Varsity News Network Snags $3.7 Million, Plans 2.0 Version Next Year

Varsity News Network (VNN), the Grand Rapids, MI-based startup that facilitates online communication between high school athletic departments, parents, and athletes, today announced that it has closed on a round of financing worth $3.7 million.

Arsenal Ventures led the round, with participation from North Coast Technology Ventures, RSL Venture Partners, Start Garden, Nir Arkin, Detroit Innovate, Grand Angels, Northern Michigan Angels, the Michigan Angel Fund, and Avram Grant.

“It’s been a hell of a lot of fun,” says Ryan Vaughn, VNN’s CEO. “Our first goal was to scale nationally from a small, regional startup. In 15 months, we’ve gone from being in about 250 schools in three states to being in 1,500 schools in 40 states.”

VNN began in 2011 as a blog called West Michigan All Star, but it didn’t take Vaughn to realize his ambitions were greater than sports journalism. So, in 2012, the company made the pivot from traditional news outlet to a customizable digital hub for high school athletic departments.

VNN has created a one-step process for schools to report scores and statistics after a game. The content uploaded to VNN can be automatically cross-posted to the school’s website and social media accounts. In addition, VNN offers a companion mobile app in Android and iOS versions.

VNN also generates hyperlocal media content targeting athletes and parents in an effort to fill the prep-sports gap left by newspapers with shrinking budgets and changing coverage priorities. The company makes money through advertising, e-commerce, and digital fundraising.

Vaughn said a new version of VNN is coming next year that will give users the ability to create profiles in order to connect with families and teammates, and upload and share content.

“We’re the leading platform for high school athletic departments, but we think we can do better,” Vaughn says. “We think we can fundamentally change communication in K-12 sports.”

School athletics, he adds, has long been behind the times when it comes to technology, because while prep sports generate a lot of local passion, that passion tends to die at the city limits unless the team is exceptionally talented.

“The primary challenge was the fragmented nature of the market,” Vaughn says. “It was tough to scale nationally because the decisions were made locally. We’re excited to be able to provide access to local communities at scale, and we’re just getting started.”

VNN has roughly 100 employees, and the company is hiring, Vaughn says.

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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