Athletes crowdfunding their way to the Olympics


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Making your way to the Olympic Games as an amateur athlete requires talent, hard work, dedication and discipline. But not only! Training sessions, coach, equipment, flight tickets, hotel rooms… the life of an athlete comes with a considerable cost. While professional athletes are sponsored by various brands and potentially collect money by winning competitions, amateur athletes must rely on alternative sources of revenue to fund their sporting career.

Having faced the dilemma of choosing between an athlete career and a more conventional path, two Canadian former amateur athletes founded the website Pursu.it. This non-profit crowdfunding platform is run by volunteers and designed to help amateur athletes of any country to gather funding in order to reach one specific goal in their athletic careers such as making the podium, getting to the next competitive event, or making the national team.

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Pursuit uses reward-based crowdfunding, meaning that contributors are promised varying levels of rewards depending on the amounts pledged. The usual rewards include signed equipment, lessons and personal phone calls. As described by co-founder Leah Skerry, the givebacks are personal items and real “bragging-right pieces”. The main incentives for contributors are thus clearly the access to exclusive products, the belonging to a community of close fans and philanthropy. (Agrawal et al., 2010)

Agrawal et al. (2010) reported that funding is highly skewed on some major non-equity crowdfunding platforms, but Pursuit seems to be very different in this regard. Indeed, since the platform was launched, 80% of the campaigns reached their targets. If one may argue that part of this result can be due to a higher similarity between the projects, it seems like some of the merit of that large success can be attributed to the team of Pursuit. First, Pursuit intervenes on the selection of the campaigns launched on the website. The team vets the profiles of athletes who want to create a campaign and rejects those they deem untrustworthy or unrealistic. Second, the team of Pursuit collaborates with athletes to make their campaigns successful. Athletes receive assistance in making their project descriptions, pictures and videos, and get various advices. For instance, when setting their funding target, athletes are recommended to ask for enough money to reach their intended goal, but also to cover the expenses associated with making rewards and shipping them to the contributor.

A crowdfunding giant such as Kickstarter allows everyone to launch a campaign and hosts a wide variety of campaigns ranging from art, to food and technology. While Kickstarter faces more than 56% of unsuccessful projects and a highly skewed funding, Pursuit has been focusing on one type of campaign and one target audience. Its smaller scale allowed it to filter campaigns and help project creators at every step, resulting in a 80% success rate.

Either Pursuit’s way of doing things only apply to the demand of a particular niche market revealed by the long tail effect (Brynjolfsson et al., 2006), or its original approach might soon become a source of inspiration for other crowdfunding platforms…

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