The Global Media Weekly for executives and entrepreneurs

Why US school sports site is ‘audience first’

There has always been this debate about what should come first: a great product or an audience. Some argue that the product is the most important thing and then you figure out how to build an audience for it. Others argue that you won’t really know what product to build until you’ve got the right audience. 

I take the audience-first approach. If you have an audience, launching new products becomes significantly easier because you’re already communicating with your target customer. Compare that to launching something fresh and then having to find people to buy it. I’d always prefer having an audience first.

Overtime is a good example of that. According to The Wall Street Journal:

Overtime Sports Inc., which targets younger fans on digital and social platforms, has raised $80m in funding to pursue plans including the launch of its own high-school basketball league, the company said. The sports media and entertainment venture also hopes to tap the broader interest in nonfungible tokens and sports betting.

In September, the company plans to introduce its basketball league featuring top male high-school players, called Overtime Elite. The league will also function as a high school for roughly 30 rising juniors and seniors, who will all live in one location and earn a minimum annual salary of $100,000 as they play and take classes toward a high school diploma, according to the company. They will also be able to earn money from their likenesses in marketing deals, and receive professional training in areas such as financial literacy and media training.

Overtime has been in business since 2016 and has been building an audience that entire time. It has started monetizing through advertising and then, when the brand became sufficiently large, it spread into commerce by creating its own line of merchandise. Only after years of having a deeply engaged audience has it made this big step into launching a league. 

This is the right approach. Creating and sustaining a league is going to be a lot of work. There are dozens of failed attempts at creating leagues over professional sports history. One big way of ensuring that this works out, in the long run, is to already have fans from the launch. 

The league is also a smart way to create secondary content. Many people will watch the actual basketball games, but for those that don’t, all of this footage will bring Overtime right back to its roots of posting highlights. 

But it’s more than that. Because Overtime is focused on high school sports, it builds a relationship with a younger audience. By solidifying that engagement today, it can build and grow over the coming years. We can see this playing out with some of its future monetization ideas. 

According to WSJ, Overtime is going to be creating more content about sports betting. This has been a big growth area for all sports over the past few years with more localities in the United States legalizing it. Increasingly, leagues are going to want a cut of this revenue. 

Presently, sports betting is controlled by much larger companies in the space. My suspicion is that over the next ten years, as Overtime’s audience begins to have disposable income, the brand will take a disproportionate percentage of sports gambling revenue. It’s very simple. Because they already have this audience demographic, they’ll be in a much better place to monetize. 

Irrespective of how Overtime wants to monetize—ads, merchandise, leagues, sports betting, or whatever—it’s in control of that destiny to a far greater degree than other companies. It has millions of people that are hooked on its content. As it introduces new products and features, it’ll have a customer base that is already primed to participate. 

In the debate of audience vs. product and which should come first, I’d say Overtime is a classic example of building an audience first and then letting the product follow. 


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