Now more than ever, consumers are investing time in watching sports and video games, a behavioural trend that marketers are becoming more aware of - and there are valuable marketing opportunities where these two passions coincide. 

Games such as FIFA, Madden NFL and Pro Evolution Soccer are among the biggest-selling titles globally, with each franchise selling over 100 million copies throughout their history. And what’s more, gaming is increasingly considered a spectator sport in its own right. 

So it makes sense that on YouTube, the watch time of videos on these topics is expanding rapidly. There are myriad opportunities for brands to reach engaged consumers watching content about both sport and gaming - and everything in between. 

When it comes to sport, people have a voracious appetite for watching highlights, live streams, behind-the-scenes footage and content created by their favourite athletes. With gaming, the content viewers love is just as rich and varied. In fact, one category of gaming videos called 'Let's Play' - where YouTube creators play, discuss and review video games - has become as much of a pastime for consumers as playing the games themselves, especially where sports games are concerned.

A home for all things sport 

Brands recognise that YouTube is home to a massive audience for sports, seeing growth in some major categories since last year. Between June 2019 and June 2020, watch time in the UK of rugby videos on the platform increased by more than 100%, golf by 120% and cycling by 70%. 

Sky Sports marketing director Robbie Balfour says the brand uses watch time trends like these to inform its approach on YouTube in order to reach people effectively. Audiences with an affinity for sports don’t come to the platform for repurposed TV content, so the data influences how the brand adapts its advertising creative, targeting methodology and content strategy to viewing behaviours. 

“We do not just lift ads and content from our TV channels but look at what viewers are already engaging with on YouTube and how we can align ourselves with that,” he says. “You also have to take into account the tone and length of content to capture viewer attention early.” 


He says YouTube enables Sky Sports to extend its broadcasts through online content and also create a “story” through its advertising, retargeting users with sequential messages that ultimately encourage them to become customers. The brand focuses its YouTube campaigns on important moments such as the start of the new football season or the Formula One calendar to provide a tangible call to action. 

Beyond the sports and seasons themselves, brands recognise that consumers also want to know more about the individuals playing them. Since last year, watch time of videos about professional golfers has risen by 190%, for example. This indicates viewers are using YouTube to explore their passion for sports more deeply than just watching the game or the edited highlights. 

This passion is fuelled by the amazing content from a plethora of YouTube channels and creators across the UK and globally. From humorous animations by 442oons (3.2 million subscribers), to videos showcasing spectacular footballing skills by F2Freestylers (12.5 million), and athletes such as Manchester United footballer Jessie Lingard (314,000) giving a glimpse into their personal lives, YouTube is where where UK's sports fans can and do find the content they love. 

Many sportspeople are also creating fitness content, which contributed to there being more than 44 million UK views of exercise-related videos between March and April of this year. In an episode of ‘This Is My YouTube’, football pundit and former England defender Rio Ferdinand explains that he and his wife, TV personality Kate Ferdinand, have recently started their own YouTube channel - Ferdinand Fitness - boasting 19,300 subscribers and growing.

While a creator, Rio Ferdinand also uses YouTube to improve his craft in sports punditry. “I watch videos because I am interested in the sports, but I also watch them to learn and see how other people are doing their punditry and structure their discussions and debates,” he says. “I can reference things when I go into my workplace. US pundits, for example, are more animated.”  

With consumers and sportspeople delving into content that goes far beyond the on-field action, brands are similarly seeing its value in reaching sport-loving audiences. Balfour says Sky Sports attempts to “bring people closer” to the sports carried on its channels through YouTube videos exploring the backgrounds of their top stars, making the most of the access it gets to them as an official broadcaster. 

In these in-depth interviews and behind-the-scenes videos, the production values are often designed to be closer to that of YouTube creators than polished TV shows to better fit the medium. The pandemic has given user-generated content a new role in the broadcaster’s advertising campaigns too, Balfour adds. 

“The impact on the sporting world has been profound, and YouTube has provided a way to communicate our position and be sympathetic to what is happening in sport and beyond it. We have leaned quite heavily on user-generated content because it is a true and authentic reflection of what people are going through as sports fans.” In the case of both its content strategy and its ad campaigns, Balfour says a user-generated feel helps create “a more one-to-one, intimate experience, which I think people expect from YouTube”.

Video games are for watching, not just playing 

Like sports videos, gaming content is also flying on YouTube, which is not surprising when you consider Goldman Sachs forecasts esports will have as big an audience as the NFL by 2022. 

In anticipation of this demand, more than 35 million channels uploaded a gaming video to YouTube in 2019. And more than 55,000 new channels that uploaded at least one gaming video in 2019 saw their subscriber numbers exceed 100,000 within that time. So clearly, gaming content can drive growth and awareness of channels and brands.  

However, consumers are doing more than just watching videos of others playing games they love, including expert and professional gamers. They want to see the commentary and reviews as well. Overall, this category is an ecosystem ripe for incredibly high engagement, reflected in the subscriber numbers of some of the most popular YouTube channels. 

KSI - one of the UK’s most subscribed YouTube creators, with over 32 million across two channels - started out posting videos of himself playing and commentating on games, before branching out to become a rap artist and boxer. Meanwhile, content creators such as DanTDM (23.9 million subscribers), LazarBeam (17 million) and LDShadowLady (5.4 million) boast impressive numbers that should make marketers sit up and take notice.

In ‘This Is My YouTube’, Rio and Kate Ferdinand demonstrate how gaming content has pervaded mainstream culture, as they laugh about Rio’s status as a ‘legend’ in EA Sports’ FIFA football game. He specifically points to his match on YouTube against KSI, which has been watched more than 3.2 million times. 

It’s just one piece of evidence to show that gamers are no longer the niche audience that marketers might once have believed. They’re a growing and engaged consumer base for a variety of brands to reach through either gaming lineups via YouTube Select for their next media campaign or partnerships with the creators themselves. 

The best of both worlds 

As sport and gaming are both mainstream interests in their own right, it’s no surprise that audiences are now watching sports video games on YouTube, and even playing video games as a sport, more than ever. In fact, UK watch time of sports video games on YouTube increased over 40% since last year. 

As well as the impressive engagement levels, brands can target a large segment of consumers for whom these strongly associated interests are combined. Balfour says Sky Sports’ marketers have discussed at length the crossover opportunities between gaming and sport. 

“If you scan around the Sky Sports [TV programmes] you’ll see how much FIFA is integrated because our viewers are interested in gaming,” he says. “Even our pundits play the game and are aware of their own stats [as in-game players], so gaming is a rich territory for content creation for us to reach that crossover audience.”  

This extends, for example, to EA Sports sponsoring Sky Sports’ Saturday Social TV show, clips from which then often take the featured position at the top of the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel. Not only this, the channel also live-streams a number of FIFA esports competitions, such as the ePremier League. It’s a clear indication that Sky Sports recognises how YouTube watch time of sports game content is growing - and that following this trend will lead to high audience engagement, as well as a chance to grow its subscriber base on the platform and maintain awareness for fans. 

Rio Ferdinand appreciates how many fans use gaming to act out their sporting dreams too – and admits that many players see their inclusion in a video game as a sign of success. As he comments in ‘This Is My YouTube’: “When you are a kid playing a computer game you obviously want to make it as a player but you do think, if I ever make it onto a computer game…wow.”  

This encapsulates the intense appeal of both sports and games – and it’s equally potent for consumers and the stars who they follow. What’s more, brands such as Sky Sports are seeing just how powerful the combination of these interests can be for producing engaging content, creating effective ads and reaching huge numbers of potential customers.


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