Every word Infinite Athlete chief said on future Chelsea plans, Todd Boehly faith and sponsor delay


Chelsea were finally able to confirm Infinite Athlete as their principal partners for the 2023/24 season last week with the brand now having featured on the front of both men's and women's shirts, in wins over Fulham and Tottenham respectively. The deal will see Infinite Athlete displayed upon the shirt sleeve of Chelsea's training kits too.

It was a move a long time in the making with Chelsea entering the season without an agreement in place for their sponsorship with a possible partnership with Paramount Plus falling through. With the Blues already being in partnership with the sports technology company, it has been a deal that required Premier League scrutiny causing further delay to ensure fair market value.

CEO and founder of Infinite Athlete., Charlie Ebersol, has been discussing the deal, his relationship with Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali and why he backs them to be a success at Chelsea with Ben Jacobs and Sportex. We've produced the transcript below.

How did the partnership come about?

So about a year ago, I've had a long time relationship with Todd Boehly, about a year ago when the purchase of Chelsea went through, Todd had reached out and said, based out on what we've been doing, Infinite Athlete have been doing with the NFL and some of our other partners, was there something that we could do that would be interesting for Chelsea.

Todd is a big believer, and Behdad and the team at Clearlake, they're very big believers in how do you take the core asset, Chelsea and build it in a way that is going to make the overall experience for the fans, players and the game itself better. If you look at what Todd has done for the Dodgers, you can see he's been enormously successful at that approach.

He came to me and said what can we do? Our teams worked together for a while and at the end of last year we put together the framework of a deal to start building a new experience for fans inside of the Chelsea app that launched at the summer tour. We worked together very quietly through the Spring on this product and then the product launched at the Wrexham Chelsea match and it crashed I don't know how many servers in the first 15 minutes of the match with people getting on the platform and we were so excited about, not just the level of engagement. To give you a sense of the engagement, we are talking about people spending three or four times the amount of time engaging in interactive experiences than anything that had been done before around professional football. More importantly you saw a demographic split that was much closer to what you would see in a non-sport environment. Close to 50/50 male female, very young, very engaged. What we built was something that would allow Chelsea to build on top of it whatever they wanted. So they could build increasingly bespoke experiences for their fan group and we were getting lots of feedback from fans about features they wanted to see that were very easy to do. I was having a conversation with Todd and Behdad in North Carolina at the match and I said to them, what is interesting to us is that the technology that we have built is sport agnostic. It began in American football and has grown to half a dozen other sports and we had just completed the acquisition of Biocore which was the largest player health and safety and performance company in the world, and we were in the process of rebranding as Infinite Athlete as we have bought a number of companies over the last two years.

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Behdad was talking about the story they were trying to tell with Chelsea over the next 12 months. I jokingly was like we should do a deal, I want to introduce Infinite Athlete to the world where would be a better place than on one of the five biggest brands in the world. He wasn't laughing and I was like, yeah that would be cool and he was like yeah, it'd be very cool. We literally had lunch two days later in Philadelphia and hammered out what that would like between Todd and Behdad and I and we went to the PL, who we're also building stuff for them to look at, we were like, would this be crazy? Would this be something that is worth doing? And we started talking about what that would look like and it took a while for us to figure out the frame of the deal that would make sense. The goal was for the world to be introduced to this brand that we had just wrapped up all these companies under. In a beautiful piece of serendipity we launched on the women's FOS on Sunday and they won, and then men on Monday, and they won and here we are the next day and we're all feeling very good and lucky about the partnership so far.

Front of shirt aspect came up out of opportunism with Chelsea exploring other partners first? There at the right place and right time to upscale the partnership?

I have always believed success in business is as much about timing as anything else. If you are prepared and an opportunity presents itself, that is how great things happen. This was an extraordinary confluence of events that came together at the right moment to be able to do this. If the situation was in anyway different, Chelsea would not be in a situation where they would be interested in only doing a one-year FOS partnership, obviously we've expanded it to multiple years with the rest of the partnership. That would never normally be something we would be able to do. In terms of what we were trying to do, Chelsea being able to have a partnership with a company that was going to be able to provide organic technology to them. When you think about the partners that have been on a shirt across all of the Premier League over many years they've been doing it. It's one of the first times it's been a truly organic partnership. We're providing, for the first time every, full data spectrum for not just the men's team but the women's team. This is a huge issue for football globally, women's football, it's disproportionately unserved around technology so on day one we're able to provide automated highlighting so they can do all of the clipping they want to do, providing performance analytics and injury analytics and data analytics around the game for the team for performance and it does help that the Lionesses are the best women's club in the world but we're able to provide all of that technology. It's not like we're trying to sell a car or some sort of financial tool, we're selling something that not only benefits Chelsea but ultimately that benefits global football ideally because this is the first part of us signing a handful of other team deals, league deals etc where we're giving access to our technology.

