Going after social commerce for sportspeople, Millions gets $10M

Millions.co, a social commerce platform geared towards professional and semi-professional athletes wanting help to monetize their fanbase by selling merch and/or on-demand video, has grabbed $10 million in funding led by Boston-based Volition Capital.

The round is being loosely pegged as a Series A as the seasoned team behind Millions self-funded the first wave of development to get the platform launched. The founding team includes CEO Matt Whitteker, a boxing gym owner who co-founded the supply chain data management unicorn Assent Compliance and NoNotes.com; CMO Brandon Austin, co-founder of Go-Fish Cam; and, in advisor roles, Adrian Salamunovic, co-founder of DNA 11 and CanvasPop; Scott Whitteker (Fight For The Cure) and Bruce Buffer (a veteran sports announcer). Millions‘ launched its fan engagement social commerce platform in April — with an initial three products for pro/semi-pro athletes to pitch at their followers: Namely custom merchandize (including a free design service); ask-me-anything personalized videos; and a pay-per-view streaming offering that lets fans pay to tune into a live stream of their favorite sportsperson. The startup’s initial plan had been to build just an ecommerce and merchandising platform but, having built that component, Salamunovic says the team decided to bundle in video products — such as personalized videos and “‘democratiszing’ pay-per-view (PPV).  “Our biggest advantage and differentiator is that we are strictly focused on the sports world and fan engagement,” he tells TechCrunch. “The obvious indirect competitors are Twitch (heavily focused on e-sports/gaming), Patreon (focused on creators), Represent.com (focused on merch drops for ‘influencers’), and even Onlyfans (we know who they focus on) but we’re laser focused on the multi-billion dollar sports market.” “Cameo has a very similar product to our video ‘Ask Me Anything’ platform — but we don’t focus on birthday shout outs we focus on allowing fans to ask their favorite athletes questions around their training, their success, predictions (we’ve seen a lot of gamblers use our platform to get tips) and less on things like Shoutouts,” he adds. “We love Cameo, but we’re really different and focused on sports.”

“Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, Facebook are all great social media platforms that allow athletes to engage and interact with their fans but it’s not a great place to monetize your audience,” Salamunovic also argues. “We help athletes create a brand, build a merch line, sell video content (Personalized videos and watch parties all on a single platform). We’re not trying to replace any of these platforms, we’re complementing them by allowing the athletes to provide a single link and landing page for deeper interaction and monetization. The fans seem to love it too.” At this stage, Millions only has around 300 athlete profiles live but says it has “thousands” who’ve registered interest across a variety of sports categories. Its first focus — including for partnerships with agencies and sports leagues — has been on “combat sports and gyms”. But the platform has a long list of sports types in the search filter — from lacrosse to water polo to baseball or gymnastics — so the ambition is to go after a very broad funnel of pro/semi sportspeople.  And for every Michael Jordan or Cristiano Ronaldo — aka, those top tier athletes who can command hundreds of millions in sponsorship fees by inking partnerships with top brands to promote their products and who you certainly won’t find selling hats on Millions — there are scores of athletes who aren’t able to cut such sweet deals and who will have far more modest fanbases. It’s that broad field of players and performers who Millions hopes will flock to its platform — and take up its dedicated offer of social commerce tools and tech to engage with and monetize their followers. Commenting on the funding in a statement, Sean Cantwell, managing partner at Volition Capital, suggested: “Athletes are always looking for ways to connect on a deeper level with fans, generate additional revenue streams and build their personal brands and Millions offers all of this on a single platform. We think that Millions is the future of fan engagement.” To help grease the funnel of sportspeople it needs to drive eyeballs to its platform, Millions is offering athletes a “signing bonus” when they join and start selling — with a variety of tiers of bonus (of up to $5k) per sportsperson. We initially wanted to stay hyper-focused on combat sports and not try to ‘boil the ocean’. Now we’re releasing new athletes profiles daily and introducing new sports like football, volleyball, golf and more,” notes Salamunovic. “Really, this platform is designed for any athlete who wants to reach their fans and create new monetization channels without having to put a ton of effort into things like page design, technology, design or logistics… we take care of all that so they can focus on engaging with their fans and most importantly on their sport and training.”  “We’re looking to build the most important sports tech company in history,” he adds. “We’re going to be the Etsy (21B market cap) of sports. That’s an ambitious statement but it’s true. 98% of athletes NEED our product/platform.” Chasing that scale is why Millions is raising now. And while the early focus has been on North America — where about 90% of the onboarded sportspeople hail from currently — it reckons there’s “huge growth potential” in Europe and Asia so is very much gunning to build a global business. It says it’ll be splashing Series A cash on growing its product engineering team and recruiting to expand its team generally, as well as spending on marketing to get the word out to athletes and get more signed up to build their own brands and sell direct to fans.  “I believe a powerful thing we’re doing, past just the product offering, is enabling athletes to have a team,” adds Austin. “With Millions, athletes get a marketing team, a personal account manager, and a design team that they can use to build their brand and product line, and to promote to, and further build, their fan base. We allow the athlete to focus on training, playing/fighting, and winning while we help take care of everything else, and coach them on how to brand and market themselves.”  Millions’ business model is to take a 20% cut of all sales athletes make via the platform — with the split remaining the same for merchandise or video sales. For the former, Millions is using a global network of print-on-demand suppliers to do the fulfilment. While products the platform can customize for athletes to sell as their own brand merch include t-shirts, caps and hoodies.

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