PlayOn! Sports, an Atlanta-based company that streams live and on-demand high school sporting events across the U.S., has announced that it has raised $25 million in a Series B funding round led by venture investment firm BIP Capital, with participation from Jeff Vinik, Teall Capital, and Crossover.
The company plans to use the capital to accelerate its growth by jumpstarting the deployment of Pixellot automated production units throughout U.S. high schools and investing in its consumer products and automated marketing infrastructure.
PlayOn! Sports, which launched in 2006 as part of Turner Broadcasting and became an independent entity in 2008, began broadcasting athletics in 2009 with a state wrestling championship in Georgia. Today, the company handles operations for the NFHS Network, which streams more than 27 types of high school sports to paying subscribers.
PlayOn! Sports partners with Pixellot, a manufacturer of automated video production units, to deliver its services. According to a statement, PlayOn! Sports uses the patented Pixellot technology in more than 4,000 units, which gives the company the capacity to produce and stream more than 150,000 live games per year “without the need for human involvement.”
The unmanned multi-camera Pixellot systems cover entire fields of play from a single camera rig, delivering panoramic imagery stitched together from a variety of angles. The unit uses algorithms to automatically track the flow of play, identifying and following areas of interest and capturing action as it happens.
This also makes identifying highlights, instant-replay creation, and advertisement insertion easy. The company’s interactive content also gives fans the ability to share clips that teams can also use for coaching.
“The volume and oftentimes small nature of high school sporting events make automated production a perfect fit,” says David Rudolph, PlayOn! Sports’ founder and CEO. He told Hypepotamus that while automated video production technology might not work for all sports just yet, part of what has driven success for PlayOn! Sports was a problem student-athletes’ “extended families and friends” have been waiting for someone to solve.
“I saw an opportunity 11 years ago to launch a streaming service which provided access to high schools and their student athletes that previously did not exist,” he says. “The value to the high school fan is the ability to watch the events that they cannot personally attend anywhere, anytime, at a reasonable cost.”
PlayOn! Sports has exclusive rights to more than 90 percent of the U.S. high school market, according to Rudolph, via agreements with 47 of the 51 state associations. The company also operates the NFHS Network, a joint venture with the National Federation of State High School Associations and member state high school associations.
Rudolph says the long-term agreements “are a key factor in our current success and growth rates,” and provide the company with “a very defensible position.” He says in addition to the complementary nature of automated production to the traditional school broadcast program (in which students manually produce events), there are other factors, including marketing, that have helped PlayOn! Sports gain traction.
“Over the past few years, we have pivoted the business to be more direct-to-consumer-facing, as opposed to exclusively relying on schools to help us produce events and market the service,” Rudolph says. “From a marketing perspective, we have significantly extended our reach through the launch of aggressive digital marketing initiatives that have driven over 100-percent growth in our subscription revenue. This growth rate has proven to be extremely interesting to our existing and new investors, and was the driver for this recent round of funding.”
Today, the process of bringing new schools into the program is handled internally. First, PlayOn! Sports’ field sales team brings in clients. Following on-boarding and account management, handled by separate teams, the automated production units are then delivered, installed, calibrated, and activated.
To handle what seems like a business model ripe for expansion, Rudolph says PlayOn! Sports could consider additional investments in the future. As for the next few years, however, he expects this current $25 million funding round to be “more than sufficient” to support the company’s expected growth rate.