Rise of “Entertainment Sports” (and its correlation with the creator economy)

When NIL went live in July 2021, it was fair to assume its impact on the creator economy would only touch HS and college sports.

But looking reality in the face…

Its impact on the upstream verticals of professional sports is just as important (if not more).

Sports has always been a nice balance of:

  • competition for the players
  • entertainment for the fans

But the creator economy has done some strange things — including making “entertainment” more of a priority.

Let’s Dive In 👇

The Sports Creator Economy

To set the stage, I think it’s important to take a quick look at how massive the creator economy is…

At the center of this ecosystem are content creators — where ALL athletes now fit as well.

The Creator Economy Landscape: Examining an Economy That's Changing the World

Then, there are startups that build platforms & tools that help creators operate and monetize. Last are the investors and VCs that fund these startups.

You could argue that NIL companies fit within the “creator economy” market.

Its growth goes side-by-side with influencer marketing, with the market being worth $1.7B in 2016 and growing to $16.4B in 2022.

It’s wild to see that college athletes made up roughly ~7% of all influencer marketing in 2022.

And this is only going to increase…

Entertainment x Creator Economy

The emergence of college athletes as “personalities” and not just “jocks” is playing out in a major way.

Add in short-form video content, web3, short attention spans, innovative tech, and talented operators entering the sports space…

And things are starting to get chaotic (but exciting as well).

Two developments in the last month have shown me a lot about where the space is headed:

1. SlamBall, a trampoline basketball league, closed an $11M Series A round in which Blake Griffin and Gary Vaynerchuk were investors.

SlamBall is back

The league started in 2000 and was on and off up until 2008 — when it was thought to be shut down for good.

It will be back next year.

2. Ballislife, a youth basketball highlight + lifestyle company, raised a $2.7M Series just last month.

They have been around since 2005 but never once raised any capital.

A rise in athlete-centered media paired with the legalization of NIL has created an optimal environment.

Here’s what I mean…

A Bet on Attention

Both SlamBall and Ballislife are making a bet that sports fans of the future want more entertainment + exclusive highlight-type content.

ballislife raises money

It’s a good bet in my opinion.

Here’s why:

Younger generations want action-packed content they can consume quickly, interact with, and share with their friends.

They don’t care about these long boring games.

  • Why do you think the MLB is adding a pitch clock?
  • Why do you think the MLS is partnering with TikTok?
  • Why do you think college football wants to speed up games?
  • Why do you think the PGA Tour is in partnership with TMRW Sports and its entertainment golf series?

Top professional leagues understand they need to innovate (or risk losing fans).

And new leagues (or even resurrecting leagues) understand that entertainment is the way forward.

Change in Play

The thing is…

American sports have been built off of advertising revenue (particularly from TV).

  • What happens when 16-year-olds watch SlamBall and Ballislife more than the NBA?
  • What happens when promising college basketball players choose SlamBall over the NBA’s G-League?
  • What happens when teams like the Savannah Bananas become more popular than most MLB teams (and similar teams pop up across the country)?
  • What happens when more baseball players choose the Savannah Bananas over Minor League baseball?
Savannah Bananas entertaining

As NIL shifts younger — I think a lot of the benefit lies in being a decent athlete and great entertainer, compared to a decent entertainer and great athlete.

Why do you think the WWE has dozens of “amateur athletes” in its program?

Because NIL has created alternative outlets to professional sports for these college athletes with massive social media followings.

Entertainment, Entertainment, Entertainment.

Looking Ahead

Everything in sports is going short — especially content!

The mentality is already shaped (and has been for years).

Alternative professional leagues that embrace short-form content and athletes with social media followings continue to pop up.

This is beneficial for athletes as well…

No longer do they have to rely on making it to the pros to make money, but can make serious money through social media x sports.

And you know where all of this stems from?


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