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Pro Football Focus Layoffs Comes Amid Strategy Shift, Internal Unrest

  • The company laid off 16 full-time employees last week, less than 18 months after receiving a $50M investment.
  • NBC Sports NFL analyst Cris Collinsworth purchased a majority stake in PFF in 2014.
Football analyst and PFF investor Chris Collinsworth talks to man in front of computers
Phil Didion-USA TODAY NETWORK

Less than 18 months after Silver Lake invested $50 million at a $160 million valuation, Pro Football Focus had to resort to the “L” word.

Sixteen full-time employees were part of the first round of layoffs in company history, Pro Football Focus (PFF) confirmed to Front Office Sports. 

The cuts amounted to about 7% of its salaried workforce, which stood at 220 employees before the layoffs late last week. They came when Turner Sports, NBCUniversal, and other media companies announced similar moves. 

But sources revealed to Front Office Sports the causes for PFF’s staff reduction, which ran contrary to the reputation of a budding analytics company for college and pro football organizations. 

The company principally owned by NBC “Sunday Night Football” analyst Cris Collinsworth has spent most of that Silver Lake investment in an attempt to lure in customers interested in sports betting and fantasy football — and sources with knowledge of the situation told FOS a major portion of the money went to the development of an iPhone app alone. 

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“The Silver Lake investment has fueled the company’s consumer growth strategy, building off the foundation of our B2B teams business,” Pro Football Focus said in a statement to FOS. “We are refocusing our resources into building out our consumer sports betting business.”

Silver Lake remains bullish on PFF, and in Collinsworth’s leadership — especially with all the on-field performance data the site has compiled over the years that its competitors lack. While layoffs are never easy, Silver Lake is confident that the growth on PFF’s consumer side will ultimately prove fruitful.

“We are excited to partner with Cris and his team as they leverage data and analytics to drive innovation and growth at the leading edge of technology in sport,” a representative from Silver Lake told FOS.

Football Analytics Power

All 32 NFL teams pay well into the six-figure range annually, and about 150 college football teams between the FBS and FCS pay in the mid-five-figure range or more, according to sources with knowledge of the pricing who spoke to FOS on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information. 

“They were crushing it,” one source told FOS. 

Founded by Neil Hornsby in 2007, PFF revolutionized how players are scouted, and business gradually built up a following as analytics began to gain a foothold across sports. The company didn’t even take a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan during the pandemic’s early days. Just a year ago, all employees received a 10% bonus as revenues beat expectations. 

But as that private equity money hit PFF’s coffers, the climate inside the site’s headquarters in Cincinnati began to change. Hornsby’s role within the company — which he sold most of to Collinsworth in 2014 — began to diminish, much to the consternation of those who built the analytics side of the business. 

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Hornsby took a sabbatical last December and has since left the company altogether. Hornsby’s reluctance to push more heavily into sports betting and fantasy sports were factors in his departure, sources told FOS. 

Cris Collinsworth is a regular fixture at PFF, but sources told FOS that he can be hands-off during the NFL season as he focuses on his NBC Sports duties. That leaves many of the day-to-day responsibilities to others. 

Colinsonsworth’s son, Austin, was installed as chief operating officer, and George Chahrouri, are the main stewards at PFF. Chahrouri, who started on the data side of the business in 2017, is currently the general manager of PFF’s consumer offerings. Austin’s brother, Jac, works on the SNF broadcasts with Cris. 

“It was a mixture of nepotism and stupidity,” one source said. 

FOS made several attempts through PFF and NBC Sports to interview Cris Collinsworth for this story. 

Talent Exodus

Some of the site’s top talent left in what sources described as a leadership vacuum. Austin Gayle, PFF’s director of talent, left for The Ringer in June. Eric Eager, VP of research and development, departed in September. 

Both departures stung, but Eager’s caught the eye of Silver Lake after he was highlighted by The Wall Street Journal in a story about an upstart PFF competitor with deep pockets. Billionaire hedge-fund manager Paul Tudor Jones’ SumerSports is creeping in on PFF’s turf.

PFF has not abandoned its consumer shift, which includes several podcasts and the app that launched three months ago — where Gayle’s departure is mentioned in the highlighted review in Apple’s App Store. 

Doug Kyed, a highly respected NFL reporter who left NESN after nearly nine years covering the New England Patriots to take a job at PFF in July 2021, was among the layoffs. Chahrouri — who was part of the decision to cut Kyed — actually retweeted Gayle’s tweet that vouched for Kyed.

Beyond the full-time cuts, 11 interns were also laid off. That has led to internal questions about how far cutting young, inexpensive workers would go to solving the financial issues for a company that had been profitable for more than a decade.

“So, you’re going to save maybe a few thousand dollars by cutting some interns?” one source said. “Did they not think they were going to take a nightmare of a PR hit for doing that?”

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