There’s an interesting move in the digital media space, with Absolute Sports (parent of Sportskeeda and other international sites) making their first U.S. acquisition. That would be buying a majority (73.27 percent) stake in Pro Football Network. PFN, founded in 2019 by Matt Cannata and Aaron Sutton, has grown into quite the notable NFL resource, averaging more than 5 million monthly unique active users. It’s now getting some major outside investment from this deal. Here’s more on that from a release:
“We are thrilled to welcome Matt and the entire team at Pro Football Network to the Absolute Sports family. This is our first step in building a portfolio of sports media brands, deeply focused on the largest sports markets in the U.S.,” said Anirudh Kumar, Chief Strategy Officer of Absolute Sports. “PFN’s highly engaged and passionate user base of football fans will be a great complement to our other brands, including Sportskeeda, which already have a large user base in the U.S.
“We are confident that by replicating our hyper-growth playbook across our family of brands, we will continue to deliver outstanding experiences to sports audiences and build a dominant position in the U.S. sports media landscape,” Kumar said, highlighting Absolute Sports’ commitment to expanding its portfolio via more aggressive M&A and replicating its success across all brands.
…“This is a huge day for Pro Football Network. For quite some time, we were looking for the perfect partner and Absolute Sports is just that,” said Cannata. “Their strategic investment and the resources they will provide us will change the football media landscape and allow us to compete on a global level with the biggest brands across the world.”
Since PFN’s 2019 launch, they’ve made big moves. Those have included launching their Mock Draft Simulator in 2020 and adding former ESPN presence Trey Wingo (as both a content provider and equity partner) in 2021. Now, they have a new majority owner and a new source of funding. Cannata, the company’s CEO, spoke to AA by email about the Absolute Sports deal, and said they were the ideal partner given the way they’ve grown other sites like Sportskeeda:
“Everything about them stands out–the way they approach the sports media landscape, how to build a brand, the different levers that need to be pulled to be successful,” Cannata said. “But more so, it’s the human relationship. This is not just a financial and transactional investment. It’s a strategic one where a true partnership has already come to the forefront. They are an incredible group to work with and they have a tireless work ethic.”
He said PFN was appealing for Absolute Sports because of what they’ve done so far with the resources they have had.
“Absolute Sports vetted many companies and ultimately chose us. Certainly, our rapid growth since 2019 made us an appealing target. But lots of other companies have had rapid growth and have done the same kind of things we have. So, what sets us apart? We continuously punch above our weight at PFN. We have a staff of 23 who are passionate about the brand and the football media industry. For them, it’s not a job – it’s doing what they love every day. And, the executive leadership team doesn’t let anything get in the way of success. The hunger we have to be the best, and the human part of this, is how we have differentiated ourselves from other brands. That aligned well with what Absolute Sports was looking for.”
Some of that actually came during a tough time for many media companies, the 2020 start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cannata said their launch of their Mock Draft Simulator then proved to be the perfect content during a time with few live sports, and its success allowed them to grow PFN dramatically.
“We actually saw massive growth during the pandemic. This coincided with the release of our Mock Draft Simulator. With so many people at home, our traffic increased tenfold and that helped fuel our earnings to then hire staff. We went from zero full-time staff in March 2020 (all contractors) to our first full-time staff member in November 2020. Now, we have 23.”
Cannata said those staffers are a big part of why this deal is for majority control rather than the entire company, as whole-company sales can lead to a lot of firings and turnover.
“We have had conversations in the past with different groups about selling the entire company. However, I never wanted to do that unless our staff was protected. It was never about me or the other owners looking for a quick exit and to ride off into the sunset while our staff are left to pick up the pieces and wonder about their job security. In many of those conversations, that was never a guarantee.”
He said they’ve been looking for more resources to keep building, though, and this deal let them get that without sacrificing that security.
“Simultaneous to those conversations, we’ve always wanted to look at an investment to throw gasoline on the fire. When Absolute Sports came along, we knew it was the right time to move forward with an investment.”
That release emphasizes “Absolute Sports’ commitment to expanding its portfolio via more aggressive M&A.” Cannata said they don’t have any specific targets they can publicly identify now, but mergers and acquisitions in the football space will likely follow from this.
“Absolute Sports will be aggressive in the M&A market. This will include other football brands and platforms that may be part of the Absolute umbrella.”
He said the overall goal for PFN is to keep climbing, and he’s optimistic the resources gained from this new ownership will help with that.
“We’re going to continue to grow. The goal is continuous improvement every day and every year. We certainly pay attention to our competitors, but our number one competitor is ourself. By keeping the focus there, we are always looking for ways to outdo ourselves, which results in a better experience for our audience.”