Four ways You Tube changed sports marketing

Ten years ago on April 23rd 2005 YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim uploaded the site’s first video (a short and somewhat creepy 19 second piece about elephants).

In 2005 Facebook was only two years old and had a mere 5.5 million monthly active users. Twitter was not unleashed on the world for another year and Instagram for another five years. The Nokia Symbian and Linux mobile operating systems dominated a market now more familiar with iOS and Android.

Today YouTube has over 1 billion active monthly users and is considered the second biggest social network after Facebook ( ).

You Tube and sport

Subscribers to the array of sports channels on YouTube outnumber all other genres except for gaming and music with whom they attract a similar number (around 80 million subscribers each). Sport is also one of the fastest growing genres (again together with gaming and music).

So, what impact has YouTube had on the sports business over the past ten years?

1. Legitimised user-generated sports content

The immediacy and accessibility to user-generated sports content pioneered by YouTube challenged the traditional sports media rights model. Its easy to forget that in its early years YouTube was considered a maverick and faced a few high profile lawsuits relating to copyright infringement.

In a case of history repeating itself, live sports content shared on Vine and Periscope (amongst others), is now causing concern in the sports business from properties like the PGA Tour, NHL ( ) and the Premier League ( ). The recent Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight caused similar concern from media rights holder HBO / Showtime ( ).

Recognising the increasing gravity of the copyright infringement issues it was facing YouTube started to develop Content ID (a copyright management system) as far back as 2007. It enables organisations to register and potentially profit from user generated content that features their copyright protected material. This system has enabled sports rights holders to decide whether to block, track or monetise user-generated content and as such transformed the legitimacy of YouTube in the eyes of many rights holders. The likes of Periscope and Vine appear to be facing the same challenges and the same choice that YouTube faced in its early days (i.e. be forced to take down content or legitimise it).

2. Defined fan engagement for a generation

YouTube was a pioneer in the fan engagement revolution enabling teams, athletes, leagues and governing bodies to extend the relevance of their offering and the life of their content to generate deeper fan relationships outside of competition periods.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), with over 2 million subscribers, is one of the top sports channels on YouTube. It’s bursting with big, bold and brash content which bridges the quiet periods in between explosive bouts. Browse UFCs YouTube channel and you’ll feel like you’ve just done five rounds with current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez (or maybe I’m just getting too old).

There are countless more examples of teams, athletes, events etc engaging their audiences on a 24/ 7, rolling basis and on a scale not possible before YouTube came along.

3. Spawned Red Bull Media House

The Red Bull Media House (RBMH) was launched in 2007 only one year after YouTube. It has spearheaded Red Bull’s content marketing efforts pushing the audience, rather than the product, to the forefront. Red Bull’s strategy continues to be anchored in a storytelling style that inspires the audience to push themselves just like the inspirational athletes they are watching. The company has illustrated the power of YouTube to connect with an audience around their passion for sport. Who would have thought ten years ago that a mountain bike ride would be watched almost 25 million times? Watching this clip from the Red Bull Rampage 2013, I felt sick and dizzy, experienced vertigo and came out in goosebumps and all in the space of 2 minutes.

You may have noticed that Go Pro are also featured in this spot. They have built a YouTube channel to be proud of and a subscriber base of over 3 million. If I was writing this blog in a few years time, no doubt they would be featuring heavily.

4. Increased the attractiveness of a 30 second Super Bowl spot

30 second spots for January’s Super Bowl were selling at a record USD4.5 million. NBC still had the balls and data to put forward a convincing case for the true worth of the spots to be closer to USD10 million. That valuation was based on four pillars – TV viewership, social media, general media exposure and a direct uplift in key metrics (including brand awareness, sales and stock price (a link to the latter having been proven by academic studies)).

NBC estimated that exposure for Super Bowl commercials on three key social networks (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter) were worth an average of 19 million impressions (15-20% of the live TV audience). As witnessed by successes such as Budweisers Puppy Love (over 58 million views on YouTube and counting), there is a very credible argument here, particularly for the power of YouTube to amplify. This is an especially salient point given TV viewership of the Super Bowl has plateaued in recent years (see below the average TV audience from 1966 to 2014 courtesy of Nielsen).


So how can we expect YouTube to influence the sports business in the next ten years? When asked in a recent interview with SportsProMedia about Google / YouTube’s sports plans ( ) Dan Cobley, Managing Director of Google UK, was tight lipped. Some see them pushing for greater share of viewing on our main TV screens in our living rooms and some point to an “inevitable” need to deepen relationships with rights holders. Whatever they have in store, they have already left a considerable mark on the business of sport.

About the author of this post:

David is a Chartered Marketer with more than 15 years’ experience in international sports marketing roles. You can follow David on twitter @davidgfowler or connect on LinkedIn at


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