Wave - Sports and Entertainment Network
Founded in 2017, Wave is now one of the fastest growing sports networks in the world.
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Headquartered in Los Angeles, California, Wave is a sports and entertainment company that caters to a new generation of sports fans through media brands, products and experiences. It owns a portfolio of over 30 media brands, along with its own original content and a host of products and services.
The company is a top sports partner to Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok and Snapchat and seems to dominate these platforms with its vast library of sports content. Recently, the company rebranded from Wave.tv to Wave Sports + Entertainment (WSE). It is incorporated as Bullpen Sports Network Inc.
Business Overview and Products
Wave covers sports that are both mainstream and niche sports. It provides coverage of sports culture, commentary and the general sports community. It owns some of the most popular media brands on social platforms including Benchmob, Slapshot, the Pump and many more. It has also produced several popular original shows such as Body Talk, Phenoms, and Superhuman.
Along with owning this portfolio of brands both via deals with partners and in-house content production, Wave’s website offers brands to advertise their business with the company through three choices: sponsored programming, branded content, and cross-platform commercials.
The website also offers fans the opportunity to submit their content (such as home videos), with complete details on how the company must credit the submission and the terms of submission themselves.
How It Works
The company seeks to target millennials and Gen-Z audiences online via its content, and has stated that 80% of its viewership is from 13-34 year olds. It distributes its content on mainstream social media where the younger generations mostly spend their time (e.g. TikTok, Instagram and Facebook). This is further corroborated by the company’s statement on its website that through its content, Wave covers highlights, memes, commentary and analysis on all kinds of sports. It also covers off-field culture and stories on sports players.
In its Advertising section, the company offers three options. The first one is Sponsored Programming – where Wave offers to create brand awareness through its daily content in a cost-effective manner. The second option is Branded Content, where the company offers to do “high impact brand storytelling”. The third option is Cross-Platform Commercial, whereby there would be video ads of 6-15 second length distributed across Wave’s media brands.
For the content submission part, the website offers a detailed form that asks for details of the person submitting the video as well as details of the video submission. The sender may upload the video directly or share a URL link where the company may access the video.
The extensive growth the company is experiencing has led it to develop strong content deals with leading organizations such as FloSport, Top Rank, and the PFL. The company is currently focusing on producing more original in-house content, with a new angle on sports betting.
Business Model and Pricing
Wave uses a distributed media network model. It utilizes multiple social platforms instead of relying simply on cable or TV. In the words of CEO Ishaan, the company’s business hinges on a traditional advertising model. The viewership generated by the network’s content allows the company to monetize.
According to executives, Wave crafts deals with sports organizations to gain access to content from promotions (e.g. from the World’s Strongest Man). This content is used to power its own media brands across social media. Whatever advertising revenue is generated, Wave shares it with its content partners.
According to CEO Ishaan, Wave first became profitable in the latter half of 2019. In 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began, the sports industry took a massive hit just like many other business sectors and several events were canceled. In spite of the situation, Wave managed to raise funding worth $32M in July and in fact reported that it had expanded its viewership and doubled its monthly revenue since March 2020.
According to a July 2020 article, the company was using content from 65 sports leagues and organizations for 18 of its media brands across social media at that point in time. These included both mainstream and niche-sports organizations. As a result, almost 80% of Wave’s viewership was generated from videos on unconventional sports. Moreover, the company’s network grew from 5 shows to 14 shows in 2020 alone.
According to the website, in its short operating history the company has one of the largest audiences among sports networks. It has amassed over 100 million global followers and over 100 billion views to date. It has over 6 billion monthly video views and a global reach of 500 million. The company partners with +100 sports leagues, creators and IP providers. More metrics have been shared by Wave, including the company being #1 on Snapchat, #1 on TikTok, #4 on Facebook and #4 on Instagram.
Brian Verne: Co-founder and CEO at Wave. Prior to Wave, Brain has served as the CEO of Phenom, a startup based out of San Francisco.
Ishaan Sutaria: Co-founder and CEO at Wave. Prior to Wave, Ishaan worked as an Analytics Lead at Rocket Fuel.
