During the third weekend of February, prominent creators are flocking to Utah. Tristan Jass is promoting a JBL product launch in Park City, Bree Green is teaming with American Express for a block party, and Kenny Beecham (pictured above) is meeting up with some of his creative colleagues.
The Beehive State has produced its fair share of influencers, but that’s not what’s bringing the aforementioned creators to the Salt Lake area. They’re all headed to NBA All-Star Weekend, the basketball association’s annual showcase of top-tier talent. This year, the festivities will take place at Vivint Arena, the home of the Utah Jazz.
The NBA’s connection to creator content is no coincidence.
The second-most popular sports league in the U.S. (after the NFL) has long seen platforms like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as effective marketing tools. While other leagues police in-game footage, the NBA shares on-the-court action to help creators build careers. Its landmark agreement with BroadbandTV has made it possible for individuals to disseminate in-game highlights.
Subscribe for daily Tubefilter Top Stories
L.A.-based firm Long Haul Management works with many of the internet’s top basketball creators, including Jass and Green. “The NBA has by far been the most forward-thinking league in terms of how to partner with creators,” Long Haul Founder and CEO Dan Levitt told Tubefilter. “That’s only strengthened over the years.”
Permissive licensing agreements and regular collaborations with internet tastemakers have helped the NBA’s official YouTube channel gain 11.6 billion lifetime views while reaching nearly 20 million subscribers. But even with that support, the NBA would go nowhere on YouTube if not for the star power of its players. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and their ilk often launch viral videos. One of the most-watched clips on the NBA channel — seen more than 50 million times to date — features LeBron tackling a fan who sank a half-court shot.
All leagues have stars, but NBA icons seem more attuned to online video than their contemporaries in other sports. Kevin Durant has launched his own YouTube channel, helped his friends do the same, and invested in the creator economy through his firm Thirty Five Ventures. LeBron has inked content partnerships across the web, and Curry has sponsored a Snapchat Spotlight Challenge (while also collaborating with creators himself).
These initiatives are typically off-the-court and personality-driven. By launching their own channels, basketball stars can show a “different side” of who they are, as Beecham told Tubefilter.
Levitt attributes this trend to the NBA’s ties to youth culture. When it comes to sneaker lines, basketball players often operate like influencers. Those experiences have made the LeBrons of the world “more in tune with the culture,” Levitt told Tubefilter. He added that the NBA itself has been “proactive” in its promotion of these hullabaloo-ed events.
But footwear drops aren’t the only tentpoles on the basketball calendar. While other sports generate excitement around championship matches, the NBA has an ace up its sleeve. The annual All-Star Weekend is a festival of dunks, threes, and crossovers — and it has become an opportunity for both athletes and creators to engage their fans.
Basketball influencers used to be on the sideline — but that’s changing.
“This is where every NBA fan would love to be.”
That’s how Beecham described the energy of All-Star Weekend. The Chicago native is known as the star of the KOT4Q channel, which identifies him as the “king of the fourth quarter.”
In Utah, Beecham’s plans include a live recording of his Through the Wire podcast. He and his three co-hosts will broadcast their show from B/R Utah, a Bleacher Report fan event. When he’s not live, he plans to network with players and creators. At All-Star Weekend, he told Tubefilter, attendees can see “the best basketball athletes in the world in one spot.” That will do wonders for his creative process. “I’m a guy who thrives when I bounce ideas off other creators,” he said.
Bleacher Report’s corporate overlord has played a big role in the expansion of creator content at All-Star Weekend. Warner Media‘s best-known basketball property is TNT’s weekly NBA coverage, which provides a platform for former stars like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal.
In 2015, Warner Media signaled its interest in fan-driven basketball content. That’s when Bleacher Report acquired House of Highlights, the NBA hub founded by Omar Raja (who now makes videos for ESPN). “Guys like Omar did a lot for the growth of the game,” Beecham said.
The brand abbreviated as HoH has since become a force on Instagram, and Warner Media has used the highlight hub to showcase internet-famous ballers. The House of Highlights Creator League has pitted basketball creators against one another in on-court action. For All-Star Weekend, the Creator League — now situated on its own channel — is hosting game five of its latest two-on-two season.
Partnerships like these have done wonders for Warner Media’s bottom line. Last year, Digiday reported that Bleacher Report had tripled its branded content revenue by working directly with creators. Though collaborations with NBA All-Stars are still coveted, brands are more interested in basketball influencers than ever before.
Levitt has also seen that shift. Initially, he told Tubefilter, Long Haul’s partnerships with the NBA centered around comped tickets and original content. Now, the firm’s clients are able to appear alongside the pros. Last year, Crissa Jackson played alongside court legends in the All-Star Celebrity Game.
Are basketball creators ready to go pro?
Those opportunities showed viewers that there is still a massive gap between basketball influencers and pro players. The creators mentioned throughout this piece have got game, but Beecham thinks it would be “nearly impossible” for any of them to make the NBA. “The talent level is just ridiculous,” he told Tubefilter.
At All-Star Weekend, however, there is a place on the court for basketball entertainers — even those who can’t quite make the NBA. One of the headliners at this year’s festivities is Mac McClung, a player for the Delaware Blue Coats of the developmental G League. McClung has never gotten more than a cup of coffee in the NBA, but he’s famous on YouTube, where his dunk compilations have received millions of views.
For some NBA old-heads, McClung’s appearance in a competition once headlined by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant signals the decline of All-Star Weekend. But online, there’s hype for McClung’s turn in the Slam Dunk Contest. By showcasing players who dunk for fun, rather than those who treat jams as part of their job description, the NBA is pumping the entertainment value of an event that could use a boost. “If the top talent doesn’t want to dunk, we should bring professional dunkers in,” Beecham said.
Professional entertainers are also helping the growth of the women’s game. Bree Green was once known as a member of the Harlem Globetrotters, but she now takes on the internet’s top ballers in one-on-one matchups. At All-Star Weekend, Green’s busy schedule includes a spot in the Beautiful Ballers league, which brings together female players.
Levitt told Tubefilter that Long Haul clients like Green have had the opportunity to do live commentary for basketball games. “I definitely see a growing movement for female creators to be included in everything we’re doing,” he said.
The line between basketball influencers and basketball pros is blurrier than ever before, and All-Star Weekend is the place where those two groups can enter into a mutually-beneficial relationship. The preponderance of NBA talent at the event helps creators like Beecham grow their channels. In exchange, those creators use their on-camera skills to breathe life into the annual celebration of all things basketball. I’ll be rooting for McClung to take down the NBA players who will challenge him in the Dunk Contest. If he does, influencers are likely to play even larger roles at the All-Star Games of the future.