Playfly Sports is a sports marketing and media agency that supports professional, collegiate and high school teams, as well as esports. The company focuses on the sports organization — the teams, the conference, the league — rather than athletes.
Michael Schreiber, who previously spent time building industry-first TV and film digital distribution deals at NBC Universal, helped lead the founding of hulu.com in 2007, and drove Comcast Cable's new media and digital content/platform deals as part of their digital evolution, launched the company with the backing of Sinclair Broadcast Group and Access Holdings around 2020.
To accelerate its growth, Playfly has acquired several companies, including Home Team Sports, Impression Sports, and FOX Sports College Properties, Outfront Media Sports and two esports companies: Collegiate Star League and the World Gaming Network.
Schreiber says many of the company's acquisitions were done during the core years of COVID, when there were many questions around how sports might change. But for Playfly, that uncertainty was an opportunity.
"We were able to take advantage of that time frame because I believe in the mantra that pandemics are temporary and sports are forever," he says. "Recessions are temporary, sports of forever. So, at the end of the day, our mission is a forever mission focused on those forever fans."
Given that fans are the key part of the business, Schreiber says it directs him to start looking at what opportunities there are to buy companies that really have attachment to fans and have relationships with sports organizations that help corral fans and get them in front of advertisers and brands.
"We found a number of really interesting businesses that did that, that fits into our mission," he says. "And a number of them were corporate carve-outs of bigger media companies. The Outfront business was a derivation out of CBS Outdoor, three of the businesses we bought came out of Fox Sports, a couple of businesses we bought came out of Cineplex in Canada. There were a lot of interesting elements that were inside of other bigger media companies that we could aggregate together for this specific mission."
Also among the acquisitions were two esports properties, Collegiate Star League and the World Gaming Network. Schreiber says the tie-in is clear.
"When you think about the value creation services that we provide for traditional sports — stick-and-ball-type sports," Schreiber says. "We provide services for sponsorship, we provide services for digital media, we provide digital platforms, provide data services, content services. When you think about that and then you look at the esports industry, all of those services are just as important, if not more important, because sometimes there's no physical location that the game is being played at because it can be completely virtual, especially during COVID, where esports moved out of venues and into a completely virtual environment. That led to those commercial services being that much more important. So, we doubled down in esports as a category for us. We believe that it's going to continue to see growth year over year."
The two acquisitions gave Playfly what he calls premier core assets that the company could complement. The company built an esports agency called Playfly Esports, which does value creation service for other esports organizations. The company also built and iterated on the college league, which is now called NACE Starleague, which is a combination of the NACE league and CSL Esports. Now, he says, they have the largest collegiate esports league in world.
"When you think about the age group that steps onto a college campus, that is the sweet spot of the esports industry — not just players, but viewers and fans," he says. "There is an amazing amount of fandom in esports — going back to our core mission, which is focusing on that local fan, that forever fan. College is the microcosm of that fandom. So, we not only own the league and the IP around the college side of the business, which is exciting and the growth engine, but we also service not only our own IP but other people's businesses as well through our agency. So that's our vision is to build on both of those, both our college league and our esports agency model."
Schreiber spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about launching Playfly, making acquisitions as well as advice for those leading disruptive forces into the market.