Six years ago, after spending most of his childhood racing motorcycles, Ryan Norman attended the three-day Skip Barber Racing School in Atlanta for aspiring race car drivers. Norman, then 16 years old, loved the experience so much that he ditched motorcycles for cars. Soon, he was obsessed with becoming a professional.
John Norman, his father, quickly realized Ryan’s dream would come at a huge cost, typically in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to pay for travel, training and other expenses. John was a successful businessman and producer who had founded and sold three event exhibition companies, so he was financially secure. He also raised money from others to help his son, who raced on the Indy Lights Series from 2017 to 2019 and currently competes in IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge professional series.
Still, John knew that other athletes in individual sports weren’t as fortunate and didn’t have access to the money needed to achieve their dreams. Now, he is trying to do something to help them and give fans a chance to share in their winnings.
Norman last month launched Evolution Development Group Inc, or EVO, a sports management company that will provide young professional athletes with money to pay for their travel, entrances fees, food, training and other expenses. In turn, EVO will receive a percentage of the athletes’ future earnings and endorsements. The contracts will vary in terms of how much a cut EVO will take.
EVO is looking to raise $2.4 million through the sale of shares to the general public on the company’s website. The offering is open to anyone who’s at least 18 years old and requires a $150 minimum investment. Each year, EVO will distribute to its shareholders five percent of the money it generates from its athletes. The shares will not be listed on an exchange and won’t be available to trade on a secondary market, but shareholders could benefit financially if EVO is acquired, completes an initial public offering or merges with another company.
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EVO is initially targeting promising athletes in motorsports, mixed martial arts, boxing, golf and tennis who typically are responsible for shouldering huge financial burdens just for the opportunity to compete. EVO has not yet signed a deal with any athletes, but it plans on doing so in the coming weeks and months. It is targeting athletes who are about to turn professional or already on minor professional tours and on the cusp of moving up to the more prestigious, higher-paying leagues such as IndyCar, UFC and PGA Tour.
EVO will have a stable of trainers, coaches, nutritionists, mental health experts and others who will work with the athletes, as well. It has already formed partnerships with IndyCar driver Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport. They will help EVO identify the right race car drivers to sign. EVO’s staff also includes Kevin Barry, a boxing silver medalist in the 1984 Summer Olympics and longtime trainer; Jay Howard, a former professional race car driver and current coach/trainer; and Scott Minor, a veteran golf instructor who’s worked with collegians and professionals. Those three and others will help choose promising players and train them after they sign with EVO.
“The biggest goal of EVO is to provide these athletes with the best training and development so they can excel and get to the top level and be earning multiple times more than they would have if they didn’t have us,” John Norman said. “They can spend 100 percent of their time training to be the best athlete they can be.”
Norman had thought of founding EVO for awhile and finalized the business plan about two years ago when he met Kendall Almerico, an attorney based in Washington, D.C. Almerico specializes in Regulation A+ offerings, which allow private, startup companies to raise up to $50 million per year from accredited and non-accredited investors. Such crowdfunding offerings were created as part of the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act, or JOBS Act, which then-President Barack Obama signed into law in 2012.
Before then, some promising young athletes had received financial help from family members, friends, high net-worth individuals and financiers. But any formal investment products relating to athletes could not be marketed to the general public.
“This has never been available for an ordinary fan who just loves sports,” John Norman said. “They can own shares in EVO and be part of the program and benefit when our athletes win.”
For the past two years, Norman has also spoken with Pieter Rossi, Alexander’s father. Pieter, a longtime commercial real estate investor, had formed a private investment fund in 2009 that raised $1.65 million to help fund his son’s foray into motorsports. The money allowed Alexander, a Grass Valley, Calif., resident, to move to Europe as a teenager and pursue a Formula One career. Alexander returned to the U.S. in 2016 to compete on the IndyCar circuit and won that year’s Indianapolis 500. He has won seven of the 81 IndyCar races he’s entered since 2016 and has had 33 top-five finishes, including five in 14 races last year.
Pieter Rossi later helped create investment vehicles for other young drivers, too. But those aren’t open to the general public and are intended to be athlete-specific, whereas anyone can invest in EVO and potentially earn money from numerous athletes’ performances.
“This is very different from what we do,” Pieter Rossi said.
Still, Alexander and Pieter Rossi are believers in EVO’s plan. They are investors in the company and serve as advisers. Pieter will help EVO’s athletes secure sponsorships and other business partnerships, while Alexander will help select drivers and mentor them as they progress through the professional ranks.
“I know in this sport, the costs that are associated with it unfortunately weed out a lot of drivers that ultimately could have been incredibly successful,” Alexander Rossi said. “For me to be involved in a program that’ll help drivers achieve their goals, it’s something that’s very special to me.”