Reported deal is worth just over £40million. Front of shirt is just for one season, what after the season ends? Open to staying? Migrate to sleeve?

I think all options are on the table. From my perspective this is an incredible opportunity and I say this genuinely. It is an honour to be able to do this. I grew up around professional sports my whole life. The Premier League is this otherworldly sport, in global sports the Premier League is sort of the crown jewel. Of the crown jewel, Chelsea is this outsized brand. For us to be able to be involved in that is an extraordinary thing. One of the things I've enjoyed over the last six weeks is we've had a honeymoon period with the fans around the branding and what that would be like. I am excited to dive in deeper with the supporters of Chelsea who seem to be unequivocally the most involved in the success of their brand and how they do that.

Everything is on the table, we're having conversations constantly. The bigger opportunity for us though, with Chelsea and global football in general is how do we use this to catapult our technology into the hands of as many fans, players and organisations as possible. From our perspective the real play is by powering our technology that allows anyone to build on top of it. That is the thing where there is a misconception. Our technology synchronises all of the data and allows people to build on top of it. A lot of the technology you're going to see role out at Chelsea today and over the course of the season, a lot of it is built on top of our technology by other companies which has allowed the team to have groundbreaking software and hardware and tracking and all of these things that they would not otherwise be able to have and that is something we're excited about bringing to the rest of the football world.

What examples can you give that would benefit a fan? Is it AI technology through an app to buy a ticket or make buying a beer easier?

First of all, I know for sure we won't be getting any beer to anyone in their seats in the Premier League anytime soon.

One of the things that is really interesting about, and I'll use Chelsea as the perfect example. When we launched NVX, which was the product we launched during the summer tour, which is available inside the Chelsea app, which is an AI platform on top of the broadcast. It breaks down every single event in the game. You can click on the event, see the highlight, every piece of data that is being generated, the fastest player etc. One of the things that we found really interesting about that experience was obviously you had massive usage in the UK, massive usage in the US but then you had outliers like Nigeria where you were seeing 100s of thousands of people in Nigeria both live during the match, then post-match to be able to follow their favourite player or learn about the details of the match We're going to be rolling out additional feature sets around NVX. Arsenal, during their away stand, these three weeks, including Fulham, you can see every Chelsea match inside of NVX after the match with the full AI complement on top of that. Starting this month we'll start rolling additional feature sets in which will give fans the ability to create their own highlight packages and experience various toolsets. On the other side, what will ultimately be the most interesting part of this will be how fans can build what they want very easily on top of the platform. Instead of dictating to fans what we think they want, we give them the ability to actually build what they want which is really the thing that makes us different to everyone else in the space.

The delay on the deal appeared to be with the Premier League discussion fair market value Aware of why it took so long? Some public confusion with some saying how can they find the money?

I will say that this process has been very illuminating for me. To experience a league taking such care in who is their premier partners is, honestly, it's kind of heartening. A lot of the time there's a certain degree of cynicism around sport where you just see, if you write a big enough cheque, people just get out of the way and do stuff. Having gone through this process with the Premier League and the independent board of going through the approvals, I came away from the experience feeling much better about the fact that when we did get approved, we got approved because we went through all the proper processes and they had really dug in. On that level I was really grateful for the process.

The other side of it is, we're an interesting company. We're definitely the only company that has come to them, we're a venture backed company, we're not public. I liked that people we're guessing at what our financials were. I found that intriguing given outside of my board and my investors, nobody knows what our financials are. We've raised 100s of millions of dollars, we've made 100s of millions of dollars yet there were websites that were projecting our profit and loss which was hilarious. On that side, it's laughable. The biggest laughable part is the first thing you have to do when you show up for this type of thing is, you have to show them the money, not to get too down the Jerry Maguire quoting. That side of it was interesting. The other side was that a lot of my investors own Premier League teams and so one of the things that I think the Premier League has done an exceptional job of for the last couple of months is looking at related transactions. The fact that we have a very organic relationship with a lot partners inside of the Premier League, I think was something that needed to be looked at. Ultimately it was probably the thing that made it easy for them to also feel comfortable with the deal because it was not like anyone, first of all, none of the owners have the majority stake in our company, they are all minority investors relative to the scale we've invested. Second of all you're talking about a company that is invested inb y multiple different teams, or rather, the owners of teams. I jokingly said to someone the other day, it would be as if Jerry Jones, who owns the Dallas Cowboys, had been one of the investors and he was trying to help Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots. I don't know a lot about European football or English football in this case but I'm positive the various ownership groups are not trying to help the other teams in any way. I think that process was exciting.

