In the late 90’s the dotcom bubble was at its height, but then as the housing bubble would mimic in 2008, the bubble burst early in the new millennium. Many skeptics said that this would mark the grave stone for the internet fad, but like a phoenix from the ashes e-commerce has emerged stronger than ever and those ashes became a hotbed for content and prosperity known as Silicon Valley. There are few things that people don’t prefer to handle the e-way now. From shopping to dating, however, the realm of sports has remained dominated by traditional media. That might be set to change if Jeff Urban, the co-founder and President of Whistle Sports, has his way.
Founded in 2014, Whistle Sports is growing fast as a global sports media company built around internet generation for the internet generation. Meshing the originality of content one would normally associate with YouTube or an indie-series with the professional and reputable wherewithal from traditional, established businesses like Tegna and NBC, Whistle is well on its way to becoming the one stop shop for athletes of every variety.
“I’d say right now we’re at 75% on the social side and 25% on the custom-made serialized or more distributor focused content, and that’s decreasing on the social side as the proliferation of OTT opportunities are presenting themselves. Whether it’s our good partners at Verizon Go90, we’re doing some work with the Olympic channel, YouTube Red, all these portals are popping up and looking for valuable sports content because most of them can’t play in the live sports arena, so when they’re looking to have a sports offering we’re a really great opportunity for them to get a depth and breath from sports from backyard trick shots all the way to the locker room…,” explained Urban in a VideoInk during this past Cannes Festival.
And since that conversation, their distributor focused content is only growing. From their collaboration this past May with Nitrocircus, who are embarking on their European tour in 2018, to being picked up by Facebook’s new OTT page Facebook Watch for their two shows “Every Fan You Know” and “The Showdown”. “Every Fan You Know” dives into the funny, interesting, and often weird rituals that come along with being a particular team’s ride-or-die fan, while ‘The Showdown” is a continuation of their popular video “Bad Joke Telling, NFL Edition” which, true to its title, is NFL players trying to make each other laugh with horrendous jokes.
Released only this past Monday was Whistle Sports’ announcement of another collaboration with the NFL for a new short order series “Game Recognize Game” which pits professional football players against international superstar soccer players in physical challenges combining the two sports.
“We are excited to work with Whistle Sports, our NFL clubs and players, and teams from the English Premier League and their players, to create engaging content,” said NFL Vice President of International Marketing Henry Hodgson. “Collectively, we believe this series will appeal to sports fans consuming content on social media platforms around the world.
Beyond increasing their content, Whistle Sports is also rapidly increasing their team. With a network of around 400 content creators already, the company also recently brought on video media connoisseur JJ Lalonde and nabbed Paul Kelly from Awesomeness TV.
“For a long time I’ve believed there’s two really, really powerful ways to engage young people: music and sports… The delivery vehicle obviously has shifted for music — and now that’s happening for sports,” Kelly disclosed to Variety, “There’s been an explosion of short-form, mobile-first video — and that’s limited the appeal of sitting through a three- or four-hour football or baseball game for younger fans, Whistle has pioneered a new category for sports visual content.”
No doubt that Whistle’s latest numbers were also of high interest to Kelly. The company now boasts of an audience of at least 375 million subscribers across social platforms that is growing at a rate of over 2 million per week. Urban also disclosed his “power verticals” to VideoInk about the site’s current biggest draws” basketball, soccer, and lacrosse. Since 2015, on average the year-over-year growth across those verticals is 232%. Since 2016, on average, across those same verticals, Whistle has seen average year-over-year increase of 158% in viewership. Monthly, the team’s soccer content brings in 305 million views, with basketball running to keep up with 235 million monthly views.
With these strong numbers, an open mind about who to work with, and an endless supply of sports fans, Urban would be right to think that Whistle Sports has hit during the Golden Era of OTT content.
“You’ll continue to see us expand internationally,” Urban told VideoInk, “Right now about 45% of our views are international…and you’ll also see us lean in more heavily with our league partners like the NFL and Major League Baseball as they are growing with us to understanding the sort of new age content and how we can co-develop and co-distribute that content, and probably, a third area is that we’ll look for more strategic partnerships to help us grow in areas on the production side and the distribution side.”
Urban’s been true to his word on strategic partnership growth and a focus on the company’s league partnerships. He also strongly hinted that growth internationally could be focused on the 2018 World Cup, although he said they could not yet speak to the company’s expansion into Russia specifically. Whatever his strategy be, rest assured that Whistle Sports is not a business to be ignored.