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By Seb Joseph, News editor

April 19, 2016 | 7 min read

When a business is predicated on making football videos for YouTube with no rights to football then that leads it on a certain journey.

It’s that path to monetisation Copa90 has taken its first steps toward in recent months, quickening its transformation from YouTube channel to a sports media network. From pre-ordained commissions to the live authenticity of publishing straight to its site or on Snapchat, the media brand isn’t just accepting briefs but also commissioning its own content.

That’s testament to how quickly Copa90 has grown up since its arrival in 2012, averaging nearly 3.6m views, 13.8m minutes watched every month and boasts over 10 million subscribers or followers globally. There’s also the fact that it’s just racked up a billion video views and the average time per fan per week spends 47 minutes with Copa90 content

Figures like that are attracting larger advertisers. Adidas, Hyundai and Nissan have been working with Copa90 for some time, while it is banking on interest in the nail-biting end to the Premier League next month to swell interest in its services, as well as the UEFA European Championship and the Olympics this summer. Such is the allure of Copa90’s audience, who aren’t just on YouTube but increasingly on messaging apps, that two of football’s governing bodies UEFA and the FA have both tasked the team briefs in the past.

But people aren’t just watching Copa90 on its own platforms. Increasingly, the business is looking to sell its content to other media owners, having recently secured a deal to get on Virgin Media set-top boxes. Other deals are in the pipeline as it looks to create a distribution network that can rival the breadth and depth of its production capability.

Bringing media and entertainment together

For such a young brand, the publisher-cum-broadcaster is fast becoming a focal point for supporters who would rather watch their favourite ballers playing ‘Fifa and chilling’ with influencers they follow on Snapchat instead of relying on Soccer AM for their banter-fuelled football fix. The modern fan wants to consume everything in and around the game; from the sights, the sounds, and the travel to the heart-warming story of a 90-year old supporter in Italy and the wisecracks of presenters Poet and Vuj, this is content that’s a million miles from what’s shown on Sky or BT Sport. And it’s something Copa90 believes it’s only just scratched the surface of what could be achieved.

“I don’t believe the traditional broadcaster can alone satisfy the appetite of the modern football fan,” said James Kirkham, head of Copa90, who will be presenting at Advertising Week later today (20 April). “We’re not set up as a political business and so aren’t aligned to any football entity or club. That neutrality ultimately means we’re on behalf of the fans. You’d be mad to ignore the power the power that they have because the moment everyone starts walking out this game changes completely. What we’re trying to do is exploit those moments.”

Those moments, Kirkham explained, reside in the view that Copa90 exists at a time when supporters are being ignored and fans are being marginalised in football. While this is something that’s core to the brand, the idea of powering supporter culture has only been core to the business plan for 18 months. How adept Copa90 has become at being that community for the younger generation of football fans will be for all to see at this year’s Euros, which is almost being used as a test run for the inevitably politically charged 2018 World Cup in Russia.

“I think football more than any other major entertainment sector is the one that’s not catered for by traditional media because there are people who turn off their TV as soon as the match is over when there isn’t anything they’d want to watch,” said Kirkham.

To offer something viewers will want to see, Copa90 plans to beam a live show to its subscribers each day of the Euros from the host country Paris. Hosted by football-obsessed Australian Eli, the show will aggregate content from Copa90 creators both in France and around the world, alongside regular features such as the ‘Comments Below’ review of fan posts about the previous day’s games and exclusive coverage of some of the sponsor events on the ground. Additionally, Snapchat will play a big role as well as WhatsApp, which Kirkham teased could play host to a Copa90 group that would give brands access to its members.

“The show will be edited and create in 12-hours and we think it will be new way of consuming true fan’s perspective of what’s going on,” he added.

The best of Vice and Buzzfeed worlds

Producing so much content in such a short space of time is a massive undertaking. One that Kirkham is confident Copa90 can overcome because of the way the business is structured. “Close-knit’, ‘multi-skilled’ and ‘polymaths’ are among the flurry of adjectives Kirkham rattles through when talking about colleagues who are more than likely to oversee a shoot one evening and then work up the social content around it the next, or have meetings that closely resemble the kind usually consigned to newsrooms.

Given Copa90’s ambition to become a serious media player, it’s perhaps not surprising then that it’s setup is similar to Buzzfeed or Vice, whereby the focus is on speed and agility but not at the expense of quality journalism.

“We’re allowing people to exploit their own creativity by flipping between different areas because that means we get more interesting work,” said Kirkham. “And we do this by continually rotating the teams, putting people in different departments. It’s keeping things fresh and to some extent creating that sense of uncomfortableness that we’ve learnt from other companies to try and make this place the best it can be.”

Pressures to have discoverable content and a scalable business model have forced Copa90 to get serious about the data it collects. The business claims to “track everything”, cutting and splicing its data in whatever way its advertisers need. Rather than confine it to a team of data specialists, those same experts are given a weekly platform to share insights and feedback with the wider team. “It’s about getting data and creativity to work together,” sai Kirkham.

“The way we’re using data to inform next week’s creative for content on social or to resurface old content a part of a smart repeat strategy.”

Copa90 is still at the beginning of its transformation and part of that will be defining a sustainable role for itself within the agency dynamic. While it would no doubt love to deal direct with all its advertisers all the time, the reality is that the business has to be able to work with all stakeholders on an account and trust its qualities to shine through.

“We’re happy to collaborate because we provide the football piece of the [media] plan,” said Kirkham. “The agency model for a brand is fraught with politics whereas they can come to Copa90 and get a media solution and also get 25m reach from a beautiful film. It’s the complete solution that Vice started to sell very well but if you combine that with the speed and agility of Buzzfeed then that’s what we’re trying to go for.”

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