It was July 1, 2021, and the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing college athletes to profit from their names, images and likenesses was just two days old. Michael Schreiber and his team at Playfly were ready to go. The unanimous ruling upheld what lower courts had decreed and what players throughout the NCAA universe had been demanding for decades: a chance to profit from the same hard work coaches, athletic directors and schools had been cashing in on.
Schreiber’s Berwyn-based company provides a full menu of marketing, communication, broadcast, sponsorship and fan engagement services for colleges, professional teams and high schools all over the country. He knew Playfly’s campus clients would be looking to maximize opportunities for their athletes. After all, the idea was to keep them happy and to prevent them from looking for more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.
Playfly looked first to the University of Arkansas, pairing wide receiver Trey Knox and his dog, Blue, with national retailer PetSmart. For a robust paycheck, Knox would post videos of him and Blue, along with endorsements of the company’s products. Several months later, Playfly put together a podcast for a Michigan State quarterback and receiver to comment on a Spartans NCAA basketball game. “We had seven different sponsors and paid the kids for being hosts,” Schreiber says. “The kids made some money and got great experience.”
Playfly may look like it’s built for fun and games, and employees do get the chance to fool around. But its recent growth spurt is dead serious—and it’s poised to continue profiting from an athletic climate that offers endless opportunities for growth.
If something’s happening in the world of sports—be it professional, college or even high school—there’s a good chance Playfly is involved in it. Founded by Schreiber in 2020, the company employs 900 people in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and other cities throughout the country, along with specialists embedded in the athletic offices of its clients. A cross between a modern office building and a stadium, its Cassatt Avenue headquarters features a gym, a basketball court, artificial turf carpeting and offices designed to resemble stadium suites. The place may look like it’s built for fun and games—and employees do get the chance to fool around—but Playfly’s growth spurt is dead serious. And it’s poised to continue profiting from an athletic climate that offers endless opportunities for growth.
At a time when sports teams at all levels are working to maximize their revenue possibilities, Playfly offers a varied arsenal of support, and it’s been able to utilize its resources and creativity to create new streams of income. If you watch a Phillies game this season, you’ll see Playfly’s work in the form of promotional tie-ins tailored to the local broadcast. These are also part of a broader program that involves many MLB teams that have hired Playfly to create sponsorship relationships. It’s the same for the Sixers and Flyers. “They go to national companies and say, ‘We’re going to give you a spot on every baseball broadcast,’” says Bo Koelle, VP of advertising sales for NBC Universal in Philadelphia. “There’s a differentiation between each, but they give the advertisers access to every home team’s broadcast.”
It’s a model that’s been profitable for teams and schools, not to mention Playfly, a privately held company that doesn’t release revenue numbers. But it does offer its client list, which includes every MLB, NBA and NHL team, as well as colleges like the University of Southern California, Ohio State University and Villanova University. “Look at what Michael’s done in a short period of time,” says Villanova athletic director Mark Jackson. “He’s created a national footprint. He hustles and works hard. We know what they’re about, and they’re great partners. We reap the benefits of their innovative approach.”
When Schreiber talks about growth opportunities for Playfly, he begins with a pretty simple tenet: “Sports are forever.” The evidence of that is overwhelming. In 2022, 94 of the 100 top-rated TV programs were sporting events, with the NFL grabbing 82 spots. When it comes to setting aside time to watch TV, nothing comes close to live sporting events. Because of that, Playfly is working to engage fans and sponsors in other ways. It’s important to enhance the live experience, but there’s huge value and expansion possibilities beyond the stadiums and arenas. “If you think about it, less than half of your fans have ever been in your stadium or may ever be there,” Schreiber says.
Schreiber spent plenty of time in the stands growing up in Baltimore. His family were big Colts fans, and when the team fled the area in 1985, the Schreibers were devastated. After earning a degree in finance from the University of Virginia in 1998, Schreiber was on the founding team of Hulu and served in multiple executive roles for NBC Universal and Comcast. He started Playfly with some help from Wayne Kimmel’s King of Prussia-based SeventySix Capital, for which Schreiber serves in an advisory role. As he set about growing Playfly, he recognized one key thing. “Local fans are the center point of it all in sports,” he says. “They are the bullseye. They’re not fans of players—they’re fans of the team.” Using that maxim as a guiding force, he set about creating multitiered relationships with them through content production, promotional ties and advertising, both local and national. Thanks to an ever-growing array of platforms, teams can reach their fans in so many different ways, thereby strengthening the bond. The marriage of commercial forces and fans has been a windfall to teams and schools that have contracted with Playfly.
One way to do that is through content production for clients. Advertising and promotional efforts are important, but social media provides opportunities for more targeted content distribution. Playfly can create team-specific content that helps engage fans in ways that go beyond buying a ticket or tuning into games.
And its ability to develop sponsorship opportunities with local and national businesses provides multiple revenue streams at a scale individual athletic entities are unable to accomplish. “They’re our multimedia rights partner,” Villanova’s Jackson says. “They manage our rights, take them to the broader community and build relationships for us.”
Playfly does that for a lot of clients, all from its Berwyn headquarters near the railroad tracks. “We’re actually one of the few companies in the U.S. that can actually sell an advertiser everything from TV to digital and social to in-venue and experiential, plus we can sell them multiple leagues,” Schreiber says. “There’s not a lot of others that can pull that off.”
Visit Playfly’s website to learn more.
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