How Front Office Sports is leveling up its branded content business through educational courses

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Born out of a college class project in 2017, Front Office Sports is entering its fifth year with an eye on growth. 

Earlier this year in February, FOS got a round of funding from Crain Communications, which bought a 20% stake in the company on a $25 million valuation. Founder and CEO Adam White said that the company is on a path to profitability this year between the investment and the success it’s seen in revenue streams like its year-old learning business. In total, FOS is projected to earn eight-figures of revenue this year.  

On the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, White talked about using the influx of revenue and investment to grow the FOS team, which is now at 40 full-time employees, including the recent hire of Lisa Granatstein as its chief content officer from Adweek where she served in the same role. Earning 99% of its revenue from advertising still, Granatstein will be responsible for finding more sponsorship opportunities on editorial projects, as well as growing the Pro subscription product that’s still in its beta phase. 

Below are highlights from the conversation that have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Hiring a chief content officer to connect editorial to business 

This is really about operationalizing and connecting the dots between editorial, sales, the subscription business, everything, right? So the newsletter drives the business right now and is the biggest area that we’ve invested in. The site product is continuing to be really high quality, we’ve seen a lot of really good success there. We’re doing a million-plus pageviews a month [on the website]. On the newsletter, we’re doing 25 million opens per month, and on social we’re doing over 200 million impressions.

Now, it’s really about how do we operationalize and package everything. Bringing Lisa on, you start to look at her background, and she was at Adweek for about 10 years and a few other places before then, and so her real remit is, how do we take the newsletter to the next level? How do we take the site to the next level? How do we bring our content to life through events – that’s an area that we tested, and saw early success, pre-pandemic, [but] haven’t gotten back to that. So how can we find more success and start to build out and bring our editorial product to life through events. You look at the pro business, you look at some of the other opportunities from a podcast standpoint that we can look into. 

And then having her be able to operationalize and work with a cross functional team that is saying, how can we find ways to work with the sales team to package things around key tentpole moments, like Title Nine is a big opportunity that we’re working on right now that we’re focused on. How do we package a Title Nine opportunity for brands across social, newsletters, events, etc.

Bringing education into advertising 

Our approach was, can we create something where we can provide truly a professional education opportunity that’s online, that’s go at your own pace, and that we can bring brands into? Pepsi took the first stab at it with us and we had over 10,000 people enroll in that class, which was absolutely insane. The average time spent was two hours. I always now go to brands and I say, “When was the last time you know, for a fact, that someone spent two hours engaged with your content? It’s almost impossible.” There’s no other type of partnership really in the market, in my opinion, where a person is spending two hours with a brand. 

And obviously, it’s not just branded content, there’s a whole educational aspect. There’s a quiz aspect, it really feels like an online education certificate because it’s meaningful. And then at the end, all of the people who take the course get online certification digital badges to go on Linkedin. 

The Pepsi one was a smash hit. Facebook then signed on for one. We have Ticketmaster running one right now. Coinbase is launching here shortly. Facebook saw so much success in the first one, they’re coming back for another one. I expect us to probably do probably six to eight more potentially with some of the conversations that we have ongoing right now.

It’s one of those other key trends that we identified as all of these brands want to provide education. And so you can mix that with the opportunity [of] people sharing [the certification online after] and it’s a true thought leadership opportunity. Brands are bringing in other partners – Pepsi brought in their agency partners into this. And realistically, if we do our job, I would expect us to have probably north of 100,000 people enrolled across all of our courses by the end of this year.

Looking to Crain’s for cross-brand opportunities

They are people who understand media, they understand the opportunity that we have presented, and so we’re just now figuring out the cross functional stuff, right? That investment happened in February, so it’s only been a couple of months. We’ve been talking with their other brands about opportunities to do cross promotional events, [such as] showing up at tentpole events, with potentially Ad Age at the Superbowl, for example, right? We’re starting to talk about cross promotion from a content standpoint. How can they pull in our content to their various publications, things like that. 

I’ve talked to every single one of their brands about our course product and how they can potentially implement it. I’ve talked to every single one of their brands about our newsletter technology and how they can potentially implement it.

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