Pro Football Focus, owned by broadcaster and former National Football League player Cris Collinsworth, sold a minority stake to private equity firm Silver Lake, as the data company plots an expansion into markets including soccer.

Rugby ball flying into air. Mixed media

Cincinnati-based PFF already works with all 32 NFL teams, as well as more than 95% of the so-called Power Five college football programs. Silver Lake invested about $50 million for the stake, according to a person familiar with the deal. Silver Lake and PFF declined to comment on the amount of the investment.

“This is a new day and age, and it’s a data-driven game,” Collinsworth said in an interview. “The mathematicians are starting to really influence the football people.”

Launching a set of tools for soccer, which is likely to happen next year, opens up a massive potential market for PFF. Soccer is the world’s most popular sport and played in nearly every country around the world. PFF also plans to develop a product for rugby.

The data service was initially created for coaches and team executives to analyze individual players, plays and team performance. It details the actions of every athlete on every play, creating a database that can be mined to make calls and predict outcomes in various scenarios. As fans became more tech- and data-savvy, the company saw an opportunity to sell a consumer product, especially for fantasy football players and gamblers. 

“It’s one of these extraordinary businesses that’s been built by hand around the larger theme of data and analytics,” Egon Durban, Silver Lake’s co-chief executive officer, said in an interview. “Now, with fantasy and gambling, people are using this to make real decisions, and that’s where it gets wildly compelling.”

Growth Opportunities

The ambition for PFF mirrors that of Collinsworth, lead analyst for “Sunday Night Football” on NBC and one of the most influential sports broadcasters. The telecast uses PFF data and Collinsworth has used his media experience to expand that business inside PFF as well, creating podcasts and content around events like the NFL draft.

As Collinsworth mulled expansion, he entertained a number of offers for capital and ultimately settled on Silver Lake, which has built part of its portfolio around a holistic vision of sports as a fast-growing, data-driven industry. The firm is a minority owner of City Football Group, whose clubs include Manchester City and New York City FC, and holds a stake in sports-apparel maker Fanatics Inc. Silver Lake until earlier this year owned part of UFC, the mixed-martial arts business now fully controlled by Endeavor Group Holdings Inc.

Silver Lake, which has about $88 billion in assets under management and committed capital, is perhaps best-known for its tech investments, including Dell and Skype. The PFF deal was made through what it calls its Long Term Capital strategy, which gives the firm the option to hold the asset for longer than a traditional private equity fund.