How The Whistle Is Building a Sports Network for the YouTube Age
When you write about business and technology, you run across a lot of people claiming their startup is going to change the way people see their industry. Most of the time, you have to take it with a grain of salt. While you have to respect their enthusiasm, the reality is that most startups make about as much of a cultural impact as a Just the Ten of Us rerun.
But every once in a while, you talk to someone from a company that makes you furrow your brow and say,”Hmmm, I think these guys are onto something. Why aren’t I that smart?”
If you ever get a chance to talk to John West, CEO and co-founder of The Whistle Sports Network, there’s a good chance that’s how you’ll feel afterward. The Whistle launched its multichannel YouTube platform in January, and in just nine months, it has gained more than 7 million subscribers, almost 150 channel partners, and more than a billion views. It’s the most popular sports platform on YouTube and recently announced a partnership with Xbox that will potentially expand its reach to millions of millennials.
West believes The Whistle’s business model could reshape sports media on the level that ESPN did four decades ago. He has his eyes on opening an office in London, and is insatiably hungry for audience growth. “Every morning I check how many new subscribers we have,” he said.
Just this week, The Whistle expanded its reach by partnering with Los Angeles Laker and international phenomenon Jeremy Lin, who has over 400,000 YouTube subscribers. While the “Linsanity Bump” is certainly appreciated by The Whistle, the NBA superstar is just as excited about being a part of the network.
“Joining Whistle Sports provides my fans with a wider network of content possibilities,” said Lin. “The Whistle has grown by millions of subscribers this year, has great momentum, and is expanding rapidly internationally.”
The Whistle takes a three-pronged approach to content creation. The company has a production studio in its New York office, and it has partnered with 10 professional sports leagues, including the NFL, the PGA Tour, and, most recently, MLS to showcase content created by the leagues. But the bulk of its content comes from partnerships with—and acquisitions of—independent content creators.
“I think the very different media pattern of today’s young generation is really necessitating different business models to reach them,” West said. “So far, our business model has been validated.”
Notably, The Whistle acquired The Lacrosse Network, which now operates out of The Whistle’s LA office. The network has also invested heavily in Dude Perfect, a Dallas-based collective of YouTube superstars.
“We support their production,” said West.”We have a full-time producer in the Dallas office that we house Dude Perfect in. They’re just great talents They’re very good at creating content that looks and feels good and engages the audience.”
It’s an approach that allows The Whistle to consistently produce viral videos, like the one below of grown men doing incredibly badass trick shots as they “go CRAZY” in their Dallas headquarters.And partnering with successful YouTube commodities like Dude Perfect allows The Whistle to quickly grow their audience while creating unique branding opportunities for their advertising partners.
Major brands like Nerf and Pringles have paid to get their products placed in Dude Perfect videos. LG paid Dude Perfect to use their LG G3 smartphone to film the video above.
“There is a great space for brands that wants to create content directly through us and work with established content creators that have an immediate audience,” said Brian Selander, executive vice president at The Whistle.
Selander said it was a “massive moment” for The Whistle when its brain trust figured out how much untapped potential existed on YouTube. Dude Perfect had two million subscribers before hooking up with The Whistle, and that number has grown to over 3.3 million so far this year.
“What Youtube and the digital ecosystem offers from a content perspective is the fact that making great videos is a part of these people’s DNA,” he said. “They can’t not make great videos every day. So if we could go ahead and take those content creators and offer that authenticity and legitimacy that comes with these pro partners, like the NFL, PGA, and Major League Baseball as well as major brands, why wouldn’t we work together?”
The Whistle adds 500 new videos to its library every month, and West says it’s getting about 15,000 new subscribers per day. But to West, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
“Look at what ESPN did in 1978,” said West. “Back then, if you were a sports fan you had your block of time on Saturday or Sunday on broadcast TV and that was pretty much it.”
The funny thing is, West didn’t plan on being a new-media mogul; the idea for The Whistle came organically after he sold his finance company, Silver Oaks Solutions, and suddenly found himself at home spending quality time with his young children.
“It struck me that this new generation watches media in a different way, and sports media, the biggest media sector, really hadn’t changed much in the last 30 years,” said West.
“Fast forward to today where we have great partnerships with pro leagues,” West added. “We have great partnerships with awesome Youtube sports creators. And we are growing like crazy.”Image by Whistle Sports