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Education technology company Everfi sees growing opportunity in sports

Everfi co-founder and president of global partnerships Jon Chapman (Everfi)

One of the companies quickly growing in prominence and importance amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic is Washington, District of Columbia-based education technology outfit Everfi. 

Formed in 2008, the company provides digital curriculum and learning resources to schools and individual students, spanning across the kindergarten to grade 12 levels, and to date has reached more than 30m learners globally. Pro sports properties have been a key component of the company’s growth, as Everfi has partnered with a wide array of leagues including Major League Baseball, the National Football League, National Hockey League, and Major League Soccer and used their intellectual property on various sports-themed digital programs in both core educational areas such as math and literacy and broader missions such as character development.

With US schools on lockdown and students homebound since March because of the public health crisis, remote learning and the types of digital education programs Everfi provides have become even more critical. And because of that heightened pressure on the American educational system, Everfi this week introduced a new sports-themed learning initiative called the EduCup Challenge.

Formally beginning May 18 and running for 11 days, the EduCup Challenge will involve MLB, the NFL, MLS, NHL, NHL Players Association, National Lacrosse League, Premier League, and United Way Worldwide and seek to engage US students in a competition for scholarships and other prizes such as tablets and laptop computers.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has created challenges for families who are now navigating through online schooling from home. Along with Everfi and the NHL, we have worked together to make our educational materials available for families during these difficult times, and the EduCup Challenge is our latest initiative to help engage students in a unique way,” said Rob Zepp, NHLPA manager of special projects. “We look forward to the ensuing competition and everyone will win with students engaging with our online education platform.”

Everfi, led in part by co-founder and president of global partnerships Jon Chapman, has been supported by $251m in venture capital funding to date and an investor base that includes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, former Google chairman Eric Schmidt, and a fund backed in part by U2 frontman Bono, among others. Chapman spoke with SportBusiness US Editor Eric Fisher on the EduCup Challenge and the company’s work with sports properties. 

How would you describe the EduCup Challenge and what is it trying to achieve?

It’s a unique and unprecedented opportunity for us to bring all of the league partners we work with together to support kids during this time of remote learning and dislocation from their classrooms. For us, it really exemplifies the connective tissue role that EverFi has played as an organization in bridging our league partners with schools all across the world. 

Just like our traditional programs during the school day, this provides an engaging and fun way to learn different concepts through sports. Hopefully, the EduCup Challenge provides a unique and engaging way for students to continue to have their remote learning environment as they end the traditional school year in this very untraditional environment. 

The Major League Baseball-themed Summer Slugger learning program (Everfi)

How specifically does the EduCup Challenge differ from what you had been doing individually with various sports leagues?

With all the leagues you see participating in EduCup, we have a traditional, school-based program around certain content areas that we promote on their behalf through the school networks we work with. In this case, it’s really a North American-based program across the nearly 30,000 schools we work with across the US and Canada. So if you use the NHL’s program as an example, since that was really our first leaguewide partnership, their program is called Future Goals. It promotes understanding and learning of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math], and STEM-based careers among upper elementary and middle school students. We run that for them across their now 32 markets when you now include Seattle, where we bring the program into schools on their behalf, work with teachers to implement the curriculum on a daily basis. Each of the other leagues has a traditional structure like that. 

That is how the traditional program works. EduCup is a condensed, two-week program where we are splitting it up geographically. And the Challenge is truly locking arms with the leagues because it’s east, west, north, south, and you may have students who are completing, remotely, the courses a league promotes. And over the two weeks, students will work on content each of the leagues promote and they’re going to earn points for their region for having worked on those content areas and having worked on social challenges that we’re implementing to make it fun and engaging that will involve special guests and celebrities. Effectively, students are working remotely, working on the same concepts they would have worked on in the classroom, but doing it at home, and earning points for their geographic region.

You obviously got going with EverFi long before the current pandemic. But I continue to hear stories of parents over the last couple of months struggling to keep their children engaged and productive without the traditional classroom experience. How much of an opportunity is the current situation for Everfi?

We feel a responsibility to serve our communities and have a made a number of moves to make our content more accessible to as many learners as possible. It’s certainly a challenging time. Households are adjusting. Communities are adjusting to adjusting to trying to finish a school year as best they can in a set of circumstances very different from when they started the school year. So we see an opportunity to provide our content to more people. As you indicate, we have been working on this long before this pandemic hit us. But one of the design features of our content that I think serves us well in this environment, and I think will going forward, is that it’s really a learner-led experience. 

So a student who’s working on Future Goals, the NHL content, is doing so totally on their own. They don’t need the assistance of their parents. And they don’t need the assistance of a teacher. They are self-guided through avatars and the curriculum and have an engaging, interactive learning experience on their own. And I think that is particularly helpful in this environment as parents are trying manage remote learning while working their own jobs virtually. We’ve seen the stress that provides. So that design piece for us, and how we deliver our content on behalf our league partners, will serve us well. And we’re going to continue to innovate and evolve going forward, because the disruption we now see in schools may continue in some form into next school year.

How does that relate to your revenue model? How are you driving additional revenue as you deliver more content and curriculum?

Our model is quite simple. We partner with outside organizations, obviously in this case a number of the sports leagues. We also work with individual teams and individual athletes and their foundations. And effectively, we allow them to license our curriculum for schools and the communities they care about. For our leaguewide partners, that involves all the markets in which they operate and have clubs. And they’re effectively picking up the license costs that otherwise would be the burden of a school district, and making those resources that the school otherwise would have to pay for instead available for free.

Again, as we move into this uncertain environment and the economic pressure this pandemic has put on a number of school districts, states, and state budgets, the role of the private sector to step in and provide this on behalf of schools is going to be even more important than it’s been. Ironically, we birthed the company during the last economic downturn, and that model thesis played out. We created our first content area around financial literacy and were able to engage the financial services industry to cover that license fee for schools that, at that time, were struggling to pay for our technology. We see that playing out again. 

How does sports play a role in your next phase for the company?

Sports and sports leagues have a long and deserved history of giving back to communities. We’ve seen it recently in some of the fundraisers that have already come out of the pandemic. They all look at education as equally important. And whether or not we were partnering with them, they were already doing lots of work in the community. I think one the things that’s been a helpful value-add as they think about education is we are really the connective tissue in their efforts to give back to educations and help teachers. Leagues will hopefully continue to rely on our assistance, because we have a track record now. 

What is the future pathway for venture capital fundraising, particularly after the large amount of money you’ve already raised?

We’re certainly proud of the investors we’ve brought on board to continue our mission. I think there’s certainly going to be a renewed focus on the education technology industry and how organizations like ours and others out there supporting schools can do that. We’ll continue to be opportunistic about bringing in outside investors who can help us with our mission as we really look to move the needle forward significantly, particularly around research and development and helping us better serve in both the live-with-Covid and post-Covid environment. You’ll see, despite the pressure on our broader economy today, a lot of folks engage and try to support and engage with companies who can make a difference. And we think the work we do around critical skills has a real place in a changing and evolving school environment.

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