Pro Football Focus was started by Neil Hornsby as a hobby inside his one-bedroom apartment in a town north of London about two decades ago.
It wasn’t until 2009 that PFF landed its first NFL client, even if Hornsby thought it was a prank when then-New York Giants exec Jon Berger emailed him as detailed in Matthew Coller’s book “Football Is a Numbers Game” that was released on Tuesday.
“They’ve changed the game and how they provided information that everybody uses and now everybody takes it for granted, it’s just there,” Berger told Coller.
Coller told Front Office Sports that research into the book aimed to detail football’s analytics revolution sparked by PFF, in which former NFL receiver and NBC Sports football analyst Cris Collinsworth purchased a majority interest for $6 million in 2014.
Coller’s project began just as PFF got its biggest influx of cash via Silver Lake’s $50 million investment in September 2021. PFF was valued at $160 million at the time.
“When I got there, they were on the top of the mountain,” Coller said. “They were celebrating. They were popping champagne. Now, there is a lot more anxiety about the future [of PFF] within the building. The people who are still there reach out to me fairly regularly and tell me that they’re concerned about where it’s going and stuff.”
FOS delved into the tumult at PFF in December, as sources detailed issues under top execs Austin Collinsworth, Cris Collinsworth’s son, and George Chahrouri before and after Hornsby departed.
“It was a mixture of nepotism and stupidity,” one source told FOS at the time.
Some of “The Originals” at PFF, as Coller termed it in the Triumph imprint, are still at the company, but not Hornsby. He took a sabbatical before leaving the company he founded last year amid a power struggle with Chahrouri.
PFF’s core business is its pro and college clients, where it provides detailed analytics along with a video replay product relied upon by all 32 NFL teams and 120 college programs. But the Silver Lake investment was supposed to propel PFF’s consumer offerings — and PFF began to spend heavily in that endeavor.
Coller wrote that Cris Collinsworth “lost a lot of sleep over” PFF’s leadership issues.
“Cris believes you build a company around your most talented people and you figure it out later,” Eric Eager, who led PFF’s data science team, told Coller. “When Neil tried to fire George, who is one of Cris’ favorite people in the whole world, he overstepped. That ultimately was his downfall.”
Beyond Hornsby, many of the site’s most visible and talented employees began to depart the company from Eager to Kevin Cole to Austin Gayle, to, most recently, Mike Renner. PFF also had its first significant round of layoffs when 16 employees were cut last year.
PFF, however, remains a power in the football analytics industry even if its consumer revenues have yet to show promise.
“They tried to go from a mom-and-pop shop to a big corporation, there are going to be bumps,” Coller said. “Sometimes there are big bumps because you have people from the outside coming in, and getting influence. And then the people who were there and built the thing, and they have their own ideas. You have conflicts, like, there’s a lot of Netflix specials on companies who went through the same thing as PFF.”