Sports creator Jesser is dominating the basketball game on YouTube. Here’s how he does it.

By 05/05/2023
Sports creator Jesser is dominating the basketball game on YouTube. Here’s how he does it.

On YouTube, Jesse Riedel has a hot hand. Riedel, best known as Jesser, reaches 13.1 million subscribers on his main channel, which focuses on sports — particularly basketball. Riedel has parlayed his hardcourt skills into a series of high-profile collabs with the NBA, including an official tryout for a pro team and a spot in the annual All-Star Celebrity Game.

These opportunities didn’t pop up overnight. They’re the result of a multi-year campaign to grow Riedel’s digital presence. A key figure leading that campaign is Marko Preocanin, also known as Rizzle. Preocanin joined Jesser’s team in 2020 and has since become an Executive Producer, working across the 24-year-old’s network of channels. Tubefilter caught up with Rizzle to uncover the secrets behind YouTube’s biggest basketball creator.

Rizzle is part of a growing team that works behind-the-scenes on Jesser videos.

After graduating from the University of Birmingham in England, Preocanin got a job on the secondary Jesser channel, now known as Jesser Reacts. As he transitioned into a more versatile role, he linked up with a growing number of colleagues. He told Tubefilter that the Jesser payroll included four people when he joined. About a dozen in-person hires have since been added, and a “team of roughly 30 people” now works on Jesser videos.


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As Riedel has brought in more help behind-the-scenes, he’s grown in front of the camera. When Preocanin joined in 2020, the main Jesser channel had about one million subscribers. By 2022, that hub had grown enough to add seven million subscribers in a single calendar year.

The Jesser channel grew consistently in 2022. Data via Gospel Stats.

Riedel’s viewership is even more impressive. His monthly traffic grew consistently throughout 2022 before peaking at 276.8 million monthly views in December.

That total compares favorably to major sports league. According to Preocanin, the main Jesser hub has beaten both the primary NBA and NFL YouTube channels in terms of monthly viewership. In October 2022, Jesser topped out at 249 million monthly views, while the NFL only hit 200 million monthly views and the NBA reached 189 million monthly views.

With a smaller team behind him, Jesser is competing with major media companies — and winning.

Like so much YouTube content, it all starts with the thumbnail.

Preocanin broke the Jesser YouTube strategy into three parts. And the first bullet point will look familiar to longtime online video producers.

  • You need a good package

Every Jesser upload begins with a basic structure, a thumbnail, a title, and a series of “hooks” that will play out during the video. When executed properly, those elements put in work before a viewer even clicks on the thumbnail image. A strong package can cause a viewer’s eyes to stutter for a second during their scrolling. That’s enough time to deliver a clickthrough.

“You want to find a medium where it is clickbait to an extent, but where you’re like, ‘wow, that’s interesting,'” Preocanin told Tubefilter. “You click on it and the thumbnail delivers within the first 30 seconds.”

As an example, Preocanin cited a recent collab between Riedel and Memphis Grizzlies star Jaren Jackson, Jr. The video’s title promises an appearance from an NBA All-Star, and Jackson, Jr. appears on screen almost immediately.

  • Make video for viewers, not yourself.

Preocanin warned that creators can sometimes get tunnel vision when they are exploring their own interests. Passion is important, but it’s equally vital to keep viewers engaged, and that sometimes requires a step outside of one’s comfort zone. “Every video is as if you’re appealing to a new viewer,” Preocanin said.

For Riedel, flexibility leads to videos that stray beyond his favorite pastime. Even though he is best known for basketball, he has unleashed content across a variety of athletic pursuits, and the Jesser Reacts channel explores subjects outside of sports. Preocanin also noted that Jesser videos avoid inside jokes, so that viewers don’t ever feel as if they have to catch up before watching new uploads.

  • Analyzing retention graphs will keep viewers hooked.

Preocanin admits that the Jesser team “can never fully script a video because there’s so much which is unknown.” If a video centers around one of Riedel’s basketball games, the storyline will depend on the outcome.

Despite that uncertainty, Preocanin leaves little to chance. He studies YouTube retention graphs to see the points when viewers lose interest and the moments when they’re drawn in. The conclusions drawn from that data inform creative decisions.

“We spend a lot of hours just looking over the footage again and again and again, making sure that we really nail the exact pinpoints where there might be dead space,” Preocanin told Tubefilter. He and his colleagues ask questions like “What can we add to the video to get people back enthralled in the content and watching?”

To build that sense of enthrallment, it’s crucial to “level up” a video until it reaches its climax. Preocanin’s goal is for viewers to get “stuck.” He wants them committed to the video because they’re waiting for a big payoff at the end.

In Riedel’s recap of his All-Star Celebrity Game, that payoff involves the coach of his start-studded team: Two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. Though the Greek Freak coached Riedel through his Celebrity Game experience, the two don’t interact until the end of the video, when Antetokounmpo praises Riedel for his hustle and rebounding.

“People are really engaged in the video overall,” Preocanin said. “There’s not really opportunities for them to click off.”

It all adds up to a new kind of sports broadcast.

Riedel recently joined two of his fellow BucketSquad members to stream an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz. It can be tricky to apply all of these ideas about attention to an NBA game, since pro basketball action is filled with fouls, stoppages, and commercials.

But Riedel and co. found a way to keep the excitement high. During breaks in the action, they competed against one another in basketball-themed challenges. The result was an alternative broadcast fueled with a unique style of sports commentary. “That’s kind of a nice crossover, where you’re still watching the game and you’re still engaged, but in the downtime, there’s other stuff going on other than just ads,” Preocanin told Tubefilter.

With collabs like these, Riedel is establishing himself as a new media star powered by both data and charm. Preocanin’s strategies are bolstered by Riedel’s “amazing personality” and his strong work ethic. “You want to inject your own ingenuity and your own ideas and your own personality, along with packaging it in a way that appeals to the algorithm,” Preocanin said.

With that combo behind him, Riedel is ready to take on categories that go far beyond the game of basketball. His short-form videos are mostly “not NBA related,” Preocanin said. Instead, there is an emphasis on “physical comedy” that translates around the globe. The Jesser brand is extending its reach without giving up its hoops-themed basis.

So what does Preocanin plan to accomplish? He hopes to reach 25 million subscribers on the main Jesser channel by the end of 2023, and he also wants to produce a short that gets at least 100 million views. That’s a tall order, but Riedel will continue to put in effort in order to reach his full potential as a creator. Don’t believe me? Just ask Giannis.

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