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Forum: Capturing the hearts and minds of Gen Z

Looking at two companies built around attracting Gen Z:

 

Dan Porter and Zack Weiner are an unlikely duo, but the two have carved out a successful next-gen brand with Overtime. Porter is the self-described “skinny, middle-aged” executive who likes to throw a few rocks at the traditional sports establishment. Weiner is the 29-year-old, earnest economics and math major whose guilty pleasure is playing speed chess online. After an initial introduction years ago, the two quickly found themselves lobbing emails back and forth late into that same evening, throwing out concepts and ideas on the nexus between sports and culture. That shared vision led to the success of the youth basketball and culture brand Overtime and now the startup league, Overtime Elite.

Porter, in his familiar brash style, said at SBJ’s Media Innovators event recently that Overtime Elite is the future of sports. “We’re probably going to be the biggest thing in sports the next 25 years,” he said confidently. “It’s basically a complete rethinking of everything that’s currently boring about sports.”

He spoke before flying to Atlanta to attend a game at the Overtime Elite Arena, which has been filled to its 1,200 capacity since the league launched in September. “We launched our own basketball league in a venue that we own and built from scratch in Atlanta,” he said. “We have professional athletes who are 17 and 18 years old, where we pay them. During the games, we have an eight-camera shoot, all done in 4K, and the game is called by people who have tens of millions of followers on YouTube.” The athletes also go to a school that he says “is on par with the best private schools in the country.”

All this runs counter to what he believes is the staid, tired style of today’s sports. But Porter chafes at people who try to pigeonhole the brand. “People ask, ‘Why did you start a high school sports company?’ I said, ‘I didn’t. I started a company to get the whole next generation of fans.’”

He and Weiner plan to use the same road map that built Overtime — combine digital influencers with its digital platform of 55 million followers in a social-first strategy — to grow Overtime Elite. Porter dismisses the traditional metrics of sports consumption, and instead focuses on the massive social viewership and shared media that Overtime Elite is drawing. “Within a month of launching, only North Carolina and Kentucky have bigger Instagram accounts than we do for basketball,” he proclaimed. “So that means there are [a lot of] college basketball programs that are already smaller than we are. That means that we’re on people’s radar, fans are following, they care about what we’re doing, and so we’ll continue to grow.” Porter and Weiner may be idealists, but they realize the hard work and energy it will take to build a successful league. They are very well funded and have a track record of success engaging with Gen Z and that’s why so many executives are watching how their new concept develops.

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Buzzer Founder and CEO Bo Han has a smart, thoughtful demeanor and displays great empathy in his leadership style. He founded Buzzer in January 2020 and it was one of the most talked about platforms at Media Innovators. But his leadership approach also stood out. The former Twitter executive and son of a Nashville pastor acknowledges the weight of running his own company. “I feel real responsibility for 55 people [at Buzzer],” he said. “And I don’t take that lightly. And every company will say this, but I really believe we have an incredible culture that was born from a very unique and challenging time. People from the outside would say, ‘Wow, that’s such a hard time to start a company.’ But I found it to be such a unique time for me to make very intentional and thoughtful decisions. Not only on product, but how we hire team and how we build our culture.”

He detailed the steps he’s taken to build it. “Every day for 15 minutes we have a team huddle that’s centered around gratitude. For 15 minutes, we just go around talking about what we’re thankful for. We started this at the start of the pandemic and we still do it now. Sure, sometimes it’s very frivolous and trivial, like what’s our favorite dessert. But things can get very personal, and you see the conversion of the workplace and the home, and the happiness that you have at work also transfers at home.”

Han also offers goals to his colleagues. “The one thing that I’ve encouraged all of our teammates to do is be a better partner or teammate to your partner, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend. If you can’t do that, then you’re going to be a bad partner to me. Right? So putting a little bit more emphasis around home and our inner circle first. Through that, we’re able to be a better leader because we’re a better partner at home.”

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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