Pete Vlastelica x The Future of Fandom

Elysian Park Venture Pete Vlastelica on Investing in How Fans and Entertainers Connect

by The Future of Fandom

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Investing in How Fans and Entertainers Connect

Today on the Future of Fandom, get invested in the ways cheering for your favorite performer has evolved over time, from idol worship to surrogate coaching and quasi friendship, through the eyes of Pete Vlastelica from Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm of the LA Dodgers ownership group.

Pete made a splash in journalism as the founder of Yardbarker before being acquired by Fox Sports, and most recently, serving as CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports before joining Elysian Park. He’s a battle-tested champion of democratizing access to athletes and entertainers, and he’s turned his eye today to wellness.

We deep dive on how fans are craving more relatability and accessibility than ever before and of course, talk about how that affects the content and experiences, which we all see today and going forward. Pete has seen that as an operator and now broadly as an investor, which is a first for us here on the show. So let’s put our money where his mouth is as we predict the future with Elysian Park Ventures and Pete Vlastelica.

Connect with Pete Vlastelica on LinkedIn:

Read more about Elysian Park Ventures:


Here’s a quick sneak peek of this week’s episode:


Adam Conner (00:00):

Today on the Future of Fandom, get invested in the ways cheering for your favorite performer has evolved over time, from idol worship to surrogate coaching and quasi friendship. My name’s Adam Conner. I’m your host and our focus on this episode is through the eyes of Pete Vlastelica from Elysian Park Ventures, the private investment arm of the LA Dodgers ownership group. Pete made a splash in sports journalism as the founder of Yardbarker, think the Athletic in the 2000s before being acquired by Fox Sports, and most recently, serving as CEO of Activision Blizzard Esports before joining Elysian Park. He’s a battle tested champion of democratizing access to athletes and entertainers, and he’s turned his eye today to wellness.

We deep dive on how fans are craving more relatability and accessibility than ever before and of course, talk about how that affects the content and experiences, which we all see today and going forward. Pete has seen that as an operator and now broadly as an investor, which is a first for us here on the show. So let’s put our money where his mouth is as we predict the future with Elysian Park Ventures and Pete Vlastelica.

Pete, great to chat. How are you?

Pete Vlastelica (01:32):

I’m very well, Adam. Thank you. It’s a bright, sunny day here in Los Angeles and just wrapped up a morning of calls, had a little lunch. Hanging out on the couch with my dog and talking to you.

Adam Conner (01:44):

What could be better than that? Other than talking with me, I suppose. You know I woke up this morning, it was minus 11 where I was so I am a little jealous of your dog-couch set up. Very comfy.

Pete Vlastelica (01:55):

Come on out, man. Everybody’s leaving California so there’s plenty of room for you.

Adam Conner (01:59):

Wonderful. Great. Okay. I’ll take it. I’m interested in chatting with you because of course, on the show, we talk about fandoms, but from the specific POV of an individual brand or sport or leader, and I certainly want to get that side of your story out. In fact, we’ll begin there. But now in your most recent chapter, you have evolved into an investor who looks at the market a little bit more broadly than your own thing.

Let’s go back to before you were an investor over the past couple of months here with Elysian. And I want to talk about your experience in building digital fandoms in the world of journalism. Can we start there?

Pete Vlastelica (02:40):

Sure. Yeah, I guess I’d start my fandom business story back in business school. I graduated from Stanford in 1999 and I bring that up because Palo Alto in 1999 was sort of the epicenter in terms of both place and time of the original internet boom. And I was all in on it and spent the first few years after college working in the internet business. And then, a few years later, went to business school also in the Bay Area, but across the Bay at Berkeley.

Along with a couple co-founders, we created a company called Yardbarker. It was a network of sports blogs that reached about 20 million unique users a month at its peak. We were the first blogging platform for many, many professional athletes. And this is back in 2006, 7, 8. Really pre mass adoption of most social media as we know it today. Pre-Twitter, pre all that stuff. And it was the first time that at any kind of scale professional athletes were able to directly access their fans and vice versa or fans were able to read an athlete’s blog post, comment on it, interact with them in comments and feel sort of a direct connection to their favorite players across all the major sports.”

