August 27, 2020

Making 2020 the best year for your sports channel on YouTube… during a global pandemic… with not much sport…

Yes, you read that right. Despite the global pandemic and cancellation of many major sporting events over the last six months, a number of Brave Bison’s sports partners are currently enjoying record-breaking years on YouTube.
Richard Pilcher
Richard Pilcher

Senior Audience Development Manager

In the absence of weekly fixtures and tournaments, where narratives write themselves as the world’s best golfers or tennis players go head-to-head, we’ve had to adapt quickly. But as is often the case in sport, when things change, it’s those who adapt best to the conditions who go on to triumph.

The content offering from major sports leagues and federations on YouTube has evolved rapidly over the last few years. YouTube has become the ‘home of highlights’ and newcomers continue to flock to the platform – such as the Premier League who have gained more than 1m subscribers in just 12 months. The content on offer has never been better for viewers, but go back just a few years and you’ll see a vastly different offering on every major sports channel.

Yet while the content available to viewers has changed, sport itself has not. The championship victories, record-breaking moments, dazzling debuts and landmark milestones were all just as amazing and incredible then as they are now. But have they been given the same treatment and attention they would receive were they to happen now? Almost certainly not.

New Opportunities Presented by Covid

The absence of sporting events has created an intriguingly level playing field on YouTube. Instead of current tournaments dictating where viewer interest is likely to be focused, sports fans have been flocking to whoever provides the best content. Meaning that tournament timeframes that would ordinarily prevent success for our clients suddenly presented new opportunities.

By expanding and evolving content strategies to entertain and engage viewers outside normal tournament windows, we’ve helped our clients take advantage of the increase in YouTube viewing created by lockdown. May and June are normally restrictive months for one of our clients due to a rival tournament, but not so in 2020 – we’ve actually generated 53% more views from 30% fewer uploads than said rival.

Free from the restrictions of broadcast deals that dictate how current sports highlights are published on YouTube, we’ve worked tirelessly with our partners to breathe new life into old content. And as we’ve combed through the channels, trawled through the archives and digitised dusty tapes, we’ve rediscovered some truly historic, hilarious and jaw-dropping moments. Moments that up until now, only existed in their original short-form format, dictated by the broadcast restrictions that have long since expired. And, in some cases, moments that didn’t even exist on the channels at all!

Pleasing The Algorithm

So even though sport has been on hold, we’ve continued to provide viewers with new (to the platform), unseen and long-forgotten content. And instead of two minutes of highlights here or three minutes of highlights there, we’ve been free to create content that doesn’t just please viewers, but also YouTube’s algorithm.

According to YouTube, sports highlights videos longer than 6 minutes generate 4 x more views & 12 x more watch time than sports highlights videos shorter than 6 minutes.

Longer content also enables us to serve mid-roll adverts across our channels. The additional revenue this has unlocked has been invaluable for our partners at a time when lots of traditional revenue streams like ticket sales, sponsorships and broadcast monies have been frozen.

“We’ve been free to create content that doesn’t just please viewers, but also YouTube’s algorithm”

Now you might think archive content can only take you so far, but the engagement we’ve seen from viewers has been fantastic.

We’ve strengthened our affinity with viewers by listening to what they want to see and running cross-platform polls where they can vote for the next video they want us to make.
And when you’re looking to create content that will please viewers, who better to guide you than your viewers?

Lessons Learnt

And so, for the last six months, we’ve tested and learnt, failed fast and doubled down on successful content strands. We’ve continued to drive audience and revenue growth for our clients and put them in the strongest possible position for when their competitions resume.

Now, it’s early days, but as sport begins to return inside empty stadiums and behind broadcast paywalls, we’re seeing a stronger appetite for sports highlights on YouTube than ever before. For our clients that are lucky enough to have resumed their competitions, we’re seeing records broken week after week, month after month. And as fans flock to YouTube to watch the latest highlights they also end up staying to watch the videos we’ve been publishing during lockdown. That’s right, some of the top performing videos in July and August were actually published in April and May!

There’s no doubt the absence of sport has been a huge challenge and provided a steep learning curve – but those learnings and their results will continue to shape the way we work with our partners for months and years to come. Sport might not look or feel the same right now and even though some sports have resumed, certain players remain absent. But sport’s ability to bring people together is incredible and remains present whether we’re revisiting memorable moments or covering new narratives. So don’t let a lack of sport stop you from telling great stories and growing your audience on YouTube – the viewers are there, you just need to capture their attention.