TMR Q&A: Founder Mason Gordon on SlamBall’s Return

As traditional sports continue to thrive, we are always looking to find what’s next to engage while hoping that the shiny new toy doesn’t lose its luster. We have seen areas of esports come and go quickly, and the mania and money surrounding sports such as Pickleball, at least on the pro side, remains in flux.

Women’s sports are earning great interest and growing investment, but there may be limits there too, at least beyond well-established basketball (WNBA) and soccer properties (NWSL). Even football, led by the juggernaut of all juggernauts, the NFL, has proven to be a slippery slope for spring leagues, with the latest iterations of both the XFL and USFL going through their share of growing pains.

A view of SlamBall’s plexiglass-enclosed court SlamBall

There’s good news for fans (and marketers) looking for a sport high on action, built for a mobile environment yet with the legacy draw of traditional sports like football and basketball. Welcome back SlamBall, which built a cult following when it was a made-for-TV sport in 2002-03, way before social media and mobile phones. That’s right — in mid-July, SlamBall emerged from a two decade U.S. absence.

SlamBall combines track and field, basketball and football skills in a 4-on-4 game played on a spring-loaded court — plus four high-flying trampolines inside the 26′ 4-point arc (yes, that’s right, it’s a 4-point shot from distance) — with a plexiglass perimeter.

Over seven straight weeks, games are airing live from Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas on the ESPN family, culminating with the championship game on ESPN2 on August 17. Fans can attend for $30 per session for a general admission seat, with courtside seats running $125 with Cox Pavilion seating 2,500.

Also returning are SlamBall’s award-winning co-founders, the über-successful filmmakers and documentarians Mike Tollin and Mason Gordon, re-imagining a sport that has kept those of a certain generation pining for this day. (Pull up #BringBackSlamball as evidence of the groundswell.)

The league’s eight teams — team names: Buzzsaw, Gryphons, Lava, Mob, Ozone, Rumble, Slashers and Wrath — play a four-week regular season on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Each night consists of an early session and a late session. In each session, four teams compete in a mini-tournament in which the winners of the first two games play again in the third game.

Series A funding raised $11 million with investors including Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment‘s David Blitzer and David Adelman; Fanatics founder Michael Rubin; Vayner Media’s Gary Vaynerchuk; NBA player Blake Griffin; and Legends Growth Enterprises.

Early sponsors include Circa Sports (officially announced today) and Old Trapper as Founding Partners with Wilson, Hertz and Maxair Trampolines all coming on board over the past week. Organizers look for Circa to be the first of several casinos to offer live gambling on SlamBall as soon as this weekend, making it a rare start-up sport gaining traction from gambling businesses this early in their growth. US Integrity provides integrity monitoring.

So, why now for SlamBall’s return? We asked co-ringmaster Gordon, the game’s creator and CEO, to give us the scoop.


Team Marketing Report: With all the potential windows for a return of SlamBall over the past 20 years, why now?

Mason Gordon: The alternative sports market is hot because young people are reaching out for sports to call their own. We clearly saw the opportunity to be a strong entrant into that space, as SlamBall checks a lot of boxes with its strong adjacency to both basketball and football cultures.

TMR: Even with the great social and digital play with clips, what’s the biggest challenge in going from this season to a fruitful, growing business for years to come?

MG: Moving people from trial to repeat to regular to evangelist is the success pathway for SlamBall. The content resonates powerfully in multiple demo segments. As the game develops and stars emerge, the ease with which we develop both regular and evangelist SlamBall audiences will bear out.

We have a global strategy and SlamBall is a sport with worldwide appeal, so our expectation is to grow an event schedule that exists year round, with major tournaments not unlike ATP events that are scheduled around the world.

Players routinely fly way above the rim during a games at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas SlamBall
TMR: You have had a steady build of brand support, what’s the message to brands who look at this vs both traditional and niche sports?

SlamBall brings an unparalleled fun factor, and are rapidly evolving standout players with wildly appealing personalities. That SlamBall holds this “basketball meets football” mindspace among sports media consumers comes with a lot of blue sky. You don’t have to squint very much to see the market opportunities for scale.

TMR: The UFC at its start had issues luring brands because of the overt violence around MMA. How do you dispel that challenge with brands?

It’s dispelled already! SlamBall is unquestionably a family-friendly team sport while being unapologetically high-flying and hard-hitting. Kids and teens take to the game in a profound way. The physicality that is in the game is appropriate for all ages in the same way hockey or football contact is to mass audiences.

Moving people from trial to repeat to regular to evangelist is the success pathway for SlamBall. The content resonates powerfully in multiple demo segments.

Mason Gordon, CEO, SlamBall

TMR: Word is ESPN has had an amazing start for broadcast in the U.S. What are the global plans and when will we see SlamBall around the world on broadcast?

We’re working with ESPN to distribute in additional markets and we see groups online banding together to petition sports channels around the world to carry SlamBall broadcasts. C’mon Sky Sports, TSN and Globo! [Laughs] Give the people what they want!



View previous TMR Q&As HERE.