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Can't buy shares in Facebook? Invest in LeBron James

Jon Brodkin | March 7, 2011
A new kind of stock market lets fans invest in LeBron James and Tom Brady rather than Facebook, Apple or Microsoft.

The first NFL market "worked really well," he said. "There was enough liquidity, definitely not a ton, but enough that players' prices were moving right after games."

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant's stock moved up more than 80% after his breakthrough, for example, while Tom Brady's stock jumped 43% over the course of the season and Chad Ochocinco lost 30% of his value.

Although stock value is based on supply and demand, rather than stats, the prices "mimicked what people saw during the season," Levine said. As the market gets bigger, Levine will be able to raise the maximum amount people can invest. The deposit cap was initially just $25 per investor, but that's been raised to $200.

The idea of sports stock markets and sports prediction markets received some skepticism at the Sports Analytics Conference. Mark Cuban, one of the speakers, proposed a sports betting hedge fund several years ago, and at least one such fund now exists in London

Predictions markets are used successfully to predict outcomes in various businesses, but as speaker Michael Konik said, "The wisdom of crowds applies to every facet of life except for sports betting" in which "investors" are too emotional to make rational decisions.

Konik, a gambler and author, also doubted whether a Wall Street-type sports exchange would work because of political objections from sports leagues and the NCAA, which don't want "the taint of gambling to sully their very pure athletic product."

Legal issues aren't a problem, however, according to Jeff Ma. "Sports betting is illegal [in most U.S. states] but creating an exchange around sports isn't illegal," said Ma, who was a member of the so-called MIT Blackjack Team and co-founder of ProTrade, a now-defunct sports stock market that used play money.

StarStreet isn't the first sports stock market using real money. A site called OneSeason tried it, but the market crashed because there was an unlimited supply of player shares, Levine says. "They were venture-funded, burned through at $3.5 million in 10 months," Levine says.

StarStreet has a better shot at success, Levine believes, because as a zero-sum market supply and demand is tightly controlled.

Levine said he has "raised some funding," and is working on improving the site interface. He's not sure when he'll be ready to leave the beta or "preseason" phase, but Levine thinks StarStreet will appeal to sports fans, particularly those who are turned off by fantasy baseball or football because of the constant lineup changes and player-tracking required to be successful.

By comparison, StarStreet is easy -- just buy shares in a player. Ideally, investors will make decisions rationally based on statistics and future potential, but it will be hard to separate the sports fan from the sports investor. You may not even be a sports nut, but as Levine says, "Who doesn't love at least one player?"


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