When Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman first met more than a decade ago, the two “just clicked,” according to Kleiman. Despite being 10 years apart in age, the recently crowned NBA Rookie of the Year and the then-music executive bonded over everything from basketball to business, music and more.
As the two stayed in touch, their relationship continued to evolve to where Kleiman began managing Durant, and then in 2016, they launched Thirty Five Ventures, a multi-faceted sports, media and entertainment company. Centered around its media and content platform Boardroom, their shared interests across industries including fintech, crypto health and wellness has led to more than 75 investments in companies like Dapper Labs, Coinbase, Weedmaps, SeatGeek and Whoop.
Another major focus for Thirty Five Ventures is women’s sports. The company invested in women’s sports-focused media platform Just Women’s Sports last May as well as athlete-centric Athletes Unlimited, where both sit on the Advisory Board.
Today, Durant and Kleiman furthered their support with a “significant investment” in NJ/NY Gotham FC, the National Women’s Soccer League franchise based in New Jersey. Durant and Kleiman, who become minority owners of the club, join an ownership group consisting of Tammy and Phil Murphy, Ed Nalbandian, Steven Temares, Carli Lloyd, Kristin Bernert and Karen Bryant.
“It checks so many boxes in my head,” Kleiman says. “As an investment, we got in at a great valuation, we made a significant investment and the upside is tremendous. Also, I love owning a team in professional sports. Also I love being able to support women’s sports. Also I’m a born and bred New Yorker who wants to be down with New York. The brand’s cool, the colors are cool—it started checking all of these boxes and I was like, ‘I can sell this to the Boardroom community.’
“I don’t know if it would have worked if it was a team in like Wisconsin or if it was a team that didn’t have the same management structure or star power. It is all of those things, but also as an investor, it was a great investment in a booming league.”
Interest and support of the NWSL and women’s soccer continues to rise in the United States and abroad. Viewership for the 2021 NWSL Championship game between the Washington Spirit and Chicago Red Stars was up 216% compared to the 2019 final.
In March, Delta signed on as the league’s first-ever airline and travel partner—which was also the airline’s first major sponsorship of a women’s pro league—joining NWSL partners including Budweiser, MasterCard, Nike, Verizon, Ally, Deloitte, Nationwide and Voyager.
“We’re focused on continuing to build our imprint in women’s sports, which has been a business priority for 35V for some time,” Durant says. “Gotham FC is a New York area team with a lot of talent on and off the field, and there’s a ton of potential for our team to help them grow.
“With increased investment, the audience for women’s soccer has grown a lot in recent years, and that’s something we’re really excited about being a part of moving forward.”
The investment comes at the perfect time for Gotham FC, which was looking to double down on its 2021 success. Following a rebrand last April, the club formerly known as Sky Blue FC won the Eastern Division to advance to the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup championship against Portland Thorns FC. Gotham also finished the regular season in fifth place and qualified for the NWSL playoffs.
Ownership sought to bring on strategic investors who could help take the club to the next level, not only in the highly competitive and crowded New York-New Jersey metropolitan market, but throughout the North American and global soccer landscape.
“There’s something very special brewing here,” Nalbandian says, “and we need catalytic things like a partnership with Thirty Five Ventures to take this thing and really take it to another level.”
Durant and Kleiman aren’t the only strategic investors Gotham FC has welcomed recently. In March, veteran sports executives and KB2 Sports’ co-founders Kristin Bernert and Karen Bryant joined as minority owners. The club also welcomed back recently retired star and USWNT legend Carli Lloyd as a minority owner on April 27.
“Who knows, maybe we’ll do one or two others,” says Nalbandian, who joined the ownership group in January 2020 and serves as the club’s vice chair.
The investment in Gotham FC isn’t Thirty Five Ventures’ first foray into soccer. In June 2020, Durant purchased a 5% stake in the Philadelphia Union of Major League Soccer for an undisclosed amount.
Headlined on the field by USWNT stars including Ali Krieger, Allie Long, Ashlyn Harris, Midge Purce and Kristie Mewis, Gotham FC ownership believes the investment from Thirty Five Ventures and everything that comes with it from content, networking and strategy to potential sponsors and partners, can be the spark that ignites the powder keg to propel the club to the next level.
Bryant acknowledges ownership could have raised money from a lot of different investors and “there’s no shortage of interest in Gotham,” but aligning with the right partners was of the utmost importance in order to accomplish the club’s accelerated growth strategy.
“Being able to lock in with Rich and Kevin and all that 35V brings to the table, we’re just excited about putting those resources and that brand to work,” she says. “We know we’re going to be better together.”