A force in youth sports
Blue Star growing by gobbling up startups
Frisco-based Blue Star Sports has become a force in the youth sports industry, having snapped up 18 companies spanning the globe.
Rob Wechsler can see Dallas Cowboys players zig-zag across the practice field during drills and watch as the helicopter of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones lands on the 30-yard line.
For the serial entrepreneur and founder of Blue Star Sports, it’s just another day at the office.
In about a year and a half, Blue Star Sports has become a force in the youth sports industry, with ties to some of the biggest names in professional sports. It is based at The Star, the Cowboys’ glitzy Frisco headquarters. It has raised $200 million in funding from private equity firms, Jerry Jones’ family and the NFL’s investment arm. And it has snapped up 18 companies spanning the country and the globe.
The company will soon start a new phase. Wechsler is stepping into an advisory role and passing the baton to Blue Star Sports’ new CEO, Alex Alt. But Wechsler, chairman of the board, said the company has no plans to slow down. He said it may buy another 15 to 20 companies over the next 18 months.
Youth sports has grown into a $15.3 billion market, up 55 percent since 2010, according to WinterGreen Research and first reported by
Time magazine. The market has been fueled by parents willing to shell out thousands of dollars for their children to play in recreational leagues, compete on travel teams or spend one-on-one time with trainers and coaches who could help them win a college scholarship or prepare them for the pros.
Other companies have also made big plays in the youth sports market. Time Inc. turned three youth sports software startups into Sports Illustrated Play, a mobile app that coaches, players and parents can use to track stats and plan events. SI Play also has tools for creating custom websites, running background checks and organizing tournaments. Dick’s Sporting Goods, better known for its brick-and-mortar apparel stores, acquired youth sports companies to create Team Sports HQ, which has resources from technology solutions to team gear. And NBC bought a similar company that’s now called Sports-Engine.
Filling a need
Blue Star Sports was born out of Wechsler’s own frustrations with the slow, disorganized annual process of signing up his three kids for sports. Wechsler previously built and sold payments companies. He started exploring ways to improve the youth sports experience and discovered that it had the makings of a great business opportunity: It was a fragmented market, had plenty of room for improvement and was recession-proof.
And Wechsler said he also saw a chance to help kids during their formative years.
“Youth sports is a big part of a lot of people and how they grow and how they develop relationships and teamwork and competitive spirit,” he said. “We can make a difference in that with the events that we host, the camps, the tournaments, and then influencing the leagues and the parents and the kids.”
By offering better tools for young athletes, coaches and families, he said Blue Star Sports aims to create a seamless digital experience that replaces paper playbooks and registration forms; connects coaches, players and parents; and makes it easier for young people to reach their sports goals.
He imagines his 10-year-old son not only using a mobile app to look up a field for practice, but also sharing photo and videos from games, following his friends’ game highlights and looking up advice from professional players or role models.
“I have pieces and parts of that, but I don’t have the full thing yet — the connected athlete,” Wechsler said. “So that’s where we are going.”
He said Blue Star is also collecting a tremendous amount of data from young athletes, including demographic information and brand preferences, that could eventually be important to advertisers.
A year and a half ago, Blue Star Sports had one employee: Wechsler. Now its employee count is about 600 globally — and it plans to add about 100 to 150 jobs in the next six months in Frisco, Wechsler said.
Blue Star Sports began with management tools for clubs and leagues, such as building databases. Now its family of companies spans the youth sports universe, from tools that build team websites, allow online registration and create fan shops to software that analyzes game day videos. It counts large youth sports organizations, including the U.S. Soccer Federation, Amateur Athletic Union and USA Football, among its clients.
From early on, Blue Star Sports had close ties to the Dallas Cowboys. Its logo, a blue star, is reminiscent of the Cowboys’ logo. Wechsler got the financial backing of Jerry Jones’ family when he was still in the idea phase. He closed the company’s first deal in a conference room at Valley Ranch, the former Cowboys headquarters.
Private equity firm Genstar Capital became the majority owner of Blue Star Sports in April.
The NFL’s investment arm, 32 Equity, invested in Blue Star this summer. The amount of the investment was not disclosed, but Blue Star Sports said funds would be “used to fuel continued acquisitions in the sports technology space.”
Kevin LaForce, an NFL spokesman, said the professional football league heard about Blue Star Sports almost immediately after its inception through a private equity firm. He said the NFL sees the investment — its first in youth sports — as a way to get more young people interested in playing and watching sports.
“Our focus is on kids playing football to some extent, but it’s also on kids playing sports,” he said.
Since launching the fund in 2013, LaForce said the NFL has invested in other companies that align with the league’s mission. It has invested in Strivr, a virtual reality company with a sports training focus; On Location Experiences, a hospitality business for sports and entertainment; and Fanatics, an online sports retailer and major licensee, among others, he said.
Alt, the company’s new CEO, will help integrate the many companies already under Blue Star’s umbrella, Wechsler said. Blue Star Sports’ acquisitions include companies with similar or overlapping services, such as multiple companies that help plan and offer chip timing for races. Alt previously worked as president of hospitality solutions at Sabre, a travel-focused tech company in Southlake.
But Wechsler said he’ll stay involved with the company that he built. He said he’ll still help guide its vision and its mergers and acquisitions.
Blue Star Sports CEO Rob Wechsler was a serial entrepreneur before founding what is quickly becoming a force in the youth sports industry. Over the last year and a half, the Frisco company has gobbled up more than a dozen startups.
From early on, Blue Star Sports had close ties to the Dallas Cowboys. Its logo, a blue star, is reminiscent of the Cowboys’ logo.
Eighteen months ago, Blue Star Sports had one employee: CEO Rob Wechsler. Now, its employee count is about 600 globally — and it plans to add about 100 to 150 jobs in the next six months in Frisco.
Blue Star Sports’ family of companies spans the youth sports universe, from tools that build team websites, allow online registration and create fan shops to software that analyzes game day videos.