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Television sports programming has evolved very little over the deacdes and YouTube network Whistle Sports is trying to change that.
The New York-based digital company, which works with sports-focused content creators such as Dude Perfect and Brodie Smith, is gearing up for its first NewFront presentation, where it will try to convince advertisers that millennials want more from their sports coverage than what they find on TV.
“Sports media today was created for their parents,” says Brian Selander, executive vp at Whistle Sports. “There are guys in suits arguing on a field in front of a TV set. It’s not all that authentic to millennials.”
Whistle Sports takes a different approach. The company, which launched its online network last year, works with about 200 creators who develop content for sports fans. That could include anything from trick shots to bloopers to instructional videos to pure entertainment. Whistle Sports also has partnerships with pro sports leagues — including the NFL, MLB and Nascar — that help give their creators access to events, facilities and athletes to create original content for young people.
“We think that millennials who love sports are an underserved market,” says Whistle Sports CEO John West. “They have interests beyond live sports on TV.”
Of course, Whistle Sports has to look for content beyond live programming given the startup doesn’t have the rights to broadcast games. “Live games is not something we’re going to cover,” says West. “But more importantly our demo is leaving live games on TV. They’re too long. The average millennial has a very short attention span.” Whistle Sports does have access to highlights thanks to its league partnerships, but West says the company uses them sparingly.
West says millennial sports fans are different than their parents and expect global content and videos created by their peer group. “They didn’t grow up in a world where your nationality or region limited what athletes you could follow,” says Selander. “They live in a digital, on-demand world.”
After several years of building up the brand, Whistle Sports will make its debut NewFronts appearance to introduce itself to brands. In that way, the company is like several other MCNs attending the NewFronts for the first time to explain their positioning in the increasingly crowded shortform digital video market. “We think of the NewFront as our home opener,” says Selander, fittingly opting for a sports term to explain the company’s goal. “We want to unveil our upcoming slate of shows and creators to agencies and brands that may not realize yet just how many sports fans there are right now.”
To wit, Whistle Sports says it has more than 16.8 million subscribers to its YouTube network but that there are more than 100 million subscribers to sports-related channels on the platform. West says he also sees potential for growth on Facebook and other platforms, which all told bring Whistle Sports’ audience to over 70 million people.
Those numbers signal that there is an appetite for more sports programming, West says. “We’re not saying we’re going to supplant live sports over time,” he adds. “I think we augment it. We help fans have a better, deeper, more authentic relationship with whatever sport or athlete they follow.”