Atlanta, GAJune 1, 2013
If most Americans love high school football — and not many games are broadcast — then there’s money to be made by making it easy for people to watch as many contests as they wish.
Enter David Rudolph, the chief executive officer of Atlanta-based PlayOn! Sports, who’s trying to fill that void — by broadcasting games and other events, and streaming them live on computers and other devices.
Here’s the math. There are 19,000 high schools in the U.S. Forty-two percent of Americans are fans of high school sports. About 55 percent of high school students participate in sports. And untold numbers of people would pay to watch high school events on TVs, computers or mobile devices.
Charge a license fee to schools to use PlayOn! Sports’ software and its expertise, and a nominal charge to some viewers, and it’s a formula that spells money.
- Q: How did you do last year in terms of revenue?A: We had revenue of more than $10 million.
- Q: What about this year and next year?A: We are a privately owned company, but I can say this. We have grown revenue consistently north of 80 percent every year, and we expect this year to be the same.
- Q: Where did the company come from?A: I was a senior vice president for strategy and new products at Turner Broadcasting when we started experimenting nine years ago with live streaming of sports events. Play On! Sports was part of Turner Broadcasting and we spun it off in December 2008 with private investors.
- Q: Who owns the company?A: Buckhead Investment Partners, Imlay Investments and Hamilton Ventures are the majority owners.
- Q: Essentially, what does the company do?A: We are the largest rights holder, producer and aggregator of high school sporting events distributed across TV, the Internet and mobile devices.
- Q: How many employees do you have?A: We have 38 employees at headquarters in technology, production, marketing, and sales, our School Broadcast Program and support operations. We also have three employees in production in Michigan, 12 in Wisconsin, three in California, and seven sales reps out in the field.
- Q: That's not enough to film or produce all those games, is it?A: No. We train high school students to operate the equipment and do what it takes to get it to our website. Ninety-nine percent of our broadcasts are streaming. We employ about 3,000 freelance people, including camera operators. We have 30 production trucks. Local crew members will do the games, including the play-by-play and color commentary.
- Q: Do you have deals with individual schools or state high school associations?A: Both. Post-season rights are controlled by associations like the GHSA (Georgia High School Association). Regular season rights are controlled by the 19,000 schools.
- Q: What does that mean?A: There are about two million varsity events annually. Media rights are controlled by individual high schools. We license our technology platform to schools. That gives the schools the ability to self-produce their regular season events. They pay a license fee that makes it easy to produce games, stream, insert broadcast graphics, put advertising in the video.We contract directly with the school. Typically, the principal is the one who makes the decision. The execution is overwhelmingly student based, which brings a big education component. We provide the platform and students take it from there. Some will do 500 events. It’s a flat fee and it’s an unlimited number of events.
- Q: Who teaches the students?A: We train them on the front-end. It is not a dad in the stands with a video camera with the sound muted. Our slogan is, “We do simple well.” Put a camera on a tripod, to provide stability. Put a play-by-play announcer on, which requires a headset. They don’t get overwhelmed with our software and we have in-person training to help them get started.
- Q: What is the license fee for schools?A: Typically, it’s $2,000 to $3,000 for the year. We also include a laptop. Each school gets a branded portal for content they produce.
- Q: How do people watch?A: About 70 percent of viewership is people watching on their computer. People are also consuming it on mobile devices. What’s coming in the near future is, the majority will watch through their connected TV. We are building a network for the next 40 years and the analogy we point people to is “Netflix for high school sports.”
- Q: Where do you operate now?A: We operate in 32 states, including Georgia. There is heavy concentration in the Southeast, heavy in the Midwest.
- Q: How did you get into this?A: I worked at Turner all through college, starting in sports production. I was at Turner about 14 years. We started PlayOn inside Turner nine years ago. We were focused at Turner on collegiate space.
- Q: Why high school?A: Three times as many people attend high school sports events each year as college and pro combined. The potential is huge.
- Q: What have you broadcast or put on the website live?A: About 25,000 events this school year. We look at the opportunity, since there are two million events in high schools. Today, we have a little more than 1 percent. To get to 50 percent, we’d have to grow our business substantially over what we are today.
- Q: Your ambitions are, well, ambitious. Any plans to go public?A: No plans in the near-term. We think there’s a big enough market that we could go public somewhere down the road.
- Q: How many schools pay you license fees?A: About 600, including 80 in Georgia. License fees come in two flavors. One version is the license fees we receive from schools to use our platform to produce content.The other is license fees from third parties who want to utilize the content on their distribution platforms. Those third parties include cable operators, regional sports networks, broadcast stations and digital distributors.
- Q: What do schools get financially?A: Our software gives them the ability to sell advertising and they keep 100 percent of that. Also, subscription revenue is split 50-50 with the schools. If someone wants to watch one game, their best option is a day pass, which gives them 24 hour access to watch as many events as they want for $3.95.
MEET DAVID RUDOLPH
Job: CEO of PlayOn! SportsAge: 39Hometown: Clarksville, Tenn.Education: B.S. Industrial Engineering, Georgia TechFamily: Married with three childrenReading: “Instant: The Story of Polaroid,” by Christopher Boniness