On the heels of a substantial capital raise, Playfly Sports has acquired The Aspire Group, which will serve as the foundation of a new business segment around gameday operations, ticketing and hospitality.
Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Playfly’s raise, which closed in the fourth quarter of 2022, was a credit deal backed by two new non-equity investors in Monroe Capital and lender MidCap Financial. Playfly founder and CEO Michael Schreiber declined to disclose specifics but said a “significant” amount of money was raised “specifically to fund near-term acquisitions that bolster our core business and to look at new categories,” like matchday revenues.
The Aspire Group’s work spans consulting, ticket sales, research and partnership services across collegiate and professional sports and entertainment. The company, which was founded in 2008 by former Atlanta Hawks CEO and president Bernard Mullin, has a wide reach across sports, having recently assisted with the LPGA’s search for a new ticketing partner at the same time it was extending its relationship with Coastal Carolina University. Aspire manages the Chanticleers’ ticket sales, conducts research through its campus-specific fan relationship management centers and supports athletics donations.
“Playfly is focused on growth through innovation, technology and strong relationships, all components that are critically important to everyone at Aspire,” Bill Fagan, president and CEO of The Aspire Group, said. “We knew that joining Playfly Sports would help us take the next step in our evolution and provide significant investment support.”
The Atlanta-based consultancy says it has generated over $1.5 billion in revenue for its partners, reaping more than $200 million in annual revenue as a result. Kansas, Purdue and Rutgers are among the group’s current college partners; its other active sports clients include the USL (the second tier of professional soccer in the U.S.), USA Hockey and the Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The new Playfly Gameday division—which will include events and experiential services, hospitality development and venue monetization consulting in addition to Aspire’s ticketing business—will serve Aspire’s current roster of partners as well as existing Playfly clients and others in the industry. The segment will be led by Playfly’s A.J. Machosky.
“We don’t participate in gameday revenue opportunities in a big way today, so that opens up everything from ticketing to hospitality to events and experiential opportunities for us,” Schreiber said. “The whole impetus behind Playfly Sports was to help with innovation and growth in a way that creates more of a network effect. We feel like we can do that in some of these gameday revenue categories, so we’re investing in growing into that space. And it should be good for our partners, as well, financially.”
Schreiber has taken a “buy-and-build” approach to rapidly scaling his Philadelphia-based sports marketing firm, which he launched in 2020 with backing from Access Holdings and Sinclair Broadcast Group. (Neither Access Holdings nor Sinclair’s equity stakes have changed with the influx of new capital.)
Playfly jump-started its growth with the acquisitions of Outfront Media Sports and esports operator Collegiate Star League. In March 2021, the company purchased Home Team Sports, sponsorship agency Impression Sports and FOX Sports College Properties from Fox, venturing into regional sports networks, advertising sales and naming rights. It has since expanded its business internally, including the launch of its production division, Playfly Creates.
Playfly’s partner brands and properties include the NBA, NHL and MLB and many of their teams. The company’s Playfly Sports Properties multimedia rights arm currently manages rights for more than 25 NCAA athletic departments, including Nebraska, LSU, Michigan State and Virginia, as well as several conferences and statewide high school associations. Aspire and Playfly currently support five shared collegiate partners in Maryland, Denver University, George Mason, San Jose State and the University of Richmond.
The Aspire Group will bring its 166 person staff into the Playfly fold as the company pursues further growth opportunities.