is backed by anchor investor Quicken Loans founder and chairman and majority owner of the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers Dan Gilbert.

Courtside Ventures will leverage the expertise of its experienced team of sports, digital and marketing executives: Pyne, who will serve as non-executive chairman, is founder and CEO of Bruin Sports Capital, whose firm's operational experience and 25 year track record of building successful platform businesses across multiple industries will provide Courtside Ventures with unique knowledge and connections in the sports industry. 

Gilbert will lend his insight as an internationally recognised entrepreneur and investor in today's leading digital and technology start-up companies. These experiences, combined with WPP's collective worldwide network and global reach across industries will allow Courtside Ventures to establish steady access to innovative deals and a long term source of capital from a diversified and experienced group of investors to accelerate, expand and amplify Courtside's investments.

Its partners will include Interplay Ventures venture partner and NYVC Sports co-founder Deepen Parikh, Krossover founder and CEO Vasu Kulkarni, and Brian Hermelin, managing partner and co-founder of Rockbridge Growth Equity and Detroit Venture Partners, two investment arms within Gilbert's portfolio of companies. 

Courtside Ventures' Advisory Board will include long-time sports media entrepreneur Bedrocket Media Ventures founder and CEO Brian Bedol, and veteran sports media executive and Sports Media Advisors founder & CEO and former head of the media divisions at IMG and the National Hockey League Doug Perlman. The company will have operations in Detroit and New York City. 

“This powerful partnership's unparalleled pedigree in sports, marketing, and technology enables Bruin Sports Capital to be at the forefront of digital innovation. Courtside Ventures is well positioned to recognize and take advantage of the important role sports plays within the changing dynamics of today's media landscape,” said Pyne

“The fact that yet another venture capital firm will be operating in Detroit is more evidence that the city is becoming one of the most innovative and exciting entrepreneurial places in the country. The intersection of sports and technology will be located in downtown Detroit,” added Gilbert. “Courtside Ventures will enable entrepreneurs to harness the power and appeal of sports while creating significant value for fans and investors.”

“Sports remains a fundamental interest for our clients, the media and our people. So, we are delighted to participate in Courtside, particularly with Dan Gilbert and George Pyne. The icing on the cake is the Detroit location, home of our largest client, Ford,” said WPP founder and CEO Martin Sorrell. 

It may be recalled that last year, WPP launched ESP Properties, a commercial and creative advisor to sports and entertainment rights holders.

WPP already works with a large number of premium sports organizations and properties across its operating companies, including the IOC, FIFA, UEFA, Premier League, La Liga, F1, Manchester United, City Football Group, NASCAR, NBA, PAC-12, the NFL and retired Brazilian football legends Ronaldo, via a partnership in 9ineSports & Entertainment and Pelé, via a partnership between GroupM and Legends 10, the exclusive global agent to Pelé. This new investment in Courtside Ventures will allow WPP to widen and deepen those relationships on behalf of its clients.

With Courtside, Bruin Sports Capital participated in a second successful fund raise since last year, and this latest major deal allows Bruin to continue diversifying and expanding its portfolio of platform businesses. In 2015, Bruin acquired experiential marketing agency Engine Shop, and On Location Experiences, which recently acquired Jon Bon Jovi's Runaway Tours, launching Bruin's presence into the global sports and entertainment hospitality industry. 

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