Atlanta Falcons parent organization AMB Sports and Entertainment is launching an early-stage investment fund in hopes of strengthening its existing properties, which also include MLS’ Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank is backing the uncapped venture without outside partners, largely because AMBSE Ventures sees the purpose of the fund as more than just producing returns.
“Yes, we would love to make a financial return, and we’re going to be diligent about making smart investments in good companies,” AMB CEO Steve Cannon said in a phone interview. “But really as important—or maybe more importantly—we’re going to be making investments in areas adjacent to our core business.”
To start, AMBSE Ventures plans to focus on five verticals: fan engagement, sports performance, live event operations, emerging categories (esports, betting, etc…) and media. Cannon is leading the team, which will also include a manager and an analyst.
The concept for AMBSE Ventures was born during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cannon said, before the 2020 NFL season. He and other executives met with Blank to discuss how the organization was preparing to come out of the slowdown, when the conversation turned to research and development. “Good companies create the capacity to be solving both the today problem and the tomorrow problem,” he said.
Blank and AMB join several other sports organizations who have entered the venture investing game. Through a partnership with Microsoft, the Green Bay Packers fund early-stage companies via TitletownTech, while the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group created the private investment firm Elysian Park to invest across stages from seed to growth. The NFL now has its own VC arm, 32 Equity, and a number of owners—including the Wilfs (Vikings owners, WISE Ventures) and Ted Leonsis (Wizards and Capitals owner, Revolution Growth)—support sports-focused funds separate from but adjacent to their sports holdings.
The Falcons have made a name for themselves in the live event business, working with IBM to create a state-of-the-art fan experience before Mercedes-Benz Stadium opened in 2017 and making waves by offering significantly cheaper concessions.
“That’s the thing that keeps me up at night…. We’ve got a flat screen TV in almost every home in America,” Cannon said. “And that’s a great experience. So unless we can, at our sports venues, create such a compelling experience that it brings people downtown, off their couches, away from their homes and refrigerators, we’re going to lose that business.”