February 27, 2024

YouTuber Deestroying and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell presenting at YouTube’s Brandcast in May 2023.

Credit: YouTube

YouTube bet big on the NFL to boost its subscriber base, and content creators have been key to that push.

After YouTube committed $2 billion per year to secure the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, YouTube TV grew from 5 million subscribers in 2022 to more than 8 million this year. Enlisting some of YouTube’s top creators to promote NFL Sunday Ticket helped drive engagement among tens of millions of users, the league said.

“We can bring together people’s favorite creators with a lot of what you might traditionally associate with TV around professional sports and the NFL,” said Christian Oestlien, YouTube TV’s vice president of product management. “Bringing those two worlds together is letting us really open up the NFL to a whole new generation of fans.”

A subscription to YouTube TV costs $73 per month, with an additional annual fee of $349 for access to NFL Sunday Ticket.

YouTube TV enlisted familiar YouTube stars including lifestyle creators, vloggers and sports creators to attract new audiences to the NFL. The creators attended NFL games during the inaugural season of the partnership, and shared content and collaborated with advertisers to boost engagement.

The NFL, in turn, launched various shows on YouTube, such as “Creator of the Week,” to help promote creators on the sidelines. Those YouTube Shorts featured creators such as Sean Evans — host of the chicken-wing-centric interview show Hot Ones — and Ninja, a professional Battle Royale player and streamer.

The parties are calling the approach a “helmets off strategy,” aiming to elevate the breadth of content surrounding the football season.

“It’s another way for us to extend our messaging and, more, the lifestyle around football,” said Ian Trombetta, NFL senior vice president of social, influencer and content marketing. “So many new fans are coming in, not just in the U.S., but globally.”

YouTube accounted for 8.5% of total TV watch time in December, outpacing other major streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+, according to Nielsen.

While overall viewership on YouTube declined last year, according to Nielsen, Tom Rogers, a media expert and executive chairman of gaming content sharing platform Oorbit, noted that a substantial amount of live TV streaming growth last quarter was attributed to YouTube TV. Rogers emphasized that its advantage during that period was its offering of Sunday Ticket.

“NFL Sunday Ticket gives us a great way to work with a very good partner with very valuable content and see how it works,” Sundar Pichai, CEO of YouTube parent Alphabet, said during an interview Thursday with CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “So far it has been great, but we will have a disciplined ROI [return on investment] framework.”

Drawing new, younger fans

One of the NFL’s biggest creator partnerships has been with Donald De La Haye, known online as Deestroying, a sports creator with more than 12 million followers across platforms. De La Haye was recently signed to the United Football League to play for the San Antonio Brahmas.

“It’s bringing new audiences to the game that’s so amazing that I love so much,” said De La Haye. “It’s just helping build that audience and making everybody a fan of the game.”

Lifestyle creator Pierson Wodzynski — who has 24 million followers across platforms but hadn’t previously delved into sports-related content — found her place in YouTube’s NFL strategy by documenting her journey taking every form of transportation to arrive at a San Francisco 49ers game. The video attracted 1.4 million views.

De La Haye, Wodzynski and Evans will appear in a YouTube TV ad that will air during the Super Bowl.

Screenshot from YouTube TV’s Super Bowl ad featuring Donald De La Haye, Pierson Wodzynski and Sean Evans

Credit: YouTube

The creator partnerships have been helpful in capturing a younger demographic.

“I don’t think the NFL could have created the ratings surge they created this season without younger audiences showing up,” said Rogers. “We know it is very hard to reach younger audiences through TV marketing because they watch comparatively less, so I suspect the league’s use of influencers was very important to ratings.”

They’ve also increased NFL content from off the field.

Influencers such as Alix Earle and Kristin Juszczyk, both in romantic relationships with NFL players, went viral this season by sharing glimpses of their game-day experiences. Juszczyk also gained recognition for her creation of custom game-day outfits, which garnered attention when worn by pop icon Taylor Swift and Brittany Mahomes, the wife of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Swift had her own impact on social media this season, after posts about her relationship with Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce went viral online.

Travis Kelce and his brother Jason, a center for the Philadelphia Eagles, have their own podcast, called New Heights. It’s hosted on YouTube and has amassed more than 670 million views.

YouTube’s global head of brand marketing, Angela Courtin, said the strategy this season with content creators was to invite a broad range of audiences into every aspect of the NFL experience.

“I have to say these creators are equal if not better than any other channel that I would use in my immediate plan,” Courtin said. “They exceeded our ROI benchmarks so much that we’ll be supercharging them next season.”

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