NFHS Network expands its playbook

As high school football season wraps up, NFHS Network has found that its second season is clicking thanks to its ground game. Using word-of-mouth instead of relying on traditional marketing tactics, the platform – operated and managed by PlayOn! Sports – now boasts over 11,000 high schools contributing content to the network with sports content from 27 different sports (most popular: football, basketball and wrestling). The company recently announced its first sponsor in Under Armour, in a new multi-year partnership that makes the brand the first Anchor Partner of the Network.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with David Rudolph, CEO of PlayOn! Sports, about the growth of the network, the state of high school sports and the road ahead.

Rudolph on launching the network: The biggest development over the last 18 months has been the creation of the NHFS Network, which was a significant change not only for the business but for high school sports in general. Given how fragmented the overall market is, that was a critical first step to aggregating the eyes to do it and bringing all the partners into it, such as the state associations and the NHFS. Since that timeframe, once we put that deal together, the first school year was really a massive scramble on our end. We obviously took our old product and slapped a new coat of paint on it and, from our end, it was a jump from 23 or 24 states up to 40 overnight. We played catch-up all last year but it was a very successful first year for the network against any metric that you want to judge it.

On year two: We wanted to have a stronger second year and we had a little bit more time to plan for that. The biggest push for year two was a complete overhaul of the product and the consumer experience. That was something that you don’t do overnight, and that launched in mid-August. There are a couple of key focuses of that. We had grown so much and had so much content that discoverability was becoming an issue. We needed some version of personalization where fans could follow certain teams and sports and states. That was a big push. We also wanted to add an interactive component to it that would allow you to clip content and share it to increase the viral nature of our programming.

On sponsors: We utilize a dual revenue stream of subscription and advertising. Frankly, we are more in the phase of identifying and securing corporate partners. The first one we announced so far in Under Armour. We really couldn’t have even had that conversation before the network was created as there wasn’t any destination that was scalable and efficient for something like that. This created the first one. So, Under Armour was one of the ones who got it from day one, as high school sports are at the core of what they do.

On the state of high school sports: High school sports in general are under attack on a couple of different fronts. Under attack may be too strong a phrase but revenue sources are drying up so the teams and schools are looking for alternative ways to raise money just to field teams. I think more and more schools are looking for alternative ways beyond just charging parents and selling wrapping paper to find ways to fund their teams. The second thing is that players today are specializing more and more. You are playing baseball year-round or volleyball year-round or golf. That’s different from when we were growing up when we were playing one sport per season. Some sports are actually seeing some shrinkage.

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