With YouTube, a New Age for Pro Sports

Marty Cordova, COO for Bent Pixels, was Major League Baseball’s 1995 Rookie of the Year. Here he shares insights on why pro athletes and entertainment brands will make the move to YouTube, and how we’ll spectate in the future.

I’ve been a pro ball player and an ESPN and Fox radio commentator. I’m also the guy who coaches UFC President Dana White’s kid at Pop Warner football. But today, I’m best known as an executive for Bent Pixels, a top 20 certified YouTube multi-channel network.

As COO for Bent Pixels, I help guide our technical team and expand our relationships with pro athletes and sports teams. We’re both a technology company and a leading multi-channel network (MCN) on YouTube. I help major sports and entertainment brands make the move to YouTube as an online entertainment platform.

Day to day, my job is to oversee revenue, accounting, and contracts in addition to helping channels with digital rights management. I’m also point for Bent Pixels on client relations, tasked with getting our network partners prompt answers to questions and making sure we’re doing all we can to help them succeed.

This is a new industry. Some very high-profile retired athletes are starting to see the revenue potential of a YouTube channel, but not as many active pros see the value. When they’re making $10 million a year it’s hard to think ahead to the fact that some day they won’t be competing. And then what?

Everybody knows the transition from the field to the next phase of life is tough for pro athletes. You’re generally coming from a high-spending lifestyle with lots of money coming in. Then suddenly you’re not earning. People have to figure out quickly how they’re going to both generate revenue and cut back on outgoing expenses.

Some ex-pros may think that because they’re athletes, if they put their name on something it will succeed. But after 20-plus years in the real estate business and now in the tech industry, I’ve learned that if you’re not 100% involved things go wrong. You have to work at it every day, and you have to love it. It’s much more challenging because when you’re a pro athlete, you’re successful just doing what comes naturally, through your physical gifts. But there’s nothing innate about knowing how to run a successful business, even if it’s as simple as a hot dog stand.

There are some analogies to what’s going on in the fledgling YouTube industry and how the big leagues operate. I saw a lot of waste in Major League Baseball. You can lose money running a team, but every year the value of the franchise might still grow $50 million, so there’s an element of artificiality to the profit line. Likewise, lots of our competitors in the YouTube space are venture-funded, so they have a deep cushion. We’re like the Oakland As of MCNs — focused on every dollar, on being nimble and able to capitalize quickly on new opportunities. The services our clients get are as good as what the venture-backed MCNs provide, but we’re profitable, which is not the norm for our industry.

Looking ahead, we see mixed martial arts, soccer, and skateboarding drawing bigger pro sports fan bases because they are capitalizing on the YouTube platform and cultivating younger fans who want interactivity. In five years, there will be a lot more real-time fan involvement through internet-streamed sporting events, with insider content, live comment ability, polls, fan predictions, and giveaways. I could envision the guy in the hole giving comments on whoever’s at bat, and a dugout cam, for example.

There are highs and lows in this business, just like in baseball. When I played for the Twins, I was Rookie of the Year in 1995. I was also involved on the losing side of David Wells’ perfect game in 1998, which was our perfect nightmare.

At Bent Pixels, we briefly lost a key client who represented a substantial portion of our monthly views, because they felt they could manage their channel on their own. Then they came back to us. We knew we had started something successful when we reached 100 million monthly views, and we’re now approaching 500 million. It’s a different kind of win, but for someone like me who loves to compete, it’s extremely satisfying.

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