Manchester City owner City Football Group (CFG) has been named as the anchor investor in Sapphire Sport, a new US$115 million sport venture capital fund launched by Sapphire Ventures.
Abu Dhabi-based CFG, which owns five other soccer clubs around the world, is joined by owners and investors from across the five major US sports leagues – the National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS).
Other investors include German sportswear giant Adidas, along with the owners of the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers of the NFL and the NHL’s San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Challenging the conventional approach is at the heart of our ethos at City Football Group,” said CFG chief executive Ferran Soriano. “Investing in Sapphire Sport, a first-of-its-kind fund, is a natural extension of our original global model, which pairs teams in six countries and five continents with football related businesses, which help drive our growth and success.”
Sapphire Ventures was formerly the corporate venture capital arm of software giant SAP. Its new sports venture fund will be similarly focused on technology and digital sports, and expects to make between five and six investments each year of between US$3 million and US$7 million.
The fund has launched with an existing portfolio of five sport-related startups which are at-home fitness system Tonal; live streaming platform mycujoo; digital sports network Overtime; social commerce solution firm Fevo; and gaming studio Phoenix Labs.
Sapphire Sport will be co-led by Doug Higgins, the managing director and co-founder of the fund, and Michael Spirito, who joined Sapphire Ventures from 21st Century Fox where he led business development and digital media for the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network.
"Venture capitalists need to continue to reinvent and innovate in order to stay relevant," said Higgins. "We created Sapphire Sport to serve as a preeminent investment vehicle in a nascent and dynamic sector where technology investment experience is in increasingly high demand.
“In partnership with some of the most innovative team owners and sporting brands in the world, we are bringing Sapphire Ventures' investment experience to the global sport marketplace."