5 NFL markets with burgeoning tech economies

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Running an NFL franchise takes planning similar to the ingenuity and investment put in by entrepreneurs and mentors. In a lot of cases, the first successful technology startups in a given ecosystem resemble the role a hometown team has in a small city’s economy.

As the march to the Super Bowl begins, and as talk about the importance of local markets heats up talk about the NFL coming back to Los Angeles, let’s take a good look at what’s happening in five cities known for their football that might soon be known for their software.

1. Green Bay, Wisconsin

Photo credit: Ken Lund / Flickr
Photo credit: Ken Lund / Flickr

Green Bay is the smallest market in pro football, but also a holy city of gridiron pilgrimage. Host of the inaugural Super Bowl champs, the Packers put the city on the map. They also host a minor league baseball team and are a historical manufacturing town. The city pales in comparison to Milwaukee or Wisconsin’s capital Madison, but is galvanizing a tech scene based on its frozen tundra and college town research.

Startup Weekend Green Bay hits the town from February 12-14. One company providing a top judge to the weekend pitch battle royale will be Xensr, a local sports imaging and analysis company behind some of the most famous graphics for NFL analysis you’ve seen on ESPN.

2. Jacksonville, Florida

Photo credit: Rob Bixby / Flickr
Photo credit: Rob Bixby / Flickr

The Jaguars were built with the same meddle that creates certain startup ecosystems. Armed with a pipe dream back in 1978, the city’s mayor set out to lobby the NFL for their own team. Just 15 years and two mayors later, Jacksonville became the second smallest NFL market after Green Bay. The team is now a cornerstone of civic pride and motivation for growing the city.

Currently, the mayor’s office is pushing startup investments. The Jaguars’ billionaire owner Shad Khan is giving back, having invested $1 million in a local accelerator in 2014, and the city hosts the annual One Spark Crowdfunding Festival.

Jacksonville is also home to Fidelity National Financial Ventures (FNFV), which acquired bank payment technologies leader and formerly Little Rock-based FIS Global back in 2003. They also control a massive $1.01 billion portfolio as of October. Since FIS relocated its main HQ, it has been dominating the local fintech job market. FIS also announced a new fintech accelerator in Little Rock, so expect the same in Jacksonville sometime soon.

3. Kansas City, Missouri

Photo credit: Stuart Seeger / Flickr
Photo credit: Stuart Seeger / Flickr

KC has lived in the shadow of St. Louis for 30 years. The Chiefs were 22 years without a playoff win and the Royals were 30 years without a World Series title. In the meantime, the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis and won a Super Bowl; the Cardinals have won the Series twice. Things have changed dramatically in the last few months. The Royals are champions again with a win this past October. The Chiefs just obliterated the Texans 30-0 in a playoff opener, and the Rams are trying to flee back to LA (because apparently a $1.5 billion St. Louis stadium isn’t good enough for them).

KC is also crushing it on the tech side. In just 13 deals, KC startups scored $91.44 million in venture capital in 2014, according to Moneytree.

4. Indianapolis, Indiana

Photo credit: Serge Melki / Flickr
Photo credit: Serge Melki / Flickr

This city was never thought to be a place where big sports could happen, but the Colts have made it a dependable home after Baltimore for 30 years. All the same, the state’s tech economy centered around the capital has averaged $123 million in venture investment each year between 2007 and 2012: not bad for supposedly empty country between Cleveland and Chicago.

“The flywheel is really turning now, and the machine is in place to crank out companies like that on a far more consistent basis,” Tim Kopp of Hyde Park Venture Partners told the Indianapolis Business Journal in October.

Some of the recent hi-tech rounds include box-sized IT infrastructure company Scale Computing ($18 million funding round) and contextual marketing software firm SmarterHQ ($8 million funding round).

5. Oakland, California

Photo credit: Daniel Ramirez / Flickr
Photo credit: Daniel Ramirez / Flickr

This one is a touchy subject for the NFL. Not only is the local Raiders franchise trying to flee to LA with the excuse they can’t get a luxurious new stadium from public funds, but its economy is also growing. The city isn’t next to Silicon Valley; it’s part of Silicon Valley. What’s baffling about the Raiders’ desire to move is that they are upset the city wants to recoup $400 million in public funds invested in a stadium by building more homes for the growing population of San Francisco expatriates in the stadium’s vicinity. The Raiders want that space for parking. Yeah. Parking.

As mentioned, Oakland has the best prospects of all these emerging cities because of the influx of San Francisco tech power. Not all those professionals hale from the city originally, but the lack of affordable rent space is pushing people over the bridge into Oakland. A lot of entrepreneurs are consequently thinking outside the box and realizing they don’t need to live by the Mission neighborhood to be trendy.

“The community is more diverse, more open minded, more socially conscious, and less dominated by the ‘brogrammer’ culture that seems to have taken over the SF tech scene,” Hylo CEO Edward West told Women 2.0 in 2014. “We are engineers and entrepreneurs, but we are also food activists, artists, and social justice advocates.”

Moneytree estimated $1.2 billion in venture capital went to Oakland startups in 2014. The cost to rent office space is $34 per foot, compared to $65 in San Francisco. Pair that with young entrepreneurs who want to buy homes in a difficult market, and the formula is there for a new crop of young Raiders fans in the next few years. I guess when the NFL says there are no serious options in Oakland, they’re just saying LA or bust.

Featured image credit: Mike Morbeck / Flickr

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