— Pete Vlastelica (3:15)


Pete Vlastelica (4:09):

Suddenly, it was less important that the outlet was objective and unbiased and more interesting to read content that was written in the voice of a fan. In other words, in the voice that they used when they were at the bar talking sports with their buddies, right?

So I think there was this upwelling of interest in a more colloquial and casual and honest form of sports content and that’s what was happening on the blogs. So that, along with the direct access to athletes that was sort of coming through blogs and then eventually social media, I think really shifted sports media in a way that doesn’t get talked about a ton today, but that you can see through the type of content that a lot of the more traditional sports media outlets today, the Sports Illustrated and the ESPNs of the world even have sort of shifted their style of coverage.

I think in a lot of ways that sort of blogging, that moment for blogging changed the way that we consume sports content.

Adam Conner (05:09):

Well, not only from the perspective of the fan, but also from the perspective of the athlete. It’s not hard to think about The Athletic in their recent purchase at the hands of the New York Times. When you think about how to get closer to the action, whether that be closer to how you feel about it or closer to the people that are actively participating in it… And sure, I have watched ESPN and noted the change from the objective style of Sports Center to the Stephen A Smiths of today, which are emotionally charged and that’s what drives engagement. That’s what drives passion and ultimately, that’s what drives fandom.

And then, sports went E and you were able to build up communities and passionate fan bases of course, of all the wonderful games that Activision was putting together. And listeners, if you are interested in video games at all, then titles like Overwatch and Call of Duty will be easy to come by. So what was different and what was similar about building and retaining experiences for fans of sports occurring IRL and sports based on games?

Pete Vlastelica (06:17):

Yeah. There were a few differences for sure. There was a lot of similarities. We sold out for the Overwatch League Grand Finals, for example. We sold out large arenas in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Tens of thousands of screaming fans, where if you didn’t know you were in an e-sports event, you might just think you’re at a Nets game or 6ers game or something just by the scale of the audience, the noise they made, the enthusiasm, passion for their teams, all those sorts of things.

So in a lot of ways, if you squinted, it looked a lot like a traditional sport, but then when you looked a little wider, there were definitely differences. For one thing, the audience was global. That was one thing that was different and that I had to adapt to. It was a younger audience.

At the time I joined Activision, I remember doing some research and seeing that the average NFL fan was 55 years old. And this was again, five years ago so probably gotten even older.

Adam Conner (07:17):


Pete Vlastelica (07:17):

The average NFL fan was 55 years old and had gotten 10 years older over the previous 10 years. In other words, 10 years prior to that, the average NFL fan was 45. So they’re getting older. Baseball fans were even older. I think NBA fans were a little younger, but not a lot younger. So one of the nice things about e-sports was that we were dealing with fans who on average were 20 to 25 years old, who were digital native, who were used to engaging on platforms like Twitch and YouTube and Twitter and didn’t have expectations that the content was going to be produced and available on an ESPN or on a national network or something because a lot of them didn’t even have television bundle subscriptions.

So that was different and I think gave us lots of opportunity to try and experiment with new ways of engaging the audience through digital platforms and in ways that reached all of our audience, not just some of our audience. And I think that’s a difference, right? At Fox and ESPN and these places, there is experimentation happening with second screen, multi view, multicast kind of digital first sort of ways to stream a match or to give…, let fans engage around a game, but they’re not reaching the entire audience because most of the audience is still watching that game on TV.

With a digital native sport like e-sports, when you roll out a new feature, it’s reaching everybody. So we did… When we worked with our partners, Twitch or YouTube to build some new feature into the viewing experience, that was getting rolled out to everybody that was watching matches and that was exciting. I think the stakes for a digital guy like me, the stakes being a little higher made it more fun.

