As name, image and likeness rights open doors for college athletes across the country, college multimedia rights holders are also finding ways to take advantage of the new opportunities in front of them. Playfly Sports, a relative newcomer to an MMR space dominated by incumbents like Learfield IMG College, is one such company—finding NIL opportunities for partners and brands at schools for which it does not manage licensing or media rights.
Playfly facilitated its first NIL deal between PetSmart and proud husky owner Trey Knox, a wide receiver at Arkansas– a Learfield school. Playfly hopes the arrangement is the first of many.
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“We’re fortunate that we have relationships with sponsors throughout the country and have this amazing network that now has a new avenue to activate,” Playfly Sports’ chief of staff Geoff Kalan said in an interview. “We’re thinking about how we engage with a brand that is prominent and help a student athlete not only monetize their name, image and likeness, but also show a little bit of their personality off the field. We see immense opportunity there.”
Multimedia rights holders such as Playfly and Learfield have contractual relationships with athletic departments, selling sponsorship inventory, forging partnerships and executing licensing and multimedia deals on behalf of schools. There are 18 universities in Playfly’s college portfolio, including Old Dominion, New Mexico, Wichita State and St. Bonaventure, as well as a number of state high school associations, sports venues, conferences, teams and other properties. The Philadelphia-based company made a splashy entry into college marketing and multimedia deals in September with the acquisition of Outfront Media Sports, whose rights portfolio included LSU, Maryland and Virginia, but Playfly still has a much smaller roster than many of its competitors.
Given the conflicts of interest, it would be difficult—if not outright restricted—for an MMR holder to get involved in NIL deals with athletes at schools within its portfolio. Those limitations, coupled with a smaller number of client schools than its competitors (Learfield, for example, could offer access to a dozen Power Five schools, or 100 NCAA schools across the country, in a single deal with a national brand), pushed Playfly to get creative.
The company wasted no time connecting PetSmart and Knox, announcing the deal the first week athlete endorsements were allowed and using NOCAP Sports, an NIL deals portal, as a fulfillment partner to help with the actual activation. Since Learfield holds the MMR rights at Arkansas, Playfly Sports would not have been able to offer PetSmart any access to that market prior to NIL, when deals could only be done at the athletic department level. With NIL, Playfly was able to offer the Phoenix-based pet superstore exposure in Fayetteville.
While Playfly didn’t take a cut of the PetSmart deal, the sports marketing company said it will look to monetize these partnerships moving forward. PetSmart was Playfly’s NIL test case, done to see how it could leverage relationships to benefit both a brand partner and athletes. The company said it will look to make money on the brand side rather than take a commission from the athlete.
“A lot of brands are looking to kind of dip their toe in now and see where this landscape goes,” Kalan said. “We’re having conversations with brands every day across our portfolio [about NIL]. Everyone knows that the deals that happen now are going to look very different than deals that happened three years down the road, but people are interested and everyone seems to be trying to stay close to the industry.”
Playfly was founded by veteran media and sports executive Michael Schreiber, who also serves as Playfly Sports’ CEO. The company’s investors include investment firm Access Holdings and media company Sinclair Broadcast Group.