Derek Jeter’s The Players’ Tribune has pulled in another $40 million in a Series C round of funding, bringing their overall funding so far to almost $60 million. Steven Perlberg of The Wall Street Journal writes that the new funding comes from a mix of investment firms and athletes:
The new round of funding, which was led by venture-capital firm IVP, will be used to expand the site’s video production, sales and editorial operations, the company said. Other participants in the round included Alphabet Inc.’s venture arm GV and “dozens” of new athletes.
The Players’ Tribune in 2015 raised $15 million in Series B funding — $9.5 million came from venture firm New Enterprise Associates and $5.5 million from other investors including former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant. (Mr. Bryant announced his retirement from basketball in a poem on the site that year.)
That’s a lot of funding, and it should certainly give them plenty of opportunity to expand. However, there are questions about just how well their model is working. Perlberg notes that The Players’ Tribune only generated 2.6 million unique viewers in December as per ComScore, which is certainly better than nothing, but is way behind many digital sports competitors.
For comparison, the top-ranked U.S. sports site in November was ESPN, with almost 102 million uniques by ComScore, while CBS was second with just over 67 million and the Fox/SI/Perform partnership was third with just under 67 million. Those sites are obviously on a different scale than The Players Tribune, especially given their TV connections, but others in the top 15 include SB Nation (seventh, 41.4 million), MSN Sports (11th, 15.4 million), Deadspin (13th, 11.1 million) and Complex Sports (8.1 million). The Players Tribune seems well behind all of those entities from a traffic perspective, but this funding suggests investors think it may be worth more.
These kinds of funding numbers suggest the overall valuation of The Players Tribune is north of $100 million and perhaps as high as $200 million. By comparison, Deadspin is just one part of Gawker Media, which was sold to Univision for $135 million in August. SB Nation parent Vox Media (which also has Vox, The Verge, Eater, Polygon and so on) has raised $308 million with an overall valuation of $380 million or so, and Complex Sports parent Complex Media was bought by Verizon and Hearst for $250-$300 million last April.
Sports is just one part of all of those deals, but The Players’ Tribune doesn’t have an overarching parent to help buttress its value. All of this funding coming in just for TPT suggests that these investors value it more than other digital sports properties with substantially higher traffic, and that isn’t necessarily logical.
Are there other elements unique to TPT that could boost its value? Sure. ComScore is far from the be-all and end-all, and that may be particularly true with TPT, especially given the numerous sponsorship and branded content deals they’ve been able to do (such as a Budweiser-sponsored studio). TPT has also been able to use access in a way that other sites haven’t, as with their Signing Day broadcasts with the University of Michigan, and maybe there’s a bet that those kinds of access will keep expanding and will bring in more and more viewers over time.
TPT’s first-person athlete content may also feel like a safer bet for many sponsors than other sports websites. While some TPT contributors have discussed serious issues such as concussions, there’s not a lot on that site that anyone could find terribly offensive, and that has its merits, especially when you’re often working with brands. TPT is also already focused on video, and perhaps investors feel that this level of extra funding can help them really soar there. And then there’s the desire to believe in and back the likes of Jeter.
Maybe TPT will wind up becoming a dominant sports player, especially with this extra funding. Maybe they can expand, and produce more content, and pull in more readers and viewers, and maybe they’ll hit a point where no one’s questioning the funding they’re getting. For now, though, this appears to be a rather ambitious bet given where TPT’s at right now. We’ll see if it pays off for the investors.