Expanding the Playbook for Millennials

Whistle Sports offers unique over-the-top sports content for Verizon’s ‘go90’

More than a year into its launch — and with some fresh funds in the bank and a new distribution deal with go90, Verizon Communications’s new “mobile-first” over-the-top video offering, locked in — Whistle Sports Network believes it is ready to raise its multiplatform game.

Up until about 2012, the fledgling digital video multichannel network focused on establishing its credibility by partnering with professional leagues such as the National Football League, NASCAR and Major League Baseball. In 2013, it cultivated YouTube talent to help it build a community of creators that fi t with the service. It then launched in January of 2014 and has been growing its viewership ever since.

This year? “It has really been about bringing brand into the conversation, and monetizing around the content,” Brian Selander, Whistle Sports’s executive vice president, said, noting that money comes in through sources such as advertising and sponsorships.

AGGREGATED ‘FUN’ SPORTS

Whistle Sports, which claims to have more than 300 “creators,” 17 million subscribers and north of 100 million “fans and followers” across its platforms, offers an aggregated mix of behind-the-scenes looks into existing pro sports. Rather than focusing on scandals that tend to be a focus of pro-sports news, Whistle Sports’ aim is to be uplifting and funny, and provide content that’s appropriate for all ages, not necessarily just millennials.

Its core audience is age 14-30, though it sees “a lot of movement on both sides of those numbers,” Selander said.

As for content, one prime example is “Dude Perfect,” a handful of popular digital stars that offer a comedic spin on live-action stunts and bizarre basketball trick shots, such as swishing a basketball from a bridge that stands 200 feet above the hoop. Dude Perfect is branching out of digital, having recently landed a show deal with CMT.

And Whistle Sports is expanding into new distribution channels. Where it hopes to gain some additional exposure fairly quickly is through go90. The Verizon-run OTT offering, currently offered via a private, invitation-only trial, is expected to become available to anyone who wants to get it later this year.

Whistle Sports is developing an array of unique content for the new ad-based go90 platform. According to Selander, there will be seven new exclusive series offered on go90 from Whistle Sports, and 85 episodes have already been ordered. Whistle Sports isn’t releasing the show titles yet, but said the focus will include an “epic twist” on the dunk contest; taking extreme sports athletes to places they haven’t been before; a Whistle Sports Lab for viral videos; a cross-sport athlete challenge; and a show that will introduce millennials to some weird sports from around the globe.

“We have demonstrated, I think, that millennials are social-fi rst, TV-second in their approach to content,” Selander said.

Others seem to agree. In January, Whistle Sports raised a $28 million “B” round that included participation from Liberty Global and Sky Broadcasting, following up on its 2012 $8 million “A” round that notably included support from former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

NEW CHANNEL IN U.K.

Last week, Whistle Sports and Sky Sports parlayed that funding connection into a new social-media channel dedicated to creating original soccer content for young fans. The offering, based on Sky’s Soccer AM brand, went live on Friday (Sept. 18) with its own YouTube channel and presences on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

Though Whistle Sports has centered on a mobile-first approach, it is having discussions with traditional TV distributors.

“Our content is engaging any way you want to watch it,” Selander said. “Our audience is mobile and social first … but it doesn’t mean they don’t love TV.”