For the first time ever, a players’ association will own a national youth sports league. OneTeam Partners has acquired Under the Lights Flag Football, a league for children up to eighth grade. The acquisition will form OneTeam Youth, which will become a brand owned and operated by OneTeam. Its goal is to eventually expand into other youth sports.
OneTeam Partners, founded in 2019, is a global licensing, marketing and multimedia company, and a joint venture between the NFLPA, MLBPA and RedBird Capital Partners. OneTeam was looking to purchase its first youth sports property or camp when OneTeam president Brent Stehlik met Under the Lights chairman Eric Beach last summer. The opportunity seemed natural.
“It’s a good business with a good operator; this wasn’t a distressed asset. It was more of an opportunistic asset for us,” Stehlik said. “We saw an opportunity with a growing league in a sport that we have a major partner with [the NFLPA] and … this was right up the youth sports vertical for us.” Although Under the Lights previously had some former NFLers operating leagues, the deal now gives the league full access to the NFLPA.
Under the Lights had been expanding steadily prior to the acquisition. It has leagues in 35 states, up from five when operations began in 2015. And, according to the league, it has seen 76% annual growth since its founding.
“When we heard [RedBird] bought the XFL and that they were looking at sports stuff, we said this is the right fit, and we feel that we can ramp this up, not just in the U.S. but internationally,” Beach said. “We were looking for the right partners to take this game and this model, and combine that with our title sponsors, and we think we can in the short term have 200,000 to 300,000 kids playing and maybe more.”
One of the challenges that OneTeam and Under the Lights is facing is how to operate amid a pandemic. Beach said the league is already prepping for the future.
“Our advantage is outdoors, parents can space themselves out on a big football field, not a problem,” Beach said. “The game of flag football itself is minimal contact … and we’re even going to elevate that in our rules and regulations, with of course other sanitization and additives. I feel that we are the perfect sport to come out and respond to this pandemic.”
OneTeam has made other inroads with youth activities of late. Last year, the company negotiated to bring NFL Players to the mobile game Subway Surfers. OneTeam is also involved with the 2K Sports non-simulation football game expected to be released this year, which would make it the second football game to have the endorsement of the NFLPA. But for now, DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA executive director and OneTeam board member, is eager to help grow the sport on the field at the youth level.
“We’re continuously looking to develop the game the right way, and I’m happy that OneTeam and the NFLPA now have a fantastic opportunity to do just that through our investment in Under The Lights,” Smith said. “This is a tremendous national platform for the NFLPA and its members to support and grow the flag football league. We’re excited to provide boys and girls with safe, fulfilling and fun experiences to learn the values of the game.”