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Long before influencer marketing was established, a group of emerging YouTube creators descended upon Venice Beach in California in 2009.
Together they created ‘The Station’ — a lineup including the biggest YouTube stars at the time (Shane Dawson, Kassem G, Phil DeFranco, Dave Days, Shay Carl, and Lisa Donovan). By coming together, they became the “online-video version of the Brat Pack”. The cross-promotion created a ‘rising tides lift all boats’ scenario.
By the end of the year, The Station became the second most-watched web series on YouTube. Although there was a rotating cast with some talent splintering off, a subsection of The Station of creators continued to work together for years to come. They rebranded themselves as Maker Studios.
By the end of 2012, they were generating over two billion views a month. By 2014 they were acquired by Disney for $550 million dollars.
Since then the tactic of forming collaboration networks and ‘collab houses’ has only gotten more refined with each generation of creators.
In 2015, the top Vine talent all moved into an apartment complex at 1600 Vine Street in Hollywood to collaborate. In 2017 infamous YouTuber Jake Paul created ‘Team 10’ a collective of YouTubers he personally selected to live and work together. With the advent of TikTok, a new crop of creators has adopted the tactic — known as the Hype House, which includes Charli D’Amelio and over a dozen others.
The tactic is tried and true. By living in close proximity, creators are able to grow quickly and it’s easier to collaborate. There’s no scheduling time and driving across town. When creators live and work under one roof every moment is an opportunity for content creation.
The ability to cross-pollinate audiences creates a 1+1 = 3 scenario.
Most recently, we’re seeing the NBA experience their own pseudo ‘collab house’ in the form of “The Bubble.” It’s the NBA’s inventive solution to keep the 2020 season alive while navigating the effects of COVID-19. Players are in Orlando, Florida quarantined off from the rest of the world. They will live, work, and socialize without their families or friends for the next four months of the NBA seasons.
Due to being in such close proximity, players are appearing in each other’s social media posts — cross-promoting one another and their social media footprints are exploding.
Most notably Matisse Thybulle.
A rookie on the 76ers, Thybulle started a vlog series ‘Welcome To The Bubble’. Thybulle’s first vlog, sharing his first day in The Bubble went live on July 11th. Within two weeks he generated 300k subscribers and 4 million views.
Other star players such as Jordan Clarkson, Rudy Gobert, Josh Hart have turned their focus to gaming. The three are the most high-profile NBA players regularly streaming on Twitch.
Gordon Hayward, a forward for the Celtics, has been blogging his experiences.
The league has always been a bit of a soap opera that revolves around star players. In the book, Personal Foul, disgraced NBA referee Tim Donaghy wrote that (the fans) “they pay to see superstars like Kobe Bryant score 40 points. Basketball purists like to see good defense, but the NBA wants the big names to score big points.”
What If the biggest stars are no longer the best players with the best skills? What if the biggest stars are the ones with the biggest audience online?
According to the WSJ, a typical pre-season game last year averaged 885,000 viewers, and Thybulle’s first YouTube video has more views than that.
With an audience comes leverage.
The NBA should begin looking at the business differently.
Rather than focusing on the NBA as a vehicle to sell advertising against games, they should look at it through the lens of a record label. The NBA is investing in and promoting these players. They should provide resources to players in the form of production and social media teams. Help them build their audiences, and in return get a portion of that IP and/or use it as additional marketing and advertising channel.
The world is changing. In adapting, and helping players grow their audiences, the NBA could help themselves.
Note: Since I first submitted this piece a lot has happened within the NBA. Teams went on strike to fight for social justice in the wake of the Jacob Blake Shooting. NBA players in The Bubble banded together and initiated conversations with team owners across the league about social justice issues. Players amplified their message and drove awareness of the cause across their own social channels. Thus far, the players brought about meaningful change in the form of NBA arenas becoming polling stations for the upcoming election.
As I noted above, with an audience comes leverage. In this instance, players are wielding that audience for not just monetary gain, but for social good.