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April 15, 2024

Stamford’s Collegiate Sports Management Group finds growth at intersection of media, sports and technology

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Collegiate Sports Management Group runs the ‘May Madness’ college esports tournament, which will take place next month in Texas.
At A Glance: Collegiate Sports Management Group Inc. 
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So, have you filled out your May Madness bracket yet? That’s not a typo.

That’s not a typo. While March Madness, also known as the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, wrapped up recently, it captivated even some non-sports fans’ attention nationwide for three weeks in March and early April.

May Madness, on the other hand, kicks off next month and will mostly captivate gamers and fans of electronic sports, or esports. Unlike the basketball tournaments, which now feature 68 teams, May Madness will have 84 Division I, II, III and junior college teams competing for the Collegiate Esports Commissioner’s Cup at Esports Stadium Arlington in Texas on May 3-5.

And for the second year in a row, the event is sponsored by McDonald’s.

Michael Schreck

That’s music to the ears of Michael Schreck, co-founder and CEO of Stamford-based Collegiate Sports Management Group (CSMG), which owns the tournament. While CSMG is a relatively small company, with just 25 employees and a half-dozen contractors, it has grown rapidly since its 2015 inception.

In addition to its esports vertical, formed nearly five years ago and now the largest scholastic esports platform in the nation, CSMG also represents 11 NCAA sports conferences and more than 100 universities and colleges for their regional, national and international media rights.

Schreck said the NCAA does not yet sanction esports, so his organization serves as the governing structure for the largest scholastic event of its kind in the nation.

“We basically created May Madness,” he said, which began in 2021 with a 32-team bracket, expanded to 64 the following year, and will have 84 teams competing this year. The first event was held virtually due to the pandemic, then was held in Atlanta before finding a home in Texas.

“One of the coolest parts about it is that we decided to go back there even though 17 different cities bid for us to bring this event there,” Schreck said.

Given how well the University of Connecticut men’s and women’s basketball teams performed during March Madness, you might wonder if UConn has an esports team.

“Of course,” Schreck said. “Not as good as the basketball teams, though.”

An ‘open field’

Schreck, a Long Island native, began his career as a New York Mets executive, selling sponsorships and hospitality suites. He then spent nine years with CBS-owned Westwood One sports radio network, running its digital and audio divisions.

Ray Katz

He left in 2015 to found CSMG with Ray Katz, a Brooklyn native and longtime sports marketing executive who spent time with the NFL and Disney, as well as running an agency called Optimum Sports.

“The reason we started the company was that there were a lot of what I call open field and white-space opportunities,” Schreck said during a recent interview with Hartford Business Journal.

While sports marketing and media companies IMG and Learfield dominate the media rights playing field for major college sports programs and the so-called Power 5 conferences (the Atlantic Coast, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern conferences), the mid-major and lower-division schools were in need of help, Schreck said.

“I saw a void in the marketplace,” he said. “The mid-major Division I, Division II, Division III and junior college schools needed help with commercialization. They don’t have the staff or the bandwidth to understand how to generate sponsorship revenue, or media revenue, or ticketing and licensing.”

So, Schreck and Katz set out to fill the void.

‘A unique situation’

While CSMG was a new and unknown player, Schreck could rely on the experience he gained with Westwood One in negotiating “a lot of NCAA rights agreements,” he said.

“I was fortunate to meet several conference commissioners, school athletic directors and executives in the business along the way,” he said.

Some of those commissioners, he said, were “innovative and forward-thinking enough to say, ‘Hey, we can use your help, so we’ll sign agreements with you.’”

The first to sign was the East Coast Conference, followed by the Division I Colonial Athletic Conference, led by Commissioner Joe D’Antonio, a longtime Schreck acquaintance.

“Mike and I had a previous relationship,” D’Antonio said. “Not a business relationship, but we had a relationship just knowing each other through some mutual friends.”

That created enough trust for him to steer his conference into a deal with CSMG.

“When I first started as commissioner, we had inherited an entity that we worked with, and that relationship came to an end, and we began our relationship with CSMG as it related to media rights,” D’Antonio said, adding he knew he could trust Schreck to treat the conference well.

“It was a unique situation for us to be involved with an upstart entity and know that it would have the focus and the time and the dedication we needed,” he said.

Esports events put on by Collegiate Sports Management Group include a major qualifying tournament at The Ohio State University.

It was CSMG that helped the Colonial conference sign a seven-figure media-rights deal with FloSports, a sports streaming service. The conference also has a “very comprehensive deal with CBS Sports Network,” D’Antonio said.

While ECC remains a client, CSMG has added numerous others, including the Big Sky, East Coast Athletic and Horizon conferences. It added the Division I Atlantic Sun Conference in February.

“We’ve made many pivots along the way,” Schreck said. “What started off focused on D2 and D3 quickly became more focused on Division I, because the amount of money wasn’t there in D2 and D3.”

While they began with a focus on traditional sports like basketball, football, baseball, hockey and soccer, they also pivoted to esports.

May Madness

The esports events — which included a major qualifying tournament at The Ohio State University, held April 12-13 — have helped CSMG continue to grow; it now has satellite offices across the country, each with one or two salespeople, as well as a content production studio in Hawaii.

Schreck declined to discuss the company’s revenue, saying only that it is “millions of dollars.” But he did note that the length of conference contracts keeps income flowing.

“It’s like a multi-year annuity,” he said, “because if we negotiate a five-, six-, or seven-year deal with a TV network, we’re compensated for the term of that deal. Right now, we have revenue through that side of the business all the way out to 2030.”

CSMG has also gotten involved in the name, image and likeness (NIL) side of collegiate sports, which allows athletes to sign promotional contracts while still in school. CSMG has partnered with Opendorse, the largest software-as-a-service company in NIL, which athletes and schools use to ensure they are in compliance with NCAA rules.

CSMG has also helped broker endorsement deals, including one with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese for a few members of the Louisiana State University football team. But its biggest success in NIL has been in esports, Schreck said, including the sponsorship deal with McDonald’s.

There are other deals in the works, he said, including a pending “linear television” contract to broadcast its esports content. Currently, CSMG’s esports competitions are streamed live online via and YouTube.

The company also recently was approved for a $1.4 million investment by Connecticut Innovations, the state’s quasi-public venture capital arm. Neither CSMG nor CI would comment on the investment.

Schreck says there is “a lot of stuff in the works” that will help CSMG grow.

“The nice part about us is that because we live at the intersection of media, sports and technology, there’re a lot of different things for us to be looking at,” he said.

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