Religion of Sports, a sports media production company co-founded by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, has raised $50 million in a Series B funding round.
Shamrock Capital, an investment firm founded more than 40 years ago by Roy E. Disney, led the financing. Other participants in the round included Elysian Park Ventures, a Los Angeles investment firm; Advancit Capital, a New York investment firm; and Cerro Capital, a Lake Mary, Fla., venture capital firm that launched this year.
Elysian Park and Advancit were also part of Religion of Sports’ $13 million Series A round, which closed in 2020. Elysian Park is the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group’s private investment arm, while Advancit is led by longtime media executive Shari Redstone.
Religion of Sports, known as ROS, would not disclose its valuation following the Series B round, but Ameeth Sankaran, its chief executive, noted the company is “well into eight figures” in annual revenue, meaning more than $10 million. ROS saw its revenue increase by 50% last year, according to Sankaran, and he expects another 50% growth rate this year. Brady and ROS co-founders Gotham Chopra and Michael Strahan retained significant equity stakes in the company following the Series B round.
“This is a good chunk of growth capital for us,” Sankaran said. “It’s not a buyout or anything like that. It’s about us using this to turbocharge the company.”
ROS began in 2016 as a six-episode documentary series airing on DirecTV from Chopra, a noted filmmaker, with Brady and Strahan, an NFL Hall of Famer and media star, serving as executive producers. The next year, those three co-founders expanded the company and brought along Sankaran, an experienced management consultant who had spent the previous few years investing in small companies for the Meyerson family office in Dallas. Chopra had thought of launching ROS since 2015 when he served as the director for Kobe Bryant’s Muse documentary that aired on Showtime.
“He saw in Kobe this idea,” Sankaran said. “He said, ‘Here’s this dynamic of everyone in the world thinks something about this guy, but I’m seeing what he’s doing dealing with his perseverance, injury, resilience and all the life lessons that come from training that you don’t see necessarily on the court, the mental side, the emotional side, dealing with family, having to balance all those things.’ That was the seed for this idea (of ROS).”
Through the years, ROS has primarily focused on unscripted series and documents, including the 10-episode “Man in the Arena: Tom Brady” that aired on ESPN+ last year and this year; Simon vs. Herself” that aired on Facebook Watch last year; “Passion Play: Russell Westbrook” that aired on Showtime last year; and “Greatness Code,” a series on Apple TV+ that ROS co-produces alongside Uninterrupted, a sports media and marketing brand co-founded by LeBron James.
“We had projected a series of things about the market, but no one could have anticipated how fast the impact of streaming and all the different ways in which now people consume content would grow this space, this unscripted space,” Sankaran said. “That momentum, we’ve definitely been a great beneficiary of, and it’s really played to our strengths. We’ve leaned into that.”
During the first quarter of this year, Netflix
“What we hear from all those parties (Netflix, etc.) is that, yes, the market is exploding but it’s not just we want to go buy everything,” Sankaran said. “Everything is saturated. The options for everyone are so great now. It’s really, really hard to cut through and have something that people actually consume. The bar keeps going up for premium.”
He added: “What we see as our positioning in the market continues to level up because that’s what we’re known for. We’re known for being able to create noisemaking, for lack of a better term, content that’s able to cut through the clutter. That’s given us a lot of confidence to say, ‘Let’s do more. Let’s take advantage of this, not just the market growing but our positioning.”’”
ROS currently has 17 unscripted productions in place, most of which are in a traditional structure where the company is working directly with networks and streaming services and getting paid upfront. The rest of the productions are where ROS is investing its own money in projects with others, including an entrepreneur and two athletes where ROS is helping them develop documentaries and/or series. ROS will then help those parties connect with networks and streamers and determine whether it’s best to strike a licensing deal or sell the content outright. ROS plans on expanding that part of its business with the proceeds from the Series B round and may potentially work with teams and leagues and help them with their productions and deal-making.
“A big chunk of the capital is going to go towards actually underwriting content,” Sankaran said. “There are lots of different versions of this, but it just allows you to control the creative, make it the best project it can be and figure out what the format should be. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a four hour series because that’s what a network is looking to fill. The right thing could be a feature film, a bunch of shorts, whatever it is.”
In addition to the unscripted series, ROS also has an audio division that produces high-end narrative sports podcasts and a scripted division that launched last year. ROS is currently working on four unscripted projects, including “The Owl,” a boxing series it is partnering with Skydance Sports.
ROS currently has about 30 full-time employees plus numerous more freelancers. Sankaran said the company plans on expanding its staff this year and next and is in talks with filmmakers and directors where ROS hopes to strike exclusive deals with them or hire them on a full-time basis.
“One of the biggest parts of this fundraise is we see recruiting to be critical for us,” Sankaran said. “We feel like one of our big differentiators is we’re led by a creative. Gotham is in essence the founder.”
He added: “This is around (Chopra’s) vision and his background. We think that really differentiates us in the market. If you look across our competitors, not really many of them are led by a creative. We think that’s a real differentiator when it comes to who wants to work with us, who wants to be part of this. We put the craft at the center.”