Soccer Video Network KICK Aims To Sweep The Traditional Sports Broadcast

RossWJudging by the billions of dollars spent on World Cup advertising alone, the game of soccer commands a maniacal fan and brand following.

Global soccer video platform KICK, which launched as early YouTube multichannel network “KICKTV” in 2012, wants to capitalize on that craze with an eye toward reaching millennial soccer fans with cross-platform video.

It’s an emerging model others have subscribed to, including the big media and celeb-backed video network Whistle Sports, which originated similarly on YouTube but has since expanded to Facebook and Snapchat, among other social channels.

In KICK’s case, it’s combining a little bit of the old and new.

In a new collaboration with NBC Sports Group, for instance, KICK is creating two short-form videos documenting the story behind rival football clubs, Liverpool and Everton. The videos will run this week across NBC digital properties and connected TV apps in sync with NBC’s broadcast coverage of the Premier League matches.

Although live TV still attracts a large audience, broadcasters want to engage fans outside of games, and one such venue is through digital.

Last year, Major League Soccer (MLS) sold KICK to Copa90, a UK-based sports channel and early YouTube Originals partner multichannel network, though MLS retained an ownership stake in the company.

“We were founded on the principle that everything outside of the 90 minutes of a game is the most important thing in football,” said Ross Whittow-Williams, chief content officer for KICK and Copa90. “We knew the whole point of the World Cup wasn’t only the game or what happened behind the glass screen in a studio.”

As a combined portfolio company, KICK and Copa90 reach an audience of more than 10 million soccer fans. The company took its first round of funding last year, about $10.6 million. It employs 25 content producers in New York who focus mainly on KICK, and 60 more in the UK who are dedicated to Copa90. 

Videos on both networks, including editorial videos and commercial branded content, are produced originally. Copa90 and KICK house a specialized documentary unit, creatives who make bespoke content tailored to the news cycle, as well as social strategists, some of whom focus squarely on Snapchat distribution.

“Our views went from 40% on mobile in 2014 to just over 60% today,” Whittow-Williams said. “With Copa90, we’re launching our first dot-com experience in a couple of weeks, but I think the future is about creating tailored experiences on mobile. As we continue to grow, we know our mobile strategy will be most important.”

KICK does not sell pre-roll video ads against its own site content presently, but instead brings brands like Hyundai, Adidas and HTC to the table by integrating those sponsors into originally produced content on KICK and Copa90.

HTC specifically supplemented its sponsorship of the European Football Association’s Champions League with a branded video integration on Copa90.

The company embedded its new HTC One phone with one of Copa90’s influencers, the Euro Fan, as he went on a series of adventures with football fans on game day.

The video drove 11 million impressions, helped acquire 970,000 new YouTube fans and reached an average view time of six minutes.

“We were always about creating narratives,” said Whittow-Williams, noting Copa90’s and KICK’s historical roots in web film production under a parent company. “Traditional sports sponsorships required you to put an advert on at halftime or sponsor the injury clock on TV. Now we’re speaking in a consistent, relevant way with brands.”

As with other early YouTube multichannel networks, KICK constantly weighs which multiplatform opportunities will be most beneficial to brands and fans.

While KICK has an owned-and-operated site, social extensions are equally important.

“We want to be complementary to the platforms we’re on,” Whittow-Williams added. “If I’m flicking through mobile on Facebook, the video should work without audio, whereas something on YouTube will be lean-back or work for more long-form content.”

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