SBJ/June 23-29, 2014/Colleges

Learfield buys digital platform firm Sidearm

Learfield Sports is pushing further into the digital business by acquiring Sidearm Sports, a Syracuse, N.Y., company that developed a digital platform used to power more than 500 college websites.

Financial terms of the all-cash deal weren’t available. It is the third acquisition Learfield has made since Providence Equity bought it last fall.

The Sidearm acquisition is designed to make it easier for Learfield to create digital advertising opportunities across the network of 92 colleges whose multimedia rights it holds. Those schools have websites operating on a variety of platforms developed by companies such as NeuLion and Sidearm. As a result, Learfield has to sell and design separate ads that fit each site. It hopes that Sidearm, which it will recommend for use by the colleges in its system, helps it create a more turnkey approach for digital advertisements.

“Sidearm is a great company and they have a dynamic product that does a good job for partners,” said Learfield CEO Greg Brown. “This also gives us the flexibility to do things for national partners that we haven’t had the control and ability to do.”

Brown said Learfield would continue to work with platforms developed by NeuLion and other Sidearm competitors if schools choose to use those platforms. But he added that using Sidearm would give schools a “larger voice” in the development of their sites.

Sidearm, which charges $5,000 to $40,000 a year for its services, provides the platform for sites at a few large schools, such as Texas, Kansas and Syracuse, which aren’t affiliated with Learfield. It also provides the platform for nearly half of the other 1,200-plus schools across all of the NCAA’s divisions.

The company and its 60 employees will remain in Syracuse and continue to be led by founder Jeff Rubin, who will report to Learfield Chief Operating Officer Marc Jenkins. “The opportunity with Learfield gives us a chance to increase our brand and gain access to top-tier Division I schools, which we don’t have much of,” Rubin said. “We have a few, but this gives us a chance to do more.”

Brown said that Learfield will continue to look at opportunities to acquire businesses that fit with the company. It last week acquired Licensing Resource Group and in February acquired Nelligan Sports Marketing, which had the multimedia rights for 41 schools, including Louisville, Marquette and Providence.

“We are opportunistic about it,” Brown said. “The college space is robust. To the extent we can be aggressive, we want to do that.”

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