Adam Conner (09:04):

So today, all the while you were looking for organizations which were certainly forward looking, but also were building their own fandoms within health and within wellness… And I know this is where you’ve turned in your most recent turn for Elysian. I’d like to talk a little bit about that because we’ve had a little bit of experience on this show talking about that wellness and specifically, the fusion of physical and financial wellness and I’m curious what your thoughts are there when it comes to new experiences for consumers.

Pete Vlastelica (09:41):

So I left Activision in March and then the last six or so months, I’ve been working with a group called Elysian Park Ventures, which is the private investment group that’s affiliated with the LA Dodgers ownership group. We’re investing in things that are either in or adjacent to the sports world. That might be something like a sports betting or daily fantasy platform like a DraftKings or it might be something in wellness. And this is an area that I’ve sort of personally been spending more and more time in.

And I think of wellness, especially in the context of sports… You can think of wellness as being largely about performance and longevity and elite athletes now are probably…, in our society, probably the ones with the most vested interest in optimizing their performance and their longevity. And there are things that most athletes, the average elite athlete wasn’t doing 10 years ago that now, many are doing that are no longer taboo. Things like thinking about their sleep, thinking about recovery, thinking about nutrition, thinking about mental health, adopting mindfulness, meditation, breath work practices.

These are things that may have sort of seemed quirky or unnecessary or maybe even if 10 years ago, if an athlete was participating in them, now they’re participating with a higher degree of sophistication just because the industries and the expertise around these topics has sort of expanded in the last 10 or so years and the access to that information has grown.

So we look at businesses in that space that have an opportunity to reach a mass market, but where an athlete or a team or a league can help grow the business and then help the mass market by sort of shining some headlights on the opportunity and demonstrating that you might actually help them perform at their peak or extend their careers.

Adam Conner (11:41):

It’s interesting. I think about the fan… I don’t want to say the fan of old, but the fan that you were describing. The average 55 year old fan, the ever aging football fan, who probably sees their heroes of the game as somebody on the big screen, making the big play and not necessarily somebody who’s so relatable. It’s like idolatry, almost. Whereas the newest age fans, consumers, viewers of any of these things expect a more direct social approach from the people that they are fans of, and whether that means the actions that they see on the field or the initiatives they take off of it.

I think about… I know that you all are involved with TB12, but that’s one example of… It could be anything from a funny TikTok or a relatable short piece of snackable content all the way up to some offering that allows me more direct access. How have you, as an investor, leaned into that specifically where that hero worship has become more of a surrogate coach?

Pete Vlastelica (12:50):

I think that’s really well said and a really smart observation and I completely agree. I think… Going back to what makes the e-sports fan unique, let’s say. They’re young, global and digital native. Part of the reason that the average NFL fan is five is that most NFL content is trapped behind a cable paywall and most young people aren’t subscribing to that bundle. So if your content is sort of locked into a bundle that young people aren’t accessing, then of course, they’re not going to be following you because they can’t even watch the games. And yet, meanwhile, they’re spending lots and lots of time on platforms that have more of a peer-to-peer feel than television does.

“Television is “one to many” peer-to-peer, as many to many or digital platforms in general, many of them are sort of many-to-many, and that many to many dynamic creates a different type of relationship between a hero and a follower, or let’s say an influencer and a follower or a performer and a fan. Suddenly, the relationship feels more relatable, more familiar, more like a friendship, more like the fan has a real stake in the success of the performer. And they feel a connection with him that I don’t think last generation sports fans felt with their favorite players.”

— Pete Vlastelica (13:35)

Pete Vlastelica (14:29):

I think to your point, it was just a very different dynamic where it was… The star was untouchable and unrelatable and the fan just sat there and watched and worshiped, I guess. But I think when it comes to things like wellness, I think part of the reason I’m so optimistic and kind of bullish on this as an investment category is that this dynamic plays right into the entire industry of fitness, nutrition, and wellness broadly, because it’s now easier than ever for a fan of an athlete to learn and follow an athlete’s training, nutrition, recovery, mindfulness, et cetera routine, and to use the services, the products, and to kind of follow the experts that these athletes are using and following to get the performance edge and the longevity edge that they’re looking for.

