HoH: Building The Next Great Sports Franchise
House of Highlights has announced its third "Showdown" event, a dodgeball tournament with $250,000 on the line.
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Morning Consult conducted an in-depth, data-driven study last year detailing “how younger Americans interact with the new class of cultural and consumer leaders.”
Specifically, the report analyzed the relationship “influencers” play as a conduit between today’s most popular brands and tomorrow’s most important consumers — Gen Z and Millennials.
The entire report was interesting, but there was one statistic, in particular, that surprised me: PewDiePie, a gaming YouTuber with 110 million subscribers, was more popular with Gen Z men than LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Elon Musk. He was also more well-liked.
You’ve probably never heard of him. I hadn’t either. But more importantly, this highlights the generational shift we see within media, sports, and, more generally, society.
The result? House of Highlights, a popular sports media brand beloved by Gen Z & Millennials, is looking to capitalize through an innovative new franchise called “The Showdown.”
Founded by Omar Raja in his University of Central Florida dorm room in 2014, House of Highlights quickly gained traction throughout the younger sports crowd.
The concept was simple: people loved highlights, which Raja provided in abundance, but he also ventured into content that no one was covering at the time — memes, player celebrations, amateur trick shots, and more.
Here’s how Omar Raja described it in 2018:
“There are just these really funny moments, that aren’t always about the dunks or the assists or the traditional highlight plays, that I cared about and my friends cared about. And the problem was that when I would think about these, I would try to find them on the internet. I would go on YouTube, I’d go on Twitter, I’d go everywhere and I couldn’t find it.”
“So I said, ‘Listen, these moments continue to happen. People honestly care about them more than the dunks sometimes. I’m going to go out and make it.”
The account took off. Within months, House of Highlights had amassed 100,000 followers. Then it hit 200,000, 300,000, and when the Instagram account reached 700,000 to 800,000 followers in less than a year, Bleacher Report came calling.
“Then I actually got an email around the time it was getting very serious – I think the account had gotten 700,000 or 800,000 followers. The current GM of House of Highlights, Doug Bernstein, emailed me. At that time he was the VP of social for Bleacher Report. After getting on the phone with him, he kind of had an idea for partnering together.
“I was still in my senior year of college. When I was starting my senior year of college, for me it was like: ‘OK, if House of Highlights is legit, this would be the time for me to do that next step.’ So partnering with Bleacher Report, I would say, was kind of the next step in making it a real business.”
Keep in mind, Omar Raja was still in college. He would watch five or 6 games on his cell phone, pause when an interesting moment happened, cut the clip, and post it. There were no employees, investors, or infrastructure; just passion.
Bleacher Report ended up buying the business a year later, hiring Raja full-time and investing heavily into content and growth.
Fast forward five years and House of Highlights now has more than 24 million followers on Instagram, which is more than ESPN, CBS, and Fox Sports….combined. That doesn’t even count YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok, or Twitch.
But here’s the interesting part: As Bleacher Report has continued to grow the brand, the stranglehold they have on the Gen Z and Millennial audience has become obvious.
Not only are ~50% of followers under the age of 24, but Instagram posts with “influencers” frequently get just as much, if not more, interaction and engagement than ones with NBA superstars like LeBron James or Stephen Curry.
This is where “The Showdown” franchise comes in.
While professional sports leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB attempt to attract a younger audience by retro-fitting the way their games are played & delivered, House of Highlights sees an opportunity to attract viewership by changing live sports at a fundamental level.
For example, here’s a wild stat: NFL and MLB games last more than 3 hours on average yet have just 11 and 18 minutes of live-action, respectively, meaning 90% of time spent watching an NFL or MLB game is without live-action occurring.
Instead, House of Highlights believes the answer to winning Gen-Z & Millennial appointment viewing is through live, action-dense, high-stake competitions with creators & influencers serving as athletes.
They’ve held two events so far — a golf challenge and a knockout competition — where influencers competed against each other for $100,000 cash prizes. The idea is to pick a backyard competition that is relatable, raise the stakes through cash prizes, and drum up social engagement by pitting Gen Z’s favorite influencers against each other.
The best part? It’s working. The knockout event earlier this year was the most-watch live stream in House of Highlights history, and the content generated from both competitions has generated more than 100 million views across social platforms in total.
Now, House of Highlights has announced its third showdown — a dodgeball tournament between four teams — FaZe Clan, 2Hype, RDCWorld & AMP — with $250,000 on the line.
Combined, the individuals involved have more than 70 million followers on social.
Ultimately, live events like “The HoH Showdown” aren’t necessarily built to threaten the future existence of major US professional sports leagues. But in my mind, they have created a new category — creator games.
The unique combination of live competition, action-packed content, social engagement, shared dialogue, and influencer distribution is a winning formula. The data proves that.
Now, it’s time to think about monetization. The first two events didn’t have sponsors — money was donated to charity — but this one is presented by Pizza Hut. Of course, that money will continue to grow with popularity, but the real value comes at the intersection of content x commerce.
Can House of Highlights utilize its unique IP to sell millions of dollars of merchandise? Maybe, but with one of the largest social platforms globally, hundreds of millions of monthly impressions, and an army of Gen Z sports fans behind them, I certainly wouldn’t bet against it.
Have a great day, and I’ll talk to everyone tomorrow.
Ps. I’m extremely thankful that you all take the time to read this email each morning. I really appreciate it and hope you get just as much enjoyment out of it as I do.
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