What they do: PlayOn is the nation’s largest sports media company for high schools in the U.S., broadcasting about 14,000 events in 2011-12. The company acquires broadcast rights from state athletic associations and individual schools and produces live Web broadcasts for regular-season and postseason events. PlayOn sells advertisements against its broadcasts and also licenses its feeds to local regional sports networks.
Recent moves: The company has broadcast agreements with 23 of the nation’s 65 high school athletic associations.
What’s next: The company hopes to increase licensing partnerships with regional sports networks for live TV broadcasts of high school sports.
David Rudolph laid the groundwork for PlayOn! Sports as an executive at Turner Broadcasting, and for 12 years he oversaw Turner’s push to produce online college and high school sports broadcasts for minimal cost. In late 2007, he left Turner and organized a holding company, 2080 Media, which bought PlayOn’s assets from Turner a year later. He then set out to become the major player in high school sports broadcasting.
“Nobody in the marketplace had consolidated a position, so from a rights standpoint it looked like a good market,” Rudolph said. “We were blown away by the size of the audiences for the events we did.”
Rudolph said the tipping point came in early 2009 when his group produced a webcast of a Georgia state wrestling championship. He anticipated viewership to be between 10,000 and 20,000. More than 100,000 people tuned in.
“The event didn’t even have any marketing or promotion,” Rudolph said. “It was an eye opener of what [high school sports] were capable of doing.”
The company employs 65 full-time staff and more than 1,000 freelance producers. They use a technology partnership with Limelight and a proprietary player application to beam live sports across the Internet.
The company has rights agreements with 23 of the country’s 65 high school sports associations, which allows it to broadcast postseason and championship games. PlayOn also has individual deals with about 300 high schools to show regular-season games. The company broadcasts 15,000 games.
“Right now we’re as big as everybody else combined, but it’s likely less than 1 percent of the total market,” Rudolph said.
The company also has licensing agreements with Comcast and Fox to broadcast games on local RSNs, and Rudolph hopes to expand that end of the business. He said 60 percent of PlayOn’s revenue comes from advertising, 30 percent from licensing fees and 10 percent from DVD sales and other revenue. He said he hopes to boost licensing revenue 50 percent. Rudolph said that the company is not yet profitable, though it is “very close.”
Fred Dreier is a writer based in New York.