So that’s a big part of the reason that we’re excited about the category and I think 10 years ago, this wouldn’t have been such an opportunity because again, the dynamic would’ve been such that an average fan would look at an average elite athlete and say that person’s different from me. It’s changed.

Adam Conner (15:26):

It’s totally changed. And the idea that you can get more access in that way, whether it’s watching an e-sports star practice on Twitch, or whether it’s somebody that you maybe can only see through the screen on a YouTube going into something IRL like a music festival… It is just a vastly different way of experiencing your favorite people.

And by the way, it’s interesting that you note that you saw the lineup for Coachella. Listeners, this is being recorded just two days after the lineup for the Governor’s Ball in New York was released and wary eyes will have seen on day two, about halfway down the list… Wasn’t even a very big name, wasn’t a headliner. Was a single word, Diesel and anybody who knows what that is, would have said, “Wait a second? That not some no name artist. That’s Shaquille O’Neal and he’s there performing.

So if you’re in NYC, head on over and watch Shaq spin the records for you. But anyway, that’s just a… It’s a very interesting observation that I’ve seen and certainly the future. So I want to… Well, I’ve got to stick to the namesake here and round out with a question about what you envision going forward as to the future of fandom. What do you see as the future for fan engagement with celebrity? Right now, it’s in that wellness space with starting their own ventures, giving you access like you never had it before. Even that is new-ish over the last five to 10 years. What are we going to see in the next five to 10?

Pete Vlastelica (16:55):

Yeah. Well, I think there’s still lots and lots of room for this trend that I’ve mentioned to play out and I think that’ll happen quickly and start to spread into kind of other categories, not just wellness. Let’s say, elite athletes are able to provide a bit of credibility around and help businesses and these categories grow.

I think it’s sort of the traditional celebrity endorsement, but now with a real level of authenticity that just makes the pitch less of a sales pitch and more of a… Just kind of shining a light. I think that’s where things are headed. I think more and more openness, more and more transparency, more and more authenticity, more and more being called to account when something isn’t authentic or credible or transparent, and I think the personalities that are going to win are going to be the ones that can look you in the eye and explain why they like something in their life and have you believe it and have it be true.

So celebrities are going to build businesses. You’re already seeing this with… Talent agencies are no longer just interested in booking jobs for their clients. They’re building businesses.

Adam Conner (18:09):

And becoming venture arms as well, investing in these businesses too. They see the writing on the wall.

Pete Vlastelica (18:13):

Yeah. That’s been happening for a while and now that there are entire agencies popping up.

“Top agents leaving the traditional talent agencies and forming new ones with the explicit strategy of building businesses for their clients, which lots of them have tried to do for a while, but maybe not with the level of sophistication or expertise or focus on finding the right partners that it takes. I think this is what we’ll see more and more and whether those businesses are wellness businesses or sports betting businesses or really you name it, I think that there’s a story around, at a minimum differentiation of a business that’s founded by somebody that already has an audience built in versus one that needs to go out and build the audience.”

— Pete Vlastelica (18:19)


Adam Conner (18:57):

Yep. It’s going to be fascinating to watch, fascinating to see. And Pete, it’s cool that you’re on the front edge of it all, especially in that investment world. Looking forward to seeing everything that you get involved too personally, but for peering into the future a little bit with me here, I truly appreciate it and best of luck with everything.

Pete Vlastelica (19:15):

Thanks a lot. I appreciate your interest.

Adam Conner (19:20):

Thanks again to Pete Vlastelica from Elysian Park Ventures for joining us. And hey, thanks for investing in our future today and thanks to you, the listener, by the way, for exploring the future of fandom with us. I want you to stay right here. So stay connected. Subscribe to the Future of Fandom, wherever you listen to podcasts and hey, also, socially on LinkedIn @LiveLike, on Twitter @livelikeinc. You’ll get all of our content right there. Adam Conner (19:49): I look forward to predicting the future again with you real soon, and until then, I’m Adam Conner saying so long and thanks for being a fan.

Written By
Megan Glover
Content Manager
Written By
Megan Glover
Content Manager

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