Copa90 reaching its lofty goals with soccer focus
For most of the fans and media companies watching this past summer’s FIFA World Cup, the focus was on catching the highlights players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo might create.
For Copa90, the focus was on highlighting what it means to be a soccer fan and creating the content to match.
“Football culture is all enveloping, it never turns off,” said Tom Thirlwall, CEO of Copa90, a soccer content company. “We are a 365-day-a-year football brand, and whether it’s a World Cup, Champions League match, NWSL Final, MLS match, international friendly or whenever your local club is playing, Copa90 is going to be there and telling stories around it.”
In Russia, those stories included a discussion on Copa90’s YouTube channel about whether or not the World Cup was masking another side of the host country, and there was additional content across Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
The company, which almost strictly publishes video content, saw its World Cup content exceed more than 650 million views across those platforms during the tournament, including more than 31 million viewers on Snapchat alone. It also had a partnership with NBCUniversal’s Telemundo during the tournament, helping funnel the network’s digital content from a selected group of 30 Hispanic soccer fans and influencers.
HEADQUARTERS: London (global); New York, Los Angeles (U.S.)
NO. OF EMPLOYEES: 100
WHAT IT DOES: Produces documentaries, features and branded content for companies around the world.
■ Tag Heuer
Copa90 was launched in 2012 by London-based content company Bigballs Media, a digital production company. Initially it focused primarily on European and international soccer, but it acquired MLS-owned media platform KickTV in 2015, which it used as its launching point into the U.S.
The company has seen massive growth in the short time since, with more than 1 billion views on its content, a social and digital network that reaches more than 250 million viewers and a content creator network that exceeds 500 people from more than 50 countries.
“Our principles have been simple: Tell a good story, really understand the audience and turn them into advocates and fans — and then build a business around that,” Thirlwall said. “Our fans are united with us in the philosophy of championing football culture and celebrating the unity of that community.”
Copa90 is expecting to do about $20 million in revenue in 2018, which Thirlwall said is the result of 100 percent revenue growth year-over-year each of the last three years. The company also is forecasting 100 percent revenue growth next year, he said.
Earlier this year, Infront Sports, the marketing group owned by Dalian Wanda, acquired 10 percent of Copa90, valuing it at more than $93 million. Other investors include MLS, Liberty Global and Turner. The company has raised more than $22 million.
Tom Thirlwall: CEO
James Kirkham: Chief Business Officer
Ross Whittow-Williams: COO
While Copa90 has found success with its own documentaries, features and other produced content, its biggest driver of revenue is branded content. Roughly 70 percent of its revenue in 2018 came from working directly with brands on creative or strategic projects that Thirlwall called “solving their soccer activation plans.” Twenty-five percent of its revenue came from advertising on its own media products.
That focus on branded content is especially prominent in the U.S., where Copa90 works with brands such as Allstate, Audi, Heineken and Tag Heuer to activate around the sport as well as their MLS league-level partnerships. Copa90 signed a partnership with Soccer United Marketing in February that calls for new content around properties that SUM represents such as the Mexican National Team in the U.S., MLS and the CONCACAF Champions League, as well as allowing SUM commercial partners to utilize Copa90’s branded content studio and be integrated into the company’s own soccer programming.
Rob Ryder, Heineken brand manager and the person in charge of executing the company’s U.S. soccer marketing, said that Copa90’s deep roots in the sport and its fan-first approach has made its branded content successful.
“What immediately clicked for me with them was that we didn’t have to explain what soccer was, or the rules, or what it’s like to be a fan — they are season-ticket holders, they’re ex-players,” Ryder said. “Copa90 is in there with the fans, freezing their bones off before a match and chanting, getting drinks spilled on them as smoke flares are going off — you as a fan identify with what they’re doing, and that’s what they’re tapping into.”
Marc Horine, Copa90’s Americas general manager, said that the reason for the company’s success is simple: “We live, eat and breathe soccer all day and every day,” he said.
Karine Travieso, MLS and SUM vice president of media solutions, said in one case when a league partner was working with Copa90 on branded content, the feedback was actually that the brand was too prominent. “That’s the first time in my career that I’ve ever heard a partner say you can pull back on some of the branding because we think the content is so good,” she said.
Thirlwall said Copa90 wants to add fans across the globe, especially in Latin America and China, and bring Copa90 content to more platforms, such as direct-to-consumer offerings. To reach that goal, the company hired former Facebook and Fox Sports executive Robert Rodriguez to serve as its chief growth officer.
“Now we need to plot out the next phase of growth and evolution,” Rodriguez said. “What are the opportunities with the Netflixes and Amazons of the world? Are there opportunities with rights holders to support their tune-ins and content plans?”
Copa90 will also be heavily focusing on the Women’s World Cup next summer in France, and recently brought on former U.S. Women’s National Team player Abby Wambach to help guide its coverage of that tournament.
“Over these last six years or so, we’ve been very lucky in that we have developed a very strong brand, and a very strong and growing fan base,” Thirlwall said. “It’s almost like we’re not just a media company, but a football club in itself.”