With sports still on hiatus, athletes become the new streaming stars
This week, the latest episode of NBA star Carmelo Anthony’s new series “What’s In Your Glass,” streamed live on YouTube and Instagram. In it, Anthony sits down with NFL star Michael Strahan to sip some wine, take questions from those tuning in and just chat about everything from the coronavirus to Anthony’s side passion—wine.
In the month the show has been live, Anthony has interviewed athletes and stars like Jamie Foxx, Ludacris, VaynerMedia’s Gary Vaynerchuk and NBA’s Jimmy Butler in seven episodes that have brought in more than 550,000 views.
Since the coronavirus pandemic brought a swift end to live sports and the 2020 Olympics, many athletes have taken to streaming platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Twitch to share their own live content, allowing them to connect with their sports-starved fans outside of the arena.
Detroit Lions quarterback Chase Daniel's new YouTube show “Chase Chats” draws in tens of thousands of views, and professional sports stars like Miami Heat’s Meyers Leonard, Sacramento Kings’ Da’Aaron Fox and Cleveland Cavaliers’ Larry Nance Jr., are drawing in hundreds of thousands of views by streaming their game-play and hosting tournaments on Twitch.
These kind of series have the potential as outlets for future brand collaborations and sponsorships. In some cases, athletes’ brand endorsements have been reduced or dropped as brands make their own cuts due to the pandemic. Last week, Under Armour said it’s renegotiating its sports marketing contracts and seeking payment delays to big-name endorsers.
For brands and platforms that can afford to take on new projects now, live content on streaming platforms is where they’re looking. With the majority of live sports still gone from TV, audiences are craving it. Several brands are renegotiating their current sports contracts with stars to incorporate live content, hoping to grab sports audiences as they wait in limbo.
The North Face, for instance, has a new weekly live interview series on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook featuring its sponsored athletes, such as mountain climber Jimmy Chin and skier Angel Collinson, who talk about their experiences in remote locations like Lhotse, Antarctica and Alaska.
“In a non-COVID-19 world, the primary platform for athlete engagement is on the field and court. But in this unusual time, in the absence of actual sporting events, athletes are embracing social video to not only just engage directly with fans, but to show who they are in an authentic way,” says David Moricca, CEO of video-streaming service Socialive.
Socialive is working with brands like The North Face and athletes like Chase Daniel, along with NBA and NFL teams, to create live social video series that can fill the void of live sports.
Audio brand JBL, which has a partnership with NBA players and teams, has chosen one of its ambassadors, Cleveland Cavaliers’ Andre Drummond, for a new series on Instagram Live. In “DQR” (Drummond Quarantine Radio), the star hosts rap battles with up-and-coming artists while incorporating JBL’s speakers and headphones. JBL has also recently entered into the esports world. At the end of April, the brand became the official gaming headset partner of esports team 100 Thieves, and has recruited Drummond and Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine to wear its headphones while gaming.
“Obviously, we did not predict all of this would happen, but right now the best way to reach our audience is through a screen,” says Kheri Tillman, vice president of global brand development at Harman, parent company to JBL. “Our strategy is to have our ambassadors engage in a much more organic and authentic way by using their own social presence on platforms and help them to create engaging content that fits their specific personality.” Tillman says that it was a natural move since the brand chooses ambassadors that are already active on social media.
Even sports commentators and former sports stars are making their way into the live-streaming world. Snack brand Pringles, an official sponsor of the Overwatch League, has recruited former San Francisco 49ers player and sports commentator Anthony “Spice” Adams to commentate on games in the Overwatch League in a new series called “Play by Play.”
“Spice Adams was the perfect personality to introduce traditional sports fans to Overwatch and break down the gameplay in terms they can easily understand,” says Gareth Maguire, senior director of marketing for Pringles.
Brands and platforms are also noticing the success of content like ESPN’s Michael Jordan docuseries “The Last Dance.” The five-week-long show brought in the network's biggest ever audience for a documentary; 5.65 million same-day viewers tuned in for 10 episodes and each episode since has seen around 13 million viewers from on-demand viewing, the network announced on Thursday.
Nike’s The Jordan Brand has been continuing the success of “The Last Dance” over social media. It has partnered with Socialive to stream “The Encore,” a live show on Mondays that recaps “The Last Dance” with famous faces like the NBA’s Blake Griffin, DJ Khaled and Spike Lee. The show has generated nearly 10 million views from four episodes.
ESPN just announced its next project: a nine-episode docuseries with Tom Brady. In the past week, brands have announced similar plans, signing up athletes for projects before the games and endorsements once again take priority. Apple TV+ announced a new docuseries called “Greatness Code” with LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Olympic Gold Medalists like Alex Morgan and Shaun White. Meanwhile, NBCUniversal’s Peacock is now streaming “The At-Home Variety Show” where Olympians compete in “quarantine games.”
With all these projects, audiences’ screens will soon be inundated with sports content, perhaps even more than when live sports were being broadcast.
“[Athletes] are natural creative directors and they have all these ideas and now we have the time and space to execute on them,” says Nate Houghteling, co-founder and executive producer at Portal A, a content agency working with a number of athletes to create live video, like the Anthony Carmelo’s series. “Because athletes are being focused to learn these skills, they’ll be able to take them forward and capture a lot of content on their own, without having a big production to get things done.”