I said to Todd and Behdad a couple of days ago that I believe everything happens for a reason and in the time it's supposed to. My mom likes to say to me that everything works out in the end, if it hasn't worked out it's not the end. In this situation what happened was we ended up getting approved into the middle of the season, or into the beginning of the season and ultimately we have a lot of spotlight on us now. An announcement that might not have been as big of a deal six weeks ago now is the talk of the town so I think we're getting more bang for our buck by it happening a little bit later and more people talking about it because it is the centre of attention relative to it. I am a glass half full person so I'm coming away from this thing saying everything works out in the end.

You've mentioned Todd and Behdad a few times, and no doubt worked with Jose Feliciano too. What are they like to work with and how ambitious are they for Chelsea?

Jose and Behdad are... it is difficult to explain how ridiculously successful they are in their chosen business and how they built this business. The scale of Clearlake, even I didn't fully understand how exceptional that business was. I've known Todd for a long time, so I know how incredibly successful Todd is. A lot of people I think don't understand, Todd is an incredibly rare investor in that he does not have a lot of partners. He built this from the ground up himself and turned it into what he's done. Now he's an owner in, I would argue, three of the seven most important sports franchises in the entire world. The Dodgers, the Lakers, and now Chelsea, is exceptional.

In addition I've never see any of those three men go into anything that they don't take very seriously. Someone said to me years ago that in American Football, it takes 100 per cent of your energy to get across the entire field to the five-yard line and then it takes another 100 per cent of your energy to get from five yards to the end zone. One of the things you see in how they've approached the building of Chelsea is that level of dedication. The thing I think is going to come out over the next couple of months when you look at Chelsea is these guys have a very long term vision over how they build things. When you look at what they're doing around the investment around the stadium, the investment around the hotel and most importantly the investment around the team. They went from the oldest team in the Premier League 18 months ago, to the youngest team in the Premier League, in what? 12 months. If you look at their wins above average likelihood, the shots on goal, the pressure, how much they've done, they are number one in the Premier League over the first four weeks of the season. Their record does not reflect what is happening on the pitch. I think that speaks volumes about how Jose, Behdad and Todd have approached building this team is that is that they're patient and they understand when you have a Pochettino, when you have a team that is built this way that they will ultimately play to their respective level. Luck has a little bit to do with and at least in two of the matches that they didn't win so far this year, the wind blows just slightly to the left, they're sitting at four and one. I would tell you that I am betting as much on Todd, Behdad and Jose as much as the players on the pitch because I think they're interlocked in that space.

These guys are, from a batting average perspective, to use a baseball analogy in case I haven't mixed enough sports metaphors, they just don't miss. They are playing on a timeline and a quantum of money that allows them to use it. I think the funniest misconception about Chelsea in the press is that these guys are spending money willy-nilly. When you actually look at how they've structured the deals, they've the largest academy of any team, when you look at how they've structure the deals from an asset perspective of the value of the players etc, they are running this at a level of proficiency that is unbelievable. I have spent my entire life around professional sports and I have seen new owners, Todd is certainly not a new owner, but I've see new owners come in and they have a learning curve. Like oh we have to figure out how to own a professional club because it's really difficult. This is the first group that I've ever spent time around, again I've been around this since I was five years old, my entire education was around ownership groups and league leadership groups, this is the first group that fundamentally understand their asset better than anyone else. And I have never had a conversation with them that didn't start and end with a lot of focus on the supporters of Chelsea. The relationship and the marriage of the Chelsea supporters and the ownership is unlike any I have ever seen in sports. First of all the sheer amount of power that the supporters have in terms of what they control. I don't mean that - people are like we're here because of the fans, sure - at Chelsea that is an actual partnership between the two groups and they are interlocked. The understanding of that just the advisory committee they put together, you get a clear picture that this is a really special brand and the team they are building internally, Chris Jurasek, Claire Cronin and the people they are putting together. These are heavyweight people. When you look at most clubs, usually people they don't appreciate a club is a $5billion entity that they're building. I'm sure it's not clear based on what I am saying but I am a very big believer and my chips are definitely in on what they're building there. It's really special.

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