The 33rd Team (T33T), a football-focused digital media company founded by former NFL club executives Mike Tannenbaum and Joe Banner, recently closed on a Series A funding round. The capital will be used to build out the company’s talent roster, enhance its remote production capabilities and market the content created.
Liberty Media Corporation and The Baupost Group financed the round; representatives for both companies declined to comment on the raise, citing company policy. But newly named co-CEO of The 33rd Team Tony Petitti, who was serving as consultant to the publicly traded media co. when the deal was negotiated, said the investment thesis is a bet on high-quality video content that has proven to have an audience.
“Growth, engagement and the strength of the content will lead the financial performance of the company,” Petitti said. “Significant advertising or sponsorship revenue down the road, production partnerships or distribution deals—all of those things are in play with this model.”
As is the potential to expand into other sports or content categories. “The real insights in sports come from a combination of those that have actually done it, and those who have studied the game beyond the obvious,” Banner said. “This is not unique to football and does create extra opportunities if we choose to pursue them.”
JWS’ Take: Tannenbaum and Banner started The 33rd Team in 2019 as a think tank for former coaches, players and executives who were looking to stay on top of the game. They hired several aspiring sports executives from the University of Massachusetts Amherst—Tannenbaum’s alma mater—to create written content based on the weekly Zoom discussions.
Bill Parcells took note of their entrepreneurial effort and connected the duo with Petitti, a Boston based investment manager, who brought the investment opportunity to Liberty Media and Baupost. “We then did some analysis in terms of what it would take to create, what it would take to build and what the plan was. That’s how it came together,” Petitti said.
The original vision to provide NFL fans, fantasy players and bettors with unparalleled insights on the game remains. But the business under Petitti will largely focus on short-form video content production and feature a slew of current and former players, coaches and execs, as opposed to aspiring executives or journalists.
Fans will find a smattering of written articles and longer-form video segments on the site, such as a recent 20-minute conversation between Super Bowl champion Chris Long and Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Additionally, there will be T33T programming across a range of social channels (think: Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and TikTok).
The newly raised capital is largely being used to professionalize T33T’s content generation process. “Bringing in production folks and hiring the football analysts—current and former players, coaches and executives,” Petitti said. The company now has around 40 analysts on its roster, including Joe Thomas, Ed Reed and Leonard Fournette.
The professionalization process also entails the implementation of a remote production model that enables the company to generate and publish content quickly and easily.
Petitti, the former deputy commissioner of Major League Baseball and former president and CEO of MLB Network, believes remote production is an attractive alternative for shoulder content. He said fans today are “very open to hearing from guys directly and less concerned about where they are sitting when they do it.”
Where does T33T fit in among the wealth of football-related content available? The presumption is fans prefer to hear former players, coaches and executives break down the game rather than a random scribe. Petitti said there is tremendous consumer appetite for insight and analysis on the game and few places where passionate fans, bettors and DFS players can get that information directly from “as many current and former players, as quickly and on as many topics” as T33T is delivering.
Roster composition aside, T33T’s ability to use licensed NFL footage in its content differentiates it from much of the digital media competition. “It authenticates our relevance and provides our analysts the best chance to provide the fastest, best and most authentic analysis,” Banner said.
The co-CEO believes sports media is headed toward more athlete-generated content. He said it is evident in the way athletes now use their social platforms—and part of T33T’s distribution strategy is reliant on athlete analysts leveraging their reach. “Most of the guys we have have pretty significant social followings,” Petitti said. “It’s almost like an unwired network in a lot of ways.”
Steps one, two and three of T33T’s business plan are to “put out great content, get as many people as possible to engage with it quickly and become ad-supported,” Petitti said. The company has done that, recently hiring a team to deliver advertising sales. Underdog Fantasy is among the early brands who have signed on.
Next, the company is figuring out what other monetization streams are viable. One possibility is putting some content behind a subscription paywall.
There may also be opportunities for T33T to “distribute content to others as a sort of quasi production company,” Petitti said. In addition to any revenues derived, the early-stage company would benefit from distribution gained. It is worth noting T33T has an existing content partnership in place with Liberty Media subsidiary SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
It is not difficult to envision T33T branching out into the affiliate business either. The company already has content creators churning out 65-70 pieces of sports-betting and DFS-focused content each week and offers a “fairly sophisticated tool [called The Edge] that lets users sort data,” Petitti said.
T33T can be successful as a single-sport platform, particularly if the company increasingly folds college football content into the mix. The NFL calendar keeps fans engaged throughout the year with the NFL draft, free agency and offseason coaching hires.
However, there is a belief amongst investors and company executives that the relatively simple remote production model can be replicated across other sports or genres. “The idea that you can have athletes talking in their own voice directly to fans and aggregate that content. There’s something to that strategy,” Petitti said.
T33T is confident in its ability to replicate the model in part because there is an abundance of current and former players looking for a media opportunity. “There’s more talented former players that want to talk about their sport then there are chairs [on TV],” Petitti said. The fact that those individuals do not have to travel and can largely work whenever and from wherever opens doors to a wider range of athletes—including those still playing the game.