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After former Disney Television Group chief Ben Sherwood left The Walt Disney Co. last year following its acquisition of 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets, he had a choice to make.
“I had options to suit up and play for another media team, or do something different,” Sherwood tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Ultimately, Sherwood decided to forge his own path, founding a new company called Mojo, joined by Zynga and Scopely veteran and Reed Shaffner, who is serving as the company’s COO.
Mojo will launch an app in early 2021, a “coach-in-a-box” for parents and youth sports coaches, paired with original content.
“I was excited to try and build something from scratch in an area where there is enormous opportunity,” Sherwood says. “I have always been attracted to green fields, and I think the youth sports space is a green field, where, like entertainment, storytelling and content creation are very relevant, so I will get to use everything I have learned from a 30-plus year career over storytelling and journalism and entertainment, but now to focus on an area of tremendous personal passion.”
Sherwood is himself a coach, having coached his two sons in basketball, baseball, soccer and flag football. He says that personal experience, combined with his professional experience as a producer, writer and corporate executive (he was president of ABC News before being elevated to oversee all of Disney’s TV businesses), will come in handy at Mojo.
“I feel lucky to come from Disney, where I had great training in subscription services as the co-chair of the Hulu board, and I had great training in kids content and kids programming overseeing the Disney Channels around the world for five years, but I have a lot of humility about technology,” he says, noting that Shaffner has recruited “world-class technologists” to develop the Mojo product.
Sherwood and Shaffner raised a Series A funding round in February 2020, with producer Tom Werner, UTA Ventures, Alpha Edison, and Jeffrey Katzenberg’s WndrCo among the initial investors.
“Many of them have lived this journey, many of them have kids, many of them have coached,” Sherwood says of his investors, noting that Werner coached little league in West L.A. “He remembers the ups and the downs, we wanted to take the luck out of it and add expertise and science.”
When Mojo launches, it will include a launch slate of content from Mandalay Sports, the producer of ESPN’s The Last Dance, alongside “age appropriate, developmentally appropriate” instructional material for coaches and parents.
The intention is for Mojo to be a subscription service for teams and parents, though Sherwood adds that there may be advertising or underwriting opportunities down the line. Specific details are still being developed.
When it launches, Mojo expects to partner with athletes, figures from the entertainment industry and media partners to drive awareness of the app and service. And with a market of 50 million youth athletes in the U.S. and 500 million around the world, Sherwood thinks there will be a receptive audience.
“There are some big dominant players [in sports], but it’s just interesting that in the sports space, there is no family sports brand,” Sherwood says. “I think we’re poised early next year to really make a difference in the world of youth sports.”
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