The War to Win in the Sports Category Continues As YouTube Channels
Facebook, Verizon and YouTube — all three companies are at bat for sports rights and talent-driven projects. And over the last year, most of the legacy streaming rights from the major leagues have gone to the former two. But now, thanks to a development deal with Kevin Durant’s production company Thirty Five Media, YouTube has a stable of NBA and NFL talent on deck to not only populate its platform with reality-style video but also serve premium formats that speak to today’s sports fanatics and enthusiasts alike. It’s a similar move to one Facebook has played time and time again supporting celebrities and mainstream talent on its fan pages for both live and short-form video.
But for Kevin Durant, YouTube is where he’s buttering his bread, with almost 590K subscribers and consistent viewership in the hundreds of thousands across episodes since its launch in April 2017. It’s because of that quick success on YouTube that Thirty Five Media — the production company born to fuel the channel with content — decided to use the channel as a playbook for other NBA and NFL athletes looking for a more direct connection with the fans. “Once we saw the potential for Kevin on YouTube, we started seeing the opportunity to do what we did with his channel for other athletes,” said Durant’s business partner and manager Rich Kleiman in a phone interview with VideoInk. “And we’ve been working closely with YouTube to really learn the ins and outs of the platform so that we can work with athletes and brands to launch these channels.” And among the first athletes with channels going live are NFL All-Pro Richard Sherman, who arrived on YouTube by sharing a personal post-surgery story; NBA Superstar Karl-Anthony Towns; and Golden State Warriors famed duo JaVale McGee and Nick Young.
“I’ve had an incredible experience on YouTube engaging with fans all around the world and sharing different parts of my life. It was natural for me to want to show other athletes what they can achieve on YouTube,” said Durant.
With the varying divisions within YouTube now, Kleiman also says he sees a pathway for extending the development deals outside of the ad-supported, brand-funded space and into YouTube’s walled gardens — YouTube Red and YouTube TV, though such deals aren’t finalized. “We’re in development on quite a few shows now and you’ll see us doing more shows like what we’ve released on Kevin’s channel, with brands like Nike, because we have the access and understanding of the platform to bring what nobody else can.”
And YouTube Chief Product Officer Neal Mohan agrees: “I’ve been extremely impressed by Kevin, Rich, and the Thirty Five Media team in how they’ve rapidly embraced the YouTube platform, engaged the community and even helped provide valuable feedback on features to more closely connect content creators and fans. I’m excited to see them apply this expertise to help other athletes replicate this success on YouTube.”
Over the last year, Kleiman and team have aired live streams, a long-form docu-series for Nike Basketball called “Still KD“, a reality-style “Off the Court” series, highlights reels and even a interview show hosted by fellow NBA athlete JaVale McGee called “The Parking Lot Chronicles”. Today, Thirty Five Media also announced a new unnamed show starring Michael Rapaport and a second series called “Bay Area Adventures”.
And its Kleiman’s belief that it can bring brands to these athletes to help subsidize the funds for these formats in addition to this development deal with YouTube. “The possibilities here go far beyond traditional social media interaction and there’s a huge opportunity for branded content and better one-to-one fan engagement for athletes on YouTube.”