Stadium Live founder and CEO Kevin Kim wants to meet the next generation of sports fans where they are—online.
Traditional sports leagues need to attract younger audiences to ensure their survival. But the way kids are engaging with professional sports is changing, and major leagues have struggled to capture the attention of younger fans amid shifting viewership habits and the rising popularity of e-sports.
Stadium Live founder and CEO Kevin Kim aims to build a digital sports community “for the next wave of fans”—Gen Z kids.
“It’s not that they’re not hardcore,” Kim told BetaKit in an interview. “It’s just that the industry has not figured out how to actually reach out to them as sports fans.”
With Stadium Live, Kim aims to build a digital sports community “for the next wave of fans”—Gen Z kids. In the process, he hopes to help those leagues better connect with a demographic more likely to digest sports content on their mobile phones via TikTok than cable television.
Toronto-based Stadium Live has raised $12.8 million CAD to do just that. The company’s all-equity Series A round, which closed in late April, was led by KB Partners and Union Square Ventures (USV). It also saw support from Kevin Durant’s 35 Ventures, Blaise Matuidi’s Origins Fund, Dapper Labs Ventures, Position Ventures, Valhalla Ventures, 6th Man Ventures, Alumni Ventures, and Breakout Capital.
“The future of fandom is evolving rapidly and Stadium Live is pushing the envelope on how fans engage with their communities, sports properties, and brands,” said KB Partners partner Lance Dietz, who is joining Stadium Live’s board as part of the round.
The financing brings Stadium Live’s total funding to around $16.7 million CAD, a total that includes a previously unannounced seed round from early 2020 led by USV with participation from Golden Ventures and Maple VC.
Founded by Kim in 2020, Stadium Live is a free, mobile, iOS-based “digital playground” designed to serve as a place for younger sports fans to play, hang out, and express themselves. Stadium Live enables users to create a custom avatar, collect items, chat and make friends, and participate in various forms of sports-focused gameplay and livestreams that allow them to earn coins and level up their avatars.
Kim described the current version of Stadium Live as “literally Club Penguin for sports.” The app also shares some resemblance to the NBA 2K video game’s online MyPark mode, which enables users to roam a virtual city as their customized character, interact with others, play various online game modes, earn rewards, and buy new gear. To date, Stadium Live has amassed over 500,000 registered users and facilitated two million virtual transactions.
“Stadium Live is providing this new generation of sports fans with a novel and mobile-first way of expressing their fandom,” said USV managing partner Andy Weissman, who is joining Stadium Live’s board. “We’re excited to continue to partner with Stadium Live as they continue to grow and redefine the sports industry.”
To date, Stadium Live’s focus has been on growing its community of users. In Q4, the startup plans to begin to test out monetization strategies on the user and partner side. From a user standpoint, Kim cited boosting servers like on Discord, or paid battle passes with exclusive items as two possibilities. On the partner side, Stadium Live intends to work with brands, from retailers to sports leagues and content creators to build out digital advertising experiences “where it doesn’t feel like an ad.”
Given that its backers include players in the Web3 space, the startup’s plans also involve expanding into the metaverse, something that Kim says Stadium Live hasn’t done yet in part because its younger users are “very skeptical” of the sector. According to Kim, Stadium Live wants to “transition into Web3 in an authentic manner to [its] users.”
Sports and video games have always been an important part of Kim’s life. When he first came to Canada as a young immigrant from South Korea, the language barrier made it difficult to connect with other kids. “The only way to make friends was through playing sports, and playing games,” said Kim.
The entrepreneurial bug bit Kim early. While he was in his first-year studying civil engineering at the University of Waterloo, he imported and sold clothes from Korea and sold them through his own Shopify store, which he eventually sold in 2011. That year, Kim decided school wasn’t for him and dropped out to join the startup space.
Kim spent time working at a variety of different mobile and web development-focused tech companies as a product designer before becoming an early employee at Drop, where he served as head of product for two years. After leaving Drop in 2018, Kim spent about six months working as head of product at FlexDay until deciding he wanted to build something of his own in a space he was passionate about.
Naturally, he returned to sports. When Kim began to examine the problem of attracting younger fans, a few things stuck out to him.
“Their attention span is so low, but when they play games, they’re glued to the screen,” he said, noting that Gen Z users also love to create new friends online. “They [also] don’t watch the full games of sports anymore,” Kim added. “They just have it on and then they do their thing, but they still want to keep in touch with the relevant topics around sports.”
Kim believes Stadium Live is a happy medium for sports fans who don’t want to watch entire games but still want to stay informed and feel part of a community. But his ambitions don’t stop there. “Our vision as a company is to build a digital playground for next-gen fans, not just around sports, but different verticals,” said Kim. “Music, fashion, gaming, all of that.”
Kim also sees an opportunity for Stadium Live to create clubs or “micro-communities” around certain sports and culture-related topics—for the startup to essentially become “the spatial version of Discord.”
Stadium Live plans to use its Series A funding to grow its team and fuel its launch on Android by sometime this fall.
Feature image courtesy Stadium Live.