Commentary

Whistle Sports Lures Millions To 'Live' Basketball Tourney You've Probably Never Heard Of

When Twitter live streams some NFL games this fall, fans will be able to watch and simultaneously react with instant commentary, without having to leave the gamecast to do it.

Live streaming and especially live streaming of sports, is where the immediate future is. Live streaming with live commentary just makes it better.

Whistle Sports, the youth-oriented sports app with an astounding 200 million subscribers across all kinds of platforms, gets a lot of its power from invented sports competitions. So it's natural it landed the rights to put the first two rounds of games of the fledgling thing called The Basketball Tournament on Facebook Live.

That’s 48 games played in four cities, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are where I was a few days ago when I first heard about it.

The Basketball Tournament started two years ago; it’s kind of more structured version of a pick-up league.

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Regular people  put together a team--often recent college players--and solicit fans. From there the people who run the one-game elimination tournament pick its participants. The late lamented Website Grantland.com explained it best in 2014, the first year, when the winning team got $500,000. This year, the winner gets $2 million, and the final game gets played on one of the ESPN channels.

Last weekend, when Whistle Sports carried the first games on its Facebook page, it said it reached 23.5 million people. In one of the best games, Whistle Sports got over 2,673 reactions and/shares in the second half alone. That isn’t the Super Bowl, but considering Facebook Live is new and so is The Basketball Tournament, that says something about the potency of live streaming.

This weekend, Whistle Sports will carry The Basketball Tournament’s next round, from Philadelphia and Chicago. Out there, there are people who already knew that and plan to be watching. That’s amazing to me.

“If you told me five years ago that like this would be a significant factor online, I probably would have said, ‘Well, I don’t know...But maybe someday,’ “ said Brian Selander, Whistle Sports executive vice president, mouthing the comment I would have made if you asked me, oh, say, last Friday.

Things are moving fast. The first time Whistle Sports tried a live event on Facebook was last year, when it staged a typical Whistle Sports competition: Participants competed to toss garbage into a receptacle outside a New York City park hamburger concession stand.

Whistle Sports bought the Lacrosse Network in 2014, when Whistle itself was a pipsqueak, and has shown live lacrosse on YouTube ever since, but the Facebook react is something else. “You see all these people putting in ‘thumbs up’ or sad faces or happy faces,’ “ Selander says. And that’s energizing.

Whistle Sports has an association with the NFL, and it’s hard to believe the league and digital sports outlet aren’t cooking up something live, and NFL-approved weird for YouTube or Facebook’s live services.

In the meantime, working with NBC, Whistle Sports has concocted a “customized indoor golf simulator” in New York that lets unsuspecting golfers “play” the Royal Troon course where the Open begins tomorrow, not immediately realizing “surprise elements” will make every shot way more challenging/ridiculous.

Like, there’s a lot of wind at Royal Troon--Whistle Sports revs up a powerful hair dryer just as a golfer is waiting to tee off. It’s showing up on The Golf Channel, Instagram, YouTube and more.

pj@mediapost.com

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