Michael Schreiber calls his startup the biggest sports network that “you’ve never heard of, and that’s fine.”
Nearly two years ago, the former Comcast Corp. launched sports advertising company Playfly Sports LLC in Chester County which now reaches 83% of US sports fans, generating 230 billion ad impressions annually across 8,500 professional and college game shows, streaming platforms, banners digital, radio broadcasts and newsletters.
It’s half of a mini-boom of sports tech companies in Berwyn with ties to Comcast. Playfly’s offices are in a former roller rink on the outgoing side of SEPTA’s Paoli/Thorndale line. Epoxy.ai, also a start-up founded by former Comcast executives, rents office space on the line’s inbound lanes within stone-throwing distance of PlayFly. Epoxy.ai personalizes sports betting via mobile phones.
Monetizing sports fan engagement is what this is about: Playfly through advertising and Epoxy.ai through betting. And former Comcast execs know all about the economics of big-budget sports, the persistence of sports broadcast ratings, and the escalation of sports media rights.
“It was hard to work in the programming business at Comcast without being involved in sports,” said Chris Reynolds, co-founder of Epoxy.ai who knew and worked with Schreiber at the Philadelphia company.
Schreiber’s idea was to create a sports platform for national brands such as TD Ameritrade or BMW to reach regional sports fans without those brands calling local sports teams. A liquor company, for example, could advertise seltzer water drinks in New York and low-calorie beers in Los Angeles “with one bill,” Schreiber said.
The sports advertising market is vast and diffuse. About 800 brands collectively spent $6.2 billion on advertising on NFL television broadcasts during the 2020-21 season, according to an advertising research firm and reported by the Sports Business Journal. The NFL is just one league and most advertising is national. Playfly operates sports advertising regionally.
Andrey Mikhailitchenko, a business professor at California State University in Sacramento, said sports fans are five times more likely to remember brands advertised at college or professional games than to remember brands advertised at movies or entertainment in general.
To get out of the blocks quickly, Playfly acquired seven companies supporting Schreiber’s vision for more than $100 million, giving him access to a technology platform and ad inventory for professional baseball, basketball and game play. hockey that he can sell to national advertisers. The largest transactions involved three former Fox Corp companies. : Home Team Sports, Impression Sports and FOX Sports College Properties. Other acquisitions allow Playfly to sell sponsorships to colleges and sell naming rights to arenas.
Schreiber declined to provide revenue for the private enterprise, but said it was profitable. In addition to Schreiber, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Baltimore investment firm Access Holdings have invested in Playfly.
Sports fans are five times more likely to recall advertised brands at college or professional games than at movies or general entertainment.
Andrey Mikhailitchenko, California State University
The company employs 50 people in Berwyn. On its website, Playfly posted job offers in Berwyn or Philadelphia. Playfly employs 350 people in other parts of the country, with openings posted in New York; El Segundo, California; Atlanta; Chicago; and Detroit. Additionally, Playfly hires around 300 contractors.
In July, the Orlando Sentinel reported that Playfly had reached a 13-year deal with the University of Central Florida, agreeing to pay the institution $125 million for its media rights.
“Playfly is betting they’ll make over $125 million to repay Central Florida” for those rights, said Kirk Wakefield, a retail marketing professor and sports advertising expert at Baylor University in Texas.
Playfly and UCF confirmed in press releases that they have reached an agreement. They did not disclose financial terms.
In college sports, Playfly takes on heavyweight Learfield, owned by investment fund Atairos Group Inc., Wakefield said. Atairos also has links to Comcast – deep links. Former Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis controls Atairos, which is based in Bryn Mawr and about nine miles from Playfly’s offices. Comcast agreed to fund Atairos with $4 billion.
Sports advertising used to appeal to a mass audience. But Wakefield said brands now want to know that their advertising has “changed the minds and behaviors” of consumers, he said. “The organization that can come in with this type of data will win the day.”
For some fans, sports games and arenas already feel saturated with advertising.
“Saturation can take place if you overload [teams] with easy money,” said Mikhailitchenko, a Sacramento professor, pointing to professional hockey jerseys in Europe covered in multiple brand logos.
But he also thinks there’s an “infinite market” for sports marketing, as advertisers can segment the audience, targeting fan groups based on demographics, lifestyle, geography or behavior. .
The proximity of the Playfly and Epoxy.ai offices is no coincidence. The West Suburban Towns are Comcast bedroom communities accessible by Regional Rail, which also carries reverse commuters from Philadelphia to Berwyn.
Epoxy.ai “had a great team that mostly lived downtown, and they had to be okay with a reverse commute,” Reynolds said. “And there’s nothing more manageable than getting off the train and walking to your office.”
Reynolds also said it’s great to see spin-offs and start-ups clustering in the region, similar to, albeit on a smaller scale, Silicon Valley or other innovation hubs.
Schreiber, 46, a Baltimore native who worked at NBCUniversal, moved to the Philadelphia area when Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011.
“The goal was to take it all to your living room TV and make it available on digital platforms like the iPhone,” Schreiber said of his first Comcast project.
Negotiating content deals for Comcast, Schreiber said he realized big advertisers could reach general sports audiences on ESPN and other national networks. But they couldn’t easily reach local sports fans who are advertisers’ most passionate and prized eyeballs.
In 2016, Schreiber left Comcast for a new position as Chief Content Officer at Altice USA, a cable television and broadband provider in New York City. He didn’t want to relocate his family to Paoli, so he traveled to Altice’s offices by train.
Schreiber left Altice in June 2020, and several months later launched Playfly and began looking for local headquarters. “I didn’t want to be in a place on the Strip somewhere,” Schreiber said.
He was charmed by the Berywn Theatre, which opened in 1913 and brought Broadway plays to the suburbs. Later uses included a roller rink and later law firms.
After $2 million in renovations, Schreiber opened the Playfly offices in the building in May. An indoor basketball court has been laid out in the excavated basement, and employee offices surround the court above like a press box. An outdoor lawn has been laid on this ground floor, imitating a football pitch. Banners of pro and college teams line the walls. There is a gym and areas to relax.
Before the interview, Schreiber threw a basketball. “Making a bad move. You have to make one before every meeting.