History and Evolution
Founded in 2017, Wave started its journey from a strong presence on Instagram and later expanded to Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat. The company soon managed to outrun leading digital media companies such as Viacom, Netflix, the New York Times and others within the first 18 months of operations. Regarding its explosive success, Founder Ishaan had stated in 2019, “What's made us so successful is our ability to create programming that Gen Z and Millennial sports fans love”.
In March 2020, the pandemic led to cancellation of major sports events and forced the company to change gears. It began focusing on non-mainstream sports and videos of athletes and fans off the field. This helped the company increase its viewership and double its monthly revenue since the pandemic first began.
In July 2020, Wave closed a funding round worth $32M and announced its intentions to use the funds for expanding its content to more people and increasing its workforce. In particular, the company wanted to focus more on both mainstream and niche-sports. It also planned on expanding to more content formats, including audio and longer-form video. According to the CEO Ishaan, this funding round valued the company at between $50M to $100M.
In December 2021, the company announced its rebranding from Wave.tv to Wave Sports + Entertainment. While the name of the enterprise itself has been changed, Wave stated that “Wave.tv” will continue to operate as a media brand within its own portfolio. The company also announced plans to intensify its focus on talent-driven original programming as well as sports-betting. To support these plans, it also established a new headquarters in Santa Monica which will serve as a native studio to produce its own programming. Moreover, the company has freshly made deals with popular figures in the sports industry, such as Lucy Rohden and Nick Henkel.
Some of the unique tactics Wave uses to spur its success with fans include adding unconventional and quirky sports moments to the content it broadcasts. These are often captured away from the field and Wave gives them precedence over game highlights, which means the company broadcasts material not covered by most sports media brands. The company also gives fans a chance to submit home videos that may be featured on Wave’s channels, and solicites fan opinions via polls and comment sections. Moreover, it maintains focus on Gen Z and millennials.
According to Gregory Tedesco from Zeno Group, with these tactics Wave humanizes its content and speaks to how average sports fans like to share content online. Furthermore, instead of simply sharing sports information as quickly as possible to its audience, Wave takes the unique approach of forming deals with media personalities that mix humor and opinion with information, to keep the audience engaged.
In 2020, the company signed a licensing deal with IMG, which gave Wave the rights to publish highlights from IMG’s organized sporting events across its own portfolio.
In July 2020, the company reported that it was focusing on growing its portfolio with unconventional sports-related deals. 16 out of 26 deals that Wave signed, and 29 out of the total partnerships the company had, were based on such sports as Karate or bare-knuckle fighting.
In 2021, Wave partnered with Atmosphere, a global leader in streaming TV for businesses. With Atmosphere’s 25M monthly viewers, this significantly increased Wave’s distribution and reach.
In 2022, the company was listed among the top 50 best small companies to work for in Los Angeles.
In a recent interview, Wave executive VP Mack Sovereign talks about the KPIs used by the company to measure the engagement of its fans. Instead of just using passive metrics such as likes and views, the company uses active metrics like comment rate, clickthrough rate, as well as the number of times the content is shared.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the sports industry, the global value of the industry was estimated to be $471B in 2018, which was a 45% jump since 2011. Forecasts had predicted an upward trajectory for the industry before the disruption. Moreover, the global value of sports media rights in 2020 was estimated to be around $50B.
With Wave’s strategy, it mainly competes with sports media brands such as Overtime and ESPN’s house of highlights. All of these target Millennials and Gen Z sports fans via short-form video content.
The coronavirus pandemic made several sports media brands shift their focus in 2020. For example, according to an executive from a marketing ad agency in 2020, “Even ESPN is posting on Instagram about slap-fighting”.
Wave is ramping up focus on sports betting. CEO Brain Verne commented on how states are increasingly legalizing betting across North America. This means sports betting is set to have an explosive growth in the global entertainment industry in the upcoming years.
Suggested Next Reads
WAVE.tv: The Sports Media Company for Today's Fan (Shorty Awards)
Wave Sports + Entertainment’s Mack Sovereign talks shift to more original content and deals with creators (Awful Announcing, December ‘21)
Sports Media Startup Wave.tv Pulls in New Funding as It Targets Expansion (Wall Street Journal, July ‘20)
This is ‘SportsCenter’ for Gen Z: A two-year-old upstart named Wave (Fast Company, November ‘19)