By Sahil Patel
“Why should you guys care about us?”
The question was presented to a room full of advertisers by Jeff Urban, co-founder and president of digital sports network Whistle Sports, from the stage during the company’s first ever NewFronts presentation. According to Urban, advertisers should because Whistle Sports has the reach, drives engagement, and knows how its audience — the ever-important millennials — consume sports content.
Since launching its network on YouTube in January 2014, Whistle Sports has grown a lot. The company — backed by $36 million in funding — now boasts 71 million fans across eight different social platforms, including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Xbox, and Snapchat, where it just launched.
In that time, the company has built an audience that it and its talent and league partners routinely engages with. Because “millennials want a different sports experience — they want to lean in and engage,” according to founder and CEO John West. “Social media is where they go first to view and share video content.”
“To be clear, we are not building a sports network for millennials,” West continued. “We are building the sports community with millennials.”
When it comes to advertisers, this means helping clients embed their brands and messaging into the stream of content and conversations already occurring across the network — whether that’s via custom branded videos or sponsorship of existing channels, partners, and original programming.
On the former, Whistle Sports showcased a few branded partnerships it’s already executed, from an activation with Adidas during the 2014 FIFA World Cup to Buick during this year’s March Madness.
Whistle Sports has routinely helped brands engage with fans across six core verticals: basketball, lacrosse, golf, and trick shots. These “communities” feature contributions from athletes, pro leagues, digital creators, and fans, the company said.
Now, Whistle plans to expand into two more verticals: soccer and fitness. Brands will be able to better target the type of sports fans they want to reach by working with Whistle to engage these communities, the company said.
Other announcements from Whistle include a deeper investment in original programming. The company plans to launch “dozens” of new shows in the coming year, according to Whistle Sports EVP Brian Selander. But it took time during its NewFront to showcase seven.
These include: “Faceoff,” a series featuring members of Dude Perfect going head-to-head in various competitions; “The Ultimate Tour,” which will follow Ultimate Frisbee star Brodie Smith as he visits fans all around the world; “Running the Pitch,” which will invite top soccer gamers into some of the top soccer stadiums to go head-to-head; “Challenge Accepted,” where pro athletes challenge each other to contests; “Most Valuable Prank,” a series where a young sports fan is first pranked before he or she gets to live out their sports dreams; “Record Smashers,” a comedy series in which online stars attempt to set increasingly absurd sports-based world records; and “Next Trick Shot Superstar,” which will tap the Whistle Sports audience to find the next great trick-shot artist, who will receive a prize package that includes a partnership deal with Whistle Sports.