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JDS Sports Launches RTG Features Film/TV Studio

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The brand is focused exclusively on basketball.

JDS Sports Launches RTG Features Film/TV Studio

JDS Sports, a next-generation sports, media and entertainment holding company, has announced the official launch of RTG Features, a new film and TV production and financing brand focused exclusively on basketball. The company has a large number of projects in development, with individual titles and partnerships with major talent to be announced in the coming months. Most titles will be co-branded and promoted by JDS portfolio companies SLAM and Five-Star Basketball upon release.

Three years ago JDS Sports was formed with the acquisition of SLAM - a 26-year-old basketball magazine turned modern media company and lifestyle brand - to pair with Five-Star Basketball - a 54-year-old camp business that counts Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and many more as alumni.

To surround and support the growth of these historic basketball brands, the operating partners of JDS Sports, Peter Robert Casey (CEO) and Matt Aronson (President), charted a strategy and invested in nearly a dozen complementary businesses, while working day-to-day with the senior leadership teams of their majority holdings.

"To have two iconic basketball communities, brands and IP at the center of our portfolio is an advantage we lean on," said Casey, with Aronson adding, "It allows us to more effectively develop original ideas and promote those ideas once they become completed projects out in the world. It also allows us to attract deal flow and seamlessly strike mutually-beneficial relationships among our companies."

Casey and Aronson emphasize their newly launched film studio, RTG Features, and its debut project, A Kid From Coney Island, as key to this portfolio strategy and an example to point to. RTG, named with a nod to SLAM's original slogan, Respect the Game, focuses on original development and financing along with adapting articles from SLAM's 225-plus magazine issues into projects ranging from feature films to documentaries to podcasts.

JDS was part of the cohort that acquired The Orchard Film Group (now Streamwise/1091 Pictures) from Sony at the same time A Kid From Coney Island was showing at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival. The feature documentary was produced by Forest Whitaker's Significant Productions and chronicles the rise, fall and rebirth of Stephon Marbury, whose connection to SLAM dates back to 1995 when he became the magazine's inaugural high school diarist as a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn.

"We knew A Kid From Coney Island was the perfect project with which to launch RTG," said Aronson. "It already had multiple references to SLAM and was directed by the talented duo Coodie & Chike, whom we continue to work closely with at RTG. Beyond that, it was a powerful story that transcended just the game of basketball; a quality that we seek out in all of our projects for RTG."

After securing the North American distribution rights and bringing on Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman of Thirty-Five Ventures as executive producers, 1091 and RTG released the film for a limited theatrical run cut short by COVID-19, followed by an accelerated digital window and exclusive streaming on Netflix.

In the midst of the release of A Kid From Coney Island, it was full steam ahead on building out the broader RTG slate. As it stands today, their slate currently consists of four feature films and a series on the scripted side, and twelve feature-length documentaries, five docu-series, and a podcast on the unscripted side. All of which are either in pre-production or mid-production and will be co-branded and promoted by SLAM or Five-Star upon release.

The team has kept fairly quiet about the various projects in the works on the RTG slate but will now be rolling out with announcements and teasers in the coming weeks. They did, however, share what will be one of the first follow-up projects to A Kid From Coney Island. RTG is kicking off a broader partnership and teaming up again with the directing pair 'Coodie & Chike' to produce SLAMthology, a docu-series that will highlight the most compelling stories from SLAM's magazine archive spanning 26 years and featuring some of the best sports writers and basketball players, past, present and future.

"We use film as a medium to create impact through empathy," said Coodie & Chike, the award-winning filmmakers who have directed Kanye West's Through the Wire and ESPN 30 FOR 30 Benji. "And we're excited about how our partnership with RTG will broaden our ability to bring these types of stories to life."

"Using basketball as our muse, RTG will explore rich and diverse stories and themes bred from the game we love," added Aron Phillips, COO at both RTG and SLAM. "Together with SLAM, our brand will be defined by the athletes, filmmakers and writers we partner with."

This long-form content space is just one part of the broader strategy for SLAM intended by JDS Sports after acquiring the key asset in late 2017.

While COVID-19 has undoubtedly caused calculated shifts in the sponsorships and events sides of the business, SLAM's merchandise and e-commerce has seen record months of sales during this time. Taking note of this growth area, Casey and Aronson pursued and acquired a 50% stake in 19nine, a retro licensed apparel company currently focused on the collegiate basketball space, to add to the portfolio and work closely with SLAM and Five-Star. 19nine is on track for nearly 350% revenue growth this year, with new product drops regularly selling out in less than an hour. Further terms of the deal were not disclosed.

On the Five-Star front, JDS is currently working on multiple projects that delve into the rich history of Five-Star, including a narrative podcast through RTG.

"Multimedia extensions of the Five-Star IP, such as the podcast, are natural complements to other core initiatives we have for the brand, including our partnership with the NBPA on summer camps and a forthcoming initiative to fund court refurbishments across the country in coordination with Project Backboard," said Casey.

From a more forward-looking standpoint, JDS keeps a close watch on emerging technologies that will shape what sports media (and beyond) might look like in 5 to 10 years, with venture investments in startups such as streaming video marketplace Transmit.Live, creative analytics platform VidMob, and blockchain fund and laboratory Framework.

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