NFLPA backs three startups at Pitch Day at the Super Bowl, in bid to help women and minority-led businesses

Key Points
  • Started in 2016, the NFLPA uses Pitch Day to help early-stage companies enhance their products by aligning with NFL players.
  • This year, the players association focused on assisting women and minority businesses. 
NFC Team Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith signs autographs during practice for the Pro Bowl at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020 in Orlando, Fla. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Stephen M. Dowell | Orlando Sentinel | Tribune News Service | Getty Images

The National Football League Players Association hosted its annual Pitch Day at the Super Bowl, this year focusing on investing in women and minority businesses.

Nine companies pitched their products to three sets of panelists that included former and current NFL players for the opportunity to receive marketing funds, mentorship, and obtain NFLPA licensing rights.

Steve Scebelo, interim president of NFL Players, the licensing and marketing arm of the NFLPA, said assisting women and minorities has been a goal of the NFLPA since Pitch Day began in 2016.

"That was always an objective of ours," Scebelo said. "The playing field is not fair. There have been too many companies that have been led by white men, so we wanted to try and change that."

Early-stage companies competed in three categories: consumer packaged goods, athlete-led and human performance. Winners will receive $10,000 in marketing money, allowing them the option of selecting NFL players to help endorse their product.

After agreements are formed, the NFLPA will use the funds to pay selected athletes and the union will also obtain a stake in the company, which varies depending on its size and finances.

Companies received four minutes to pitch their product, participate in a Q&A with panelists, and answer questions from those in attendance at The Club of Knights in Coral Gables, Florida, the site of this year's event.

"You want them to be able to quickly and succinctly say what their business is," former NFL running back Robert Smith told CNBC. "Trying to get people to understand what it is that you do as a business owner; as an entrepreneur and understating that nobody cares about your business. Make them care; make them understand why you're passionate about it and, more importantly, why it's a viable business and why your solution would be better or more viable than one that's already out there or one that may come along."

Ibraheem Basir, the owner of A Dozen Cousins, a company that sells packaged beans, won the consumer-packaged goods category. Basir, a Brooklyn native, said the idea started 18 months ago, and officially launched last January.

Basir declined to discuss financial information about his company but said its sales are expected to double this year. He said he had no issue giving up a stake in the business as the partnership with the NFLPA is too beneficial to pass up.

"The reality is you have to make that tradeoff with any investor," Basir said. "When you accept someone's money, you're giving them a piece of your business, and you're also promising them that you're going to return their money. I don't view this as any different. If anything, I think about it as less stressful because they can actually help me grow the business."

Whoop, a Boston-based company that specializes in discreet wearable items like a wristband to assist athletes in monitoring their performance, participated in a Pitch Day in 2016. It has since gone on to raise $55 million in a Series D round late last year as it continues to expand its business, according to TechCrunch. To date, the company has raised over $100 million.

"We want to know their vision on how a partnership with the NFL players will benefit them," said former New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich, who is a member of the athlete advisory board. "We might see a [financial] benefit at the end due to some exit, but when we partner with someone, we benefit their business and help them grow by promoting something that aligns with our values and our purpose as a union."

Dallas Cowboys star linebacker Jaylon Smith was also at the event. In an interview, Smith said he was focused on the "infrastructure" portion of pitches, observing how participating companies build management teams.

"That matters so much," Smith said. "A lot of companies fail not because of the product, but because of management. Having the right person in that seat, it matters. So, that's what I wanted to see from these companies; making sure their team is right."

Before the NFLPA grant a winner the chance to obtain licensing rights, a consultation process will need to be completed, and the union will only charge royalty fees once a company starts to market its product using NFL players. License fees also vary based on the growth of the company.

Sway Brand, which competed in the athlete-led category, was another Pitch Day winner as was Player's Health, an app created to assist athletes in reporting safety concerns confidentially, which won the human and performance pitch category. Sway Brand was founded by former NFL defensive end Israel Idonije. It is a platform that helps brands connect with influencers.

The NFL will hold its pitch day for companies on Friday. The two categories featured this year will be data analytics and player health and safety.

49ers President on the Business of the Super Bowl