Julia Glushko is a 22-year-old Israeli tennis player ranked No. 225 in the world. She has what it takes to climb the rankings, but without sponsors to foot her bills, she has to shell out for training, equipment and travel on her own (the $8,056 she’s earned this year doesn’t come close to covering the $200K or so it takes to play a full schedule). So Glushko and countless players like her scrape by with worn-out sneakers and sleeping four to a hotel room.
Enter InvolvedFan.com, a crowdfunding website founded in January. Athletes like Glushko post profiles explaining their circumstances, and fans can contribute to their efforts. In return, InvolvedFan.com rewards supporters with personal perks such as autographed memorabilia, Skype sessions and even private lessons with the players. Although 20 of the 21 athletes participating are tennis players, site founder Dan Nagler hopes to expand soon into golf, Olympic sports and even some team sports like basketball, in which free agents looking for D-League and European roster spots have to fund their own travel to tryouts. So far, Glushko has raised barely enough to cover one hotel stay, but Nagler sees a day when fans will keep numerous athletes afloat. “With support, a good night’s sleep before a match and three properly strung rackets,” he says, “some of these players could really make it.”