Mobile sports startup Nifty Games raises another $12M, reveals NFL game

The newest infusion of capital has been "a real vote of confidence" in Nifty, CEO Jon Middleton tells GameDaily.

Nifty Games has been working diligently towards its goal of offering more approachable sports games on mobile. In February, the developer revealed its first major partnership for a basketball game with licenses from both the NBA and NBPA. Today, Nifty has followed that up with the unveiling of NFL Clash, a head-to-head football game with licenses from both the NFL and NFLPA. Moreover, the momentum for the studio is building as it just completed a funding round worth $12 million, bringing its total so far to $15 million.

The latest seed round was led by March Capital Partners, with participation from some previous investors as well. 

“The opportunity for Nifty Games to deliver a high-quality, brand new experience in mobile sports games is massive,” said Gregory Milken, Managing Director, March Capital. “We share Nifty Games’ creative and business passion, and we are impressed with the experienced and talented team Nifty has assembled.” 

With the additional $12 million raised, suddenly funding for Nifty has quintupled, and it’s given the team a big boost as it looks to draw fans into the world of mobile sports gaming. Last year, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower, mobile sports titles generated $2.4 billion across the App Store and Google Play store.

“Our Series A is a substantial amount of capital, but for Nifty Games as a team it’s a real vote of confidence,” CEO Jon Middleton told GameDaily. “Our investors have been very supportive of the specific goals we have in front of us. In fact, we were oversubscribed in both the Seed round and Series A financing – [it] was a tremendous stamp of approval.

“...we’re [also] proud to be the first investment for OneTeam Ventures, an investment vehicle created by RedBird Capital, the NFLPA, MLBPA, MLSPA, USWNTPA and WNBPA. To have investment directly from players associations is incredible for Nifty Games.In addition, we’ve received investment from an All-Star group of Game investors (March Capital Partners, Axiomatic, Transcend and Century Game), Sports funds (Courtside and Vulcan) and Tech VC (Defy Partners). We could not be happier with the help we have and continue to receive – both financial and navigational. It’s fantastic.”

In the time since Nifty made its NBA announcement, the entire world has been impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. And for fans of sports, it’s been tough to swallow the news that all players and leagues have been forced to the sidelines as we wait for the outbreak to subside.

“We’re proud to be working with the NBA and its players on a project for future release. However, like most fans we’re concerned with the safety of our friends around the league and the health of the talented NBA players we work with as they sustain the necessary delay in the season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nifty Games is still working hard from home, but our thoughts are with the NBA and the difficulties they have faced,” said Middleton.

While working on games development from home has been a rough transition for a number of studios, and it’s led to significant delays of some major games, the good news for Nifty is that its small footprint has enabled the company to handle the pandemic without substantial impact on the day-to-day business.

“We haven’t been as affected as larger game companies as we transitioned into a remote work setting. We’re a well experienced, fairly small and highly tactical unit. We know what we’re doing,” Middleton noted. 

“We also made the decision earlier than most to make the move to work from home…that helped greatly. One goal is to avoid any alteration in schedule or product quality as a result of the pandemic, but primarily we’re concerned with the wellbeing of the team and the greater Nifty Games families. Between our group, we have a lot of little kids, and they like to randomly drop into our vidcons on a daily basis. It's pretty hilarious and brought us closer as a team. We’ll keep pushing hard on building games while we try and figure out how to do fifth grade math – which is impossible.”

For many, NFL gaming is all about EA Sports’ Madden franchise. Fifth grade math would tell you that the Madden franchise’s lifetime sales of more than 130 million copies is a huge audience. Nifty isn’t necessarily trying to capture the same Madden die-hards with its upcoming title, however. 

NFL Clash is a game that we’re designing to appeal to a wider fanbase than Madden has over the years,” Middleton explained. “We love Madden NFL football and many of our team have worked on Madden products at one time or another, but mobile free-to-play clash style gaming is more accessible and has wider appeal. We want NFL fans to have fun with an authentic and competitive game of NFL Clash football in just minutes.”

And for the NFL, which recently expanded its reach with a new deal to bring 2K back into the mix, adding an accessible, quick session mobile title was a no-brainer.

“The NFL has always been keenly aware that a large portion of our fanbase loves to engage our sport through video games,'' commented Rachel Hoagland, Vice President, Head of Gaming and eSports for the NFL. “We’ve looked to bolster our offering on mobile devices and are thrilled at the built-for-mobile clash-style gaming that Nifty Games will deliver to our fans.” 

Nifty has not outlined its plans for which sports leagues it’s aiming to partner with next, but the founding team is passionate about baseball, so that’s clearly a goal for the near future. 

“We’re praying for a 2020 season of some type! But for Nifty Games we’ve had a combination of enthusiasm and analytics chart our course as we work with partners. We’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeve and hopefully you’ll be upgrading Mookie Betts cards before you know it! We’re just getting started,” Middleton said.

The studio isn’t necessarily tied to traditional sports, either. When GameDaily asked if Nifty would pursue skateboarding, NASCAR, the Olympics or other sports, Middleton answered in the affirmative: “Anywhere in the world there are exciting sports, they’ll be sports fans. Our goal is to make games for passionate sports fans, no matter the sport.”

Nifty’s vision for more accessible head-to-head sports gaming on mobile is interesting, but the proof will be in the pudding. The team is pushing hard, but it’s around the 30-yard line currently and will have to execute perfectly to get into the end zone. 

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(Former) Editor-in-Chief

James has been covering the games industry since the early 2000s and was previously the editor of GamesIndustry.biz. He loves Zelda, Metroidvania-style games, action adventure and single-player narratives. He's also the proud father of twin boys and is obsessed with good coffee and Yankees baseball. You can reach him @bright_pixels on Twitter.