Merger of Production Companies Shines Spotlight on High School Sports

TV broadcasts of high school sports continues to be a growth market, and, for PlayON! Sports and When We Were Young Productions, that growth has led to a merger that will allow two of the leading high-school-sports rightsholders to gain efficiencies and address new segments of the country. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

“This will help us expand into different regions, like the Mountain and Pacific,” says PlayON President/CEO David Rudolph. Tennessee, for example, just came on board, after the state high school athletic association joined the network.

The companies have a strong presence in the Southeast and Midwest, courtesy of rights deals with state athletic associations in Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, South Carolina, and Wisconsin. The two managed more than 2,500 high school productions in 2009 and expect to eclipse 5,000 events this year. The productions are seen on cable networks and such operators as Comcast, Charter Cable, Time Warner Cable, and Fox Sports Wisconsin, among others.

The two companies have been working together for the past few years, and the merger is a natural outgrowth of operations that ran in a similar fashion and the opportunity for growth. The merged entity has approximately 20 employees.

“We operated similarly with up to four dedicated employees in a state,” says Rudolph. “We also rely on a significant freelance crew at various times of the year, like spring championships.” All told, upwards of 100 people work for the companies during the course of the year.

He says the demand for high school content is reminiscent of the college-sports market 25 years ago and the biggest challenge is keeping up with the events, such as football championship playoff games that can number in the hundreds. “High school associations want more exposure and media dollars, but the business and industry is still in a nascent state.”

Also helping the company grow will be Neal Pilson, who has signed on as a strategic advisor. Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, is president of Pilson Communications.

“High school is the high-growth area for the sports and media industry,” he says. “As the category further develops over the next few years, I am looking forward to working with PlayON and When We Were Young as they continue to expand their leadership position.”