CINCINNATI - Former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth is hoping to use a data-analytics firm he purchased last year as a catalyst to boost Cincinnati's stature in video production and digital media.
"It's an exciting possibility," said Collinsworth, who parlayed an eight-year NFL career into a top-flight career as an NFL announcer. "I’ve seen Atlanta get into the television production business. I see other small towns that have tax advantages, where the city and corporate community really get behind it. For me, it's like, 'Why not Cincinnati?'"
That's why Collinsworth is relocating the global headquarters Pro Football Focus to the Over-the-Rhine offices of Lightborne Communications. The video-production house already handles freelance reports that Collinsworth produces for NBC's digital production unit. Collinsworth is hoping to expand that relationship with a series of digital content offerings sold through TV and cable networks and direct to consumers.
With football as an anchor, Collinsworth thinks Cincinnati could build digital production facilities that could be used on a plug-and-play basis for commercials, movies, TV shows and streaming digital content.
"It would take a significant commitment from the major players in this town, but if they did there’s no reason Cincinnati can’t be very much front and center with what’s going on in the television and film world," he said.
The company received tax credits from the Ohio Tax Credit Authority on Monday and is planning to hire writers, editors, back-office workers and IT staff in the coming months, said Chief Financial Officer Kurt Freyberger, a former Cincinnati Bell executive who joined Pro Football Focus as a partial owner last year.
The company is promising to create at least 39 new jobs in exchange for tax credits worth an estimated $247,000.
Founded in 2008 by a UK-based entrepreneur, the company built “the most comprehensive database of NFL and college football stats on the planet,” collecting “180 unique data points on every play,” according to its website.
The company uses a grading system to identify the most effective – and ineffective -- players at every position. It makes a portion of its data available in blog posts and searchable stats, but sells deeper data sets to teams, agents and fantasy players on a subscription basis.
The company has about 10 local employees, but Freyberger said that could reach 60 in the next five years because it’s launching a new product aimed at the college football market.
“It’s an incredibly fun company," he said. “Everyone loves the NFL, including me. And the work the guys do. They truly become experts in the field. I think our website produces the most intriguing and insightful content on the planet. That’s the reason Chris bought the company.”
Collinsworth was impressed with the data, but he saw greater potential in its production of digital media content.
"There are huge companies out there that just can’t get enough content," he said. "Everybody wants something new and fresh. So, the digital world is what’s taking off. If we as a company can be ahead of that game, those are real opportunities."
So far, the company has funded its growth from investors, but it's talking about media partnerships and capital rounds that could fuel future growth. Collinsworth wouldn't reveal its revenue, but said the company is up 55 percent from last year and is nearing the break-even point as it ramps up the growth plan.
Collinsworth sought advice from former Cincinnati Bell CEO Jack Cassidy, who invested in the venture. He's been influenced in his entrepreneurial approach by John Barrett, CEO of Western & Southern Financial Group.
"I see how hard he works in doing nice things for Cincinnati," Collinsworth said. "He wants Cincinnati to have a high profile and he wants it to be hip and fun and keep young people in town ... If you’re going to be in this town, you need to sell this town and bring jobs here and make it a better place to live."