By Sahil Patel
Two of the biggest soccer channels on YouTube are joining forces.
Major League Soccer has sold KickTV, its YouTube channel with more than 940,000 subscribers, to Bigballs Films, a London-based producer that owns and operates Copa90, one of the largest fan-centric soccer content producers on the web.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but MLS will retain an ownership stake in the new network, with the New York-based KickTV management team now under the oversight of Bigballs and Copa90.
Going forward, MLS and Copa90 will work together to create new content and partnerships for the online soccer network, which now combines to reach more than 1.8 million subscribers on YouTube. (Copa90’s YouTube channel reaches more than 880,000 subscribers; the channel also has a deal to distribute content on Jason Kilar’s short-form video hub Vessel, among other platforms.)
Launched in March 2012, KickTV provides comprehensive coverage of North American soccer, including the national US soccer teams and MLS. Most of the programming is ancillary. Shows like “The Mixer,” “Rumor Mill,” and “Top 5” are meant to engage US soccer fans on the web with content that surrounds and promotes the actual games (though KickTV does offer some highlights).
This is similar in scope and strategy with Copa90, which launched as an independent channel on YouTube to provide soccer fans a way to interact with players, teams, and leagues in addition to other fans. Soccer broadcast rights are expensive, but the passion that the sport’s fans have, and their appetite to watch as many soccer and soccer-related content as possible, can be a lucrative opportunity for producers and advertisers.
“We feel like our role is to make sure that fans are continually engaged not with just the 90 minutes on the pitch, but all of the stories that happen outside of the pitch and make those 90 minutes matter more,” says Bigballs and Copa90 CEO Thomas Thirlwall.
Copa90 will support KickTV’s growth in the US, especially as soccer becomes more popular in the country. “At this stage, we want to make sure KickTV is equipped to produce more of what they already do really well,” says Thirlwall. “We want to look at new format opportunities, as well as existing formats that we have at Copa90, which can translate well to the United States, as well as format ideas that KickTV might not have been able to do until now.”
Copa90 will remain the global soccer video network for Bigballs Films, with KickTV providing coverage and perspective of the North American arm of the game. With MLS’s continued involvement in KickTV, the deal will also give the new network access to the teams and talent within the league, as well as to US and Mexican soccer, which MLS represents in North America.
For Bigballs Films, this also helps the producer plant a flag in the largest sports market in the world as it starts to grow Copa90’s global soccer footprint. Thirlwall says the company wanted to get this deal done before 2016, when Copa America, the oldest continental soccer competition, celebrates its centennial.
Next up: A dot-com and mobile app for Copa90, as well as a few more acquisitions and partnerships. The company wants a hub or presence in a “number” of countries globally, from South America to Asia, says Thirlwall.
“We are still out there looking for potential acquisitions and opportunities to fulfill our ambition,” he continues. “We have a mission to be the global fan network, celebrate champion stories of fans around the world, and shine a light on different football cultures.”
Evolution Media Capital, an investment bank and advisory firm partly owned by CAA, served as an adviser on the deal.