This Startup Delivers Athletic Entertainers That Millennials Love

Whistle Sports will pitch quirky performers and lacrosse at NewFronts

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Brian Selander got his start in politics, helping run Bill Bradley's 2000 bid for president and then serving as strategy chief for Delaware Governor Jack Markell. A New Jersey native with a love for New York's pro sports teams and an appetite for business and technology, he couldn't resist breaking away from government when he was offered an evp role with Whistle Sports, which launched last year.

"There's actually a surprising overlap between [political] campaign and startup life," the 38-year-old said. "You work incredible hours on something that's in no way guaranteed. [And], you wind up having to raise money before anybody knows how things are going to work out." 

So far, things seem to be working out quite well for Selander and his team. They are getting ready for their first Digital Content NewFronts presentation, having quickly built a digital media machine that targets millennial males with buzzy videos from its roster of creators, which includes Indi Cowie and Dude Perfect, whose underwater nerf football "blaster" game video drew 21 million YouTube views. Sports Whistle has caught YouTube's eye and is being featured in the tech giant's NewFronts campaign that launched last week.

We spoke Selander about the upcoming conference and other relevant topics. Below are excerpts from the conversation.

Adweek: The NewFronts is a big deal for such a young company. How are you going to make the most of it?

Selander: We'll feature our relationships with brands and highlight our creators roster as well as pro-league partners like the NBA and MLB, which make us unique in the space.

What do you offer brands?

For Buick, as a recent example, we got some of our creators like [Vine star] Brodie Smith together for an NCAA Tournament bracket showdown, featuring some awesome trick shots.

Each of our creators went across their own social media channels to promote their trick shots. When it was done, there were 1.7 million Vine loops for the Brodie Smith clip alone. Buick was speaking to our core audience. So when you're 15 or 16, it can impact the purchase of your first car.

What's attracting so many millennial guys to your digital properties?

There is this whole generation of athlete all-stars like Indi Cowie and Dude Perfect that don't play on pro teams or in big stadiums. But to people under 25, they are every bit the sports celebrities. Instead of sitting on a couch and watching them once in a while [like in traditional sports], young people are engaging with them a couple times a day online.

You've had great success creating baseball content for millennials. What advice do you have for marketers who've been so frustrated with that demo?

Everything we do is short form. And we try to create content that will get immediate engagement. Typically, it moves quickly and is funny.

What about other sports?

We got millions of basketball fans, and work with leagues like the NBA, Major League Lacrosse, etc. There are around 800,000 lacrosse players in the U.S., and we have 550,000 subscribers to our lacrosse channels. It's a massive reach of the fastest-growing sports demographic in America. The sport has its own LeBron James type of superstar in Paul Rabil.


A video posted by Indi Cowie (@indicowie) on

YouTube and Facebook are going head-to-head in video these days. Which is more important to your company?

Facebook actually surpassed YouTube in total number of subscribers and likes last fall. And there's this great YouTube ecosystem around video, which is still really important. But when we release a video on Facebook and YouTube, it can be a toss-up about which one breaks 2 million views first. 

Those numbers should interest marketers. What else do they need to know about Brodie Smith, Trick Shot Boys, Dude Perfect, etc.?

They are not just sports celebrities—guys think of them as their friends.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.