Irish sports start-up Locker has secured $700,000 (€590,000) in pre-seed funding, as it seeks to develop its mobile platform that brings sports content from trusted sources to fans.
The funding round was led by Techstars Sports and the Western Development Commission, along with a range of media and technology investors from across the US and Europe.
The Galway-based start-up is the first Irish sports company to win backing from Techstars Sports, taking part in the accelerator programme last year in Indiana.
Founded in 2020 by chief executive Ross O'Dwyer, Brian Quinn, Andrew Pierse and Matt Steerman, the Locker app provides a single platform for fans to consume content on the sports and teams they love from sources they trust.
It covers a range of sports, from soccer, rugby, GAA and golf, to growing sports such as esports and cycling.
Its first phase includes news content, with the second phase bringing in statistics and audio functionality. That is expected to go live later in the year, with the platform getting a US market launch in early 2022.
Mr O’Dwyer said some angel investors had described the platform as “Spotify for sport”.
“We centralise publishing from various publishers, teams and creators,” he said. “Locker is able to understand and suggest further content that they may like from different providers. We’ve had a great response from early beta users that it’s solving a very painful journey around the web.”
Similar issues had been solved in other industries, including music. “This is a global problem, and a massive opportunity to build a special company,” Mr O’Dwyer said.
Free for fans to join and use, the platform uses machine learning and trusted aggregation to compile content from hundreds of publishers. A premium version, Locker Pro, will launch in 2022 to enable fans to subscribe to the individual sports sections of paywalled publishers rather than paying for a subscription to the entire websites.
Jordan Fliegel, managing director of the Techstars Sports Accelerator, said the platform could change how fans consumed sports news. "This is a great founding team that understands sports fans, publishers, advertising and subscriptions," he said. "We' re investing preproduct, and in Locker's case prerevenue, so really it's a bet on the founders and the idea of the market."
There are plans to expand the Locker team in the next 12-18 months.
“One of my biggest learnings is ensuring people are aligned with the purpose of the company, and that they are driven and passionate about it; that’s as important as having the right talent,” Mr O’Dwyer said.
Locker is planning a range of innovative partnerships with some of the world’s top rights-holders and media houses.
The company has partnered with stats provider Stats Perform to give users real-time insights and stats on their favourite teams and players. It includes real-time stats for dozens of major leagues including the NFL, NBA, Premier League, La Liga and the PGA Tour.
There are also future plans to introduce audio and video content to the platform.
“We welcome the launch of Locker, and their location along Ireland’s Atlantic coast reflects the growing importance of sectors aligned to the broader creative economy,” said Tomás Ó Síocháin, chief executive of the Western Development Commission. “Locker highlights the ongoing value of quality content and Ireland’s western region has the talent and supports as a springboard for global growth in that dynamic sector.”