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YouTube stars help NFL bring in more viewers, league says

YouTuber Deestroying and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaking on YouTube’s Brandcast in May 2023.

Credit: Youtube

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

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’re able to bring together people’s favorite creators with a lot of what’s traditionally associated with television around professional sports and the NFL,” said Christian Oestlien, vice president of product management at YouTube TV. “Bringing those two worlds together allows us to really open up the NFL to a whole new generation of fans.”

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

YouTube TV recruited well-known YouTube stars, including lifestyle creators, vloggers, and sports creators, to attract new audiences to the NFL. Creators attended NFL games during the partnership’s inaugural season, sharing content and collaborating with advertisers to drive engagement.

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

The parties call this approach a “helmets off strategy,” with the goal of elevating the breadth of content surrounding the football season.

“It’s another way for us to extend our messaging and, more so, the lifestyle around football,” said Ian Trombetta, NFL senior vice president of social, influencer and content marketing. “There are a lot of new fans arriving, not only in the United States, but all over the world.”

YouTube accounted for 8.5% of total television viewing time in December, surpassing 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, media expert and CEO of gaming content-sharing platform Oorbit, noted that a substantial amount of the growth in live TV streaming in the last quarter was attributed to YouTube TV. Rogers emphasized that his advantage during that period was the Sunday Ticket offer.

“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 “Squawk Box.” CNBC. “So far it’s been great, but we will have a disciplined ROI framework.”

Attracting new and 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 all platforms. De La Haye recently signed with the United Football League to play for the San Antonio Brahmas.

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

Lifestyle creator Pierson Wodzynski, who has 24 million followers across all platforms but had never delved into sports-related content before, found her place in YouTube’s NFL strategy by documenting her journey taking all the means of transportation to get to a San Francisco 49ers game. The video attracted 1.4 million views.

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

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

Credit: Youtube

Partnerships with creators have been helpful in engaging a younger demographic.

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

They have also increased NFL content off the field.

Influencers like 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 his 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 made 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, center for the Philadelphia Eagles, have their own podcast, called New Heights. It is hosted on YouTube and has accumulated over 670 million views.

YouTube Global Head of Brand Marketing Angela Courtin said this season’s strategy with content creators was to invite a wide range of audiences into all aspects of the NFL experience.

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

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