The National Football League has partnered with Whistle Sports in a collaboration that offers companies an opportunity to participate and engage with sports-themed content to reach social-first, millennial fans around the world through brand integrations.
Whistle Sports, a digital sports media company that delivers sports content for fans and brands across multiple platforms and has already negotiated $60 million in investment, will regularly create content for the NFL that ranges from short-form comedic takes, impersonations, fan subculture documentaries, workout and training videos, skill competitions, alternate histories, trick shots and eSports face-offs.
“Our fans continue to demonstrate an insatiable appetite for NFL digital video content,” Julie Moeller, vice president of media strategy for the NFL, said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to working with Whistle Sports and its creators to develop and distribute this exciting new content across a broad range of social media platforms, providing another key touch point for our fans and sponsors to participate in NFL conversation online.”
NFL games almost always dominate every single one of the 30 most-watched TV time slots, but this season they’ve dealt with a surprise decline in TV ratings largely due to the presidential election, and more obviously, lukewarm matchups in primetime slots.
The nation’s most powerful sports league—who earlier this year banned all 32 teams from posting videos and GIFs—is now blitzing forward to a second-screen stronghold on social media. Earlier this season, the NFL became the first pro sports league to begin livestreaming games on Twitter, and to launch a Snapchat Discover channel. Last week, they also announced an original, nine-part virtual reality series for YouTube and Google Daydream. Even NFL’s broadcast partners are taking notes. NBC Sports launched a millennial-driven marketing campaign today that highlights custom content from their top primetime shows to drive young viewers viewers to its programs.
Given the demographic of Whistle’s reported network of 257 million fans and followers across social platforms, their partnership is yet another move and opportunity for the NFL to reach and capture younger fans who are cutting the chord by the minute and turning to mobile for content consumption. Reaching a younger demographic and fan base is a growing problem franchises like the Los Angeles Rams are currently facing.
Whistle Sports president Jeff Urban, who previously worked for eight years as a senior vice president of sports and event marketing at Gatorade, joined [a]listdaily to discuss how they’re enabling brands to leverage social content.
Why is it important for brands and advertisers to activate around NFL-themed content to reach their audiences?
Football fans are fanatics about their sport and incredibly loyal to their teams and favorite players. The brands that are part of that conversation get the benefit of that passion. Those that are not get left out. This effect gets magnified even more as you migrate from linear TV to social platforms where the content lets fans stamp it with their own opinions and share it.
What do you think is the most highly effective way to engage sports fans on social channels?
We are data-driven in everything we do, so research informs so much of our content decisions before anything goes up and goes live. But whether it’s a single post on Instagram or a longer-form series on a different platform, the same question guides the creative team: ‘Is this something people react to emotionally and feel the need to share?’
What makes Whistle Sports such a unique vertical? What are you doing better than the rest?
We’ve grown into a global sports media company with an aggregate audience of over 250 million that specializes in content creation and distribution across social platforms. This content lives across Whistle Sports Media. We combine the incredible passion sports fans bring to the game with our data-first approach to content and a unique combination of pro leagues, broadcast partners, multichannel coverage and a creator network.
Why are your top-notch list of investors so interested in your company? What has captivated the likes of Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter?
Derek and Peyton got involved years before our formal launch because they saw the potential to engage fans in a way that others had not, and built a company that stayed true to the same kinds of values and principles that they brought to the field every time they played. We remove ‘no’ from our vocabulary. We are one team. We move fast to change the game. These were the values we launched with and guide our growth.
How are you tracking your goals? CTAs, EMV or CPM?
Different brands bring different requirements and approaches to how they want to measure the success of their collaborations. The best part for us, and brands, is that starting with social means it becomes very clear, very quickly, on what’s working, and how to make sure everything outperforms.
How are you positioning the company specifically for eSports? What does this vertical offer brands, and how can they reach a somewhat finicky audience?
We have an audience of over 24 million aggregate fans and followers dedicated specifically to eSports. We have a very narrow focus on sports like FIFA that you can play on your console and then head to a stadium to see in person. Top FIFA players have become celebrities in the space with fans who spend hours watching their games on platforms like Twitch, and turn to them for advice and guidance on the brands they use as part of their daily lives.
What do you think is the secret sauce for building a sports network for the YouTube age?
Build a great team of focused, driven and positive people that love to work with each other and bring top talent to the game. Let data drive your decisions to maximize your chances of success. Make your core values clear and ensure the partners you work with share them. Make sure you’re talking with, learning from and serving your target audience every minute of every day. Most importantly—make compelling content.
Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan