Tracy McGrady bets millions on basketball startup 1v1 OBL – Reuters

Tracy McGrady

Source: Ones Basketball League

This time, Tracy McGrady trusts her ideas.

The Hall of Fame basketball player financed real estate projects, supported a sports and entertainment agency, and engaged in a cryptocurrency partnership before the industry lost billions in value. Now McGrady is investing in his own company, Ones Basketball League, or OBL, which opens in New York this weekend.

“I’ve always invested in other people’s ideas and vision,” McGrady told CNBC in an interview. “Not once did I trust mine. I didn’t have the confidence to think mine was good enough. I didn’t trust my ideas or my decision making when it came to my vision.”

He added: “It’s the first time I have confidence and I think I can succeed.”

McGrady, 43, self-funds OBL, an 18+ league that travels to seven cities from April to July. It unites players in one-on-one games, a staple of playground basketball. Imagine Ice Cube’s Big 3 league, but with fewer players and no former NBA stars.

McGrady will pay just under $10 million in total, including the $250,000 price tag for the eventual OBL champion. He partnered with longtime sports executive and former XFL president Jeff Pollack to help with operations. Pollack says the costs associated with the league “are not significant” so far.

“That means we’ll have the opportunity to expand this business and do it in a way where the economy, at the beginning, is quite favorable,” Pollack said.

McGrady wants to appeal to a Gen Z mass audience, meaning those born after 1997. So, he thinks press and sponsorship costs will follow.

Action during an OBL match

Source: Ones Basketball League

While OBL is new to the minor league sports scene, he pointed to other amateur leagues such as cornhole and bowling that appeal to niche audiences on the networks and believes OBL can do the same.

“No disrespect to what these other ESPN things put on their schedule – it’s more fun,” McGrady told CNBC earlier this week at the Standard Hotel in Manhattan.

OBL has already found prominent media support. It has a digital distribution deal with the Paramount-owned Showtime network that allows the network to stream OBL content on its YouTube channel as well as cross-promote it.

The terms of that pact were not disclosed, but OBL confirmed it would share the advertising revenue.

McGrady takes the keys

Selected in 1997 by the Toronto Raptors, McGrady played 16 NBA seasons, including a feature with the Houston Rockets, and earned more than $160 million, according to Spotrac, a website that tracks sports contracts. McGrady’s earnings include a $92 million contract with the Orlando Magic in 2000. His last NBA season was in 2011-12.

He compared OBL to his time with Magic. It only lasted four seasons, but it was the start of seven consecutive All-Star appearances and McGrady’s transition to “a household name” in the NBA.

“Finally I received the keys and I flourished in this [All-Star] player,” McGrady said. “I didn’t see myself being that kind of guy. And I didn’t see [OBL] being that.”

OBL was released in February. The league plays regional games with 32 players in seven cities, including New York and Los Angeles. Players who win regional games earn $10,000. The top three players in the games can compete for the biggest payout of $250,000.

Orlando Magic forward Tracy McGrady (1) hits the ball to Washington Wizards forward Rod Strickland during the second period of the game at the TD Waterhouse Center in Orlando on October 31, 2000.

Tony Ranze | AFP | Getty Images

McGrady praised his two teenage sons for sparking his interest in individual basketball. They don’t really watch live NBA or NCAA games, he said. “What they will watch: YouTube, short content, highlights,” added McGrady.

McGrady is not naive about the start-up. He expects the OBL to fail and initial profitability unlikely. McGrady and Pollack did not discuss the details of OBL’s plan to make money, but they hope to eventually cash in on licensing, sponsorship and box office deals, which would help create a return on investment for potential backers.

“It will come from the audience that we finally reach and engage with,” Pollack said. “We have a long way to go.”

He added that OBL would eventually be looking for investors, but at this stage “we want to make sure we have a clear understanding of what it should be and then plan how to develop it.”

OBL joins a crowded sports media landscape. Competitors include media company Overtime, backed by Drake and Jeff Bezos. This media company operates Overtime Elite, or OTE – the league that pays $100,000 to high school students with an established Gen Z.

Macroeconomic concerns, including inflation, threaten initial growth. Asked about these factors, Pollack suggested that the OBL is playing for the long haul.

“We’re going through tough economic times and it could get worse,” Pollack said. “But we’re going to come out of that at some point, and what we’ve all seen in the last couple of years is that the consumer’s appetite for sports content is more insatiable than ever before.”

If OBL attracts its target audience to watch sports content on social media, McGrady plans to expand the business globally.

“I have the right team to make it happen,” he said. “I think we’ve identified a pattern where it’s really fun.”

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