The Players Fund announces the UK’s first athlete-led venture fund to unite and consolidate the athlete investor community
Posted on: 21 August 2023 by Switch the Play Foundation
- Founding athletes include England captains Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, India cricketer KL Rahul, footballers Chris Smalling, Héctor Bellerín and Serge Gnabry as part of wider athlete collective
- The £40m fund will invest in digital first, consumer facing sectors (closing in Q4 2023) - Partnered with the European Sport Business School (ESBS) and Switch The Play Foundation to educate and empower athletes on investing
- As the first athlete-founded fund, The Players Fund provides athletes a trusted outlet to actively participate in the world of venture capital
21st August 2023, London, UK
The Players Fund is pioneering a new frontier in venture capital as the UK's first athlete-led fund, founded by athletes, to empower the athlete community as investors. The first-of-its-kind fund brings together a collective of renowned athlete investors alongside seasoned VCs, leveraging their combined expertise, global access to opportunities and value creation ability, to support exceptional entrepreneurs and accelerate the future of athlete investing.
Established by an unrivalled team of world-class sportspeople and industry leaders, including cricket stars Ben Stokes, KL Rahul, Stuart Broad, Jos Buttler, and footballers Chris Smalling, Serge Gnabry and Héctor Bellerín together with over a dozen more athletes, The Players Fund aims to bridge the gap between the off field lives of sportspeople and startups. With ownership in the fund and providing capital as the GP commitment, founding athletes have skin in the game and operational input.
The launch of The Players Fund marks an unprecedented consolidation of prominent athlete investor groups to create the foremost athlete venture platform. The fund brings together influential athlete-founded collectives including 4CAST (an athlete entrepreneurial collective led by Ben Stokes, Stuart Broad, Jofra Archer, Tyrone Mings, Anthony Watson and more); ForGood, (footballer Chris Smalling's athlete VC network); B-Engaged, (led by Héctor Bellerín and Serge Gnabry); and Robbie Earle's US based group featuring prominent NBA athletes. By merging under one umbrella, this "joining of families" creates an athlete investor network at scale across the UK and Europe to educate, empower and back the next generation of athlete investors and founders.
The fund’s operating format is heavily shaped by sportspeople, with founding athlete partners designing a proprietary structure that maximises the impact of its athlete centric strategy by prioritising deal sourcing, access to premium investment rounds, and athlete driven value creation post investment.
The fund’s investment and governance expertise encompasses globally respected venture investors and finance professionals including Kelvin Au, Sebastiano Cossia Castiglioni, Rebecca Wheeler, Phil Green, Matthew Roberts, Peter Coates and Matthew Barnes who will
invest £40m into Seed to Series A stage companies across four primary consumer sectors; technologies that power the future of human performance, media, digital communities, and smart commerce.
The Players Fund's unique approach to venture capital marks a significant departure from traditional investment models. Utilising a GP/LP fund structure and the implementation of an athlete committee to support the operational and technical teams, The Players Fund seeks to go one step beyond existing collectives investing on a case by case basis or platforms that enable investments from athletes on an ad hoc basis.
Brought together by ex-athlete brothers Fergus and Ruari Bell, the duo believe that distribution focused funds represent the new frontier in VC. By incorporating athletes into the venture process, portfolio companies benefit from increased athlete engagement, advocacy, and perspectives that in turn unlock exponential growth in the nascent stages of a business.
Commenting on the launch Fergus and Ruari Bell, Managing Partners at The Players Fund said:
“We’re entering a new phase of athlete involvement in enterprise. As athletes seek to better leverage the power of their profile and go beyond endorsement into ownership, the athlete community has been crying out for a trusted destination to invest together into best in class startups. By uniting the leading athlete investors and athlete collectives from the UK, EU and India under one roof, we now have that outlet in The Players Fund.
'After years of working closely with athletes in business, we realise their incredible potential to drive change is often difficult when they ackt alone. We founded The Players Fund to bring athletes together as a collective force for good in venture capital. By investing collaboratively, sharing knowledge and leveraging our combined networks, we can have an exponentially greater impact. Education is core to our mission - equipping athletes with the skills and access needed to thrive as investors.
Ben Stokes, England cricket captain, Founder of 4CAST and Partner at The Players Fund commented:
"Since starting 4CAST we have seen huge benefits of athletes and public figures coming together in business and we strongly believe athletes investing together cannot be underestimated. By combining our resources, networks and experience, we can achieve so much more collectively than as individuals. With The Players Fund we provide a structured way for athletes to confidently step into early stage investing and to do so alongside teammates and fellow athletes."
Chris Smalling, AS Roma footballer, Co-founder of ForGood and Partner at The Players Fund, added:
"Co-founding The Player's Fund felt like the natural next step. Together, athletes can reshape venture capital by consolidating our influence and working collectively to increase access and inclusion. With The Players Fund, athletes finally have a trusted platform to invest together, maximise our strategic value, share knowledge, and amplify our impact. Through our experience at ForGood, we have seen that by speaking with a united voice, we can empower founders, drive diversity, and redefine the role of athletes as changemakers."
KL Rahul, Indian cricket player and Partner at The Players Fund, shared:
"Athletes can do so much more than just endorsements to create a positive impact. We need to take control of our financial futures and invest together in the future. I am excited to be a founding member of The Players Fund to support the Indian athlete and startup community. Athletes finally have a home to invest in technology collectively, upskill the next generation, and support founders improving access across education, healthcare and more. Our united voice and platforms have the power to transform lives."
Héctor Bellerín, Real Betis footballer and Partner at The Players Fund, expressed his thoughts on the venture stating:
"As athletes and human beings we need to realise our full potential by investing together in sustainable startups. The Players Fund enables us to come together as a collective force for good in sustainable venture capital. By sharing experiences and engaging directly with founders, we can powerfully advocate for environmental progress and catalyse real change. Our united voice has immense untapped value."
Education is also hugely important to the founding team, resulting in an education partnership with The European Sports Business School and Switch The Play Foundation, the athlete transition charity, to further educate athletes about the venture and enterprise. By partnering with Switch the Play, they aim to provide comprehensive support and resources to athletes beyond their sporting careers.
The Players Fund seeks to empower athletes to thrive in all aspects of their lives, ensuring they fulfill their potential both on and off the field and after their careers conclude.
Find out more about The Players Fund here
About The Players Fund
With a mission to empower athletes as proactive investors and ambassadors of change, The Players Fund seeks to identify and support disruptive startups and entrepreneurs across various sectors within digital consumerism.