In the world of business meets sports for high school-aged fans, Zachary Weiner is a major influencer.
Not sure where he fits alongside Charli, Jojo and Billie? Just think crazy slam dunks on TikTok, episodes of the Overtime Challenge on YouTube, and Overtime Elite amplified on Amazon Prime.
The Overtime Opportunity
Zack is president and co-founder of Overtime, a sports media company that generates original sports content on social media geared toward younger fans who are always on their phones – and endlessly scrolling posts. This is not your parents’ sports fandom. The next generation of sports fans does things differently. Think watching highlights, not entire games, and following specific athletes, rather than entire teams.
Last count? Overtime has 26.5 million followers on TikTok and more than 10 million on Instagram, making it a serious sports media brand on social, alongside big players like ESPN (44 million followers on TikTok). The company boasts more than 70 million followers across seven platforms. What makes Overtime particularly unique is its market: its target audience is 13-35-year-olds (both Gen Z and Millennials), with the sweet spot hitting around 18-25.
For many high school players and sports fans, like Miles L. from Philadelphia, Overtime has become a Gen Z Sports Oasis (so says the Wall Street Journal).
So, when Zack, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (C’14), visited Penn’s campus as a keynote speaker at the Wharton Sports Business Summit, Miles didn’t want to miss it. This was a chance to learn about the business behind one of his favorite sports platforms.
“I like Overtime because it’s not just a sports Instagram account. Its random videos that pop up are funny – some related to sports and some not. I like that diversity,” said Miles, who particularly enjoyed learning about Zack’s life before Overtime during his campus keynote talk. “Overtime is a credible source for all my sports information and for finding funny videos…and I like how they highlight high school sports students and give them a platform to build their social media. Athletes need a significant social media presence to get their name out there and get recruited.”
Zack’s Highlight Reel
Started in 2016 by Zack (a Gen Zer) and co-founder Dan Porter (a Gen Xer), Overtime first focused on posting short-form content of high school athletes – highlighting the most popular high school sports stars. The company has since expanded in lots of ways, including starting pro basketball leagues called Overtime Elite featuring men and women athletes who are 16-20, as well as OT7 for football and OTX for boxing. Overtime also recently partnered with the National Football League (NFL) in its first national partnership to provide Gen Z-focused content across its platforms.
“Sports is unique in the way that it is able to occupy space in people’s minds and hearts, which ultimately creates this interesting business opportunity,” said Zack, who was interviewed at Wharton’s Sports Business Summit by Sam Schwartz, vice president of corporate development at Comcast in Philadelphia. “I’ll walk down the street in my Overtime hoodie and some 19-year-old will [give a] shout-out to Overtime and throw up our hand signal. I don’t think that’s happening in other industries. Our job as a business is to translate that passion and influence into monetization.” — as in, making money.
Here are 7 more sports-business highlights from Zack’s visit to the Wharton School:
Accidental entrepreneur. When Zack Weiner the student arrived at the University of Pennsylvania from New York’s Stuyvesant High School in 2010, he was a mathlete and chess champ (he ultimately won three Ivy League titles as Penn’s chess team captain and can play chess blindfolded). An entrepreneur? Not so much. But it didn’t take long. “My freshman year, I was waiting to play tennis and a guy comes up to me because I was wearing a Yankees shirt,” recalled Zack. “After about 10 minutes he said, ‘Do you want to have a radio show at Penn?’ I said I was interested. He brought me over to WQHS, and I had a radio show. The most amazing part of it was how I was able to leverage it into other things. I was going to Philadelphia Sixers games and Eagles games as press. I got professional athletes and agents on my show, and it gave me this entrepreneurial spirit. It was my first opportunity to spread my wings. I started my first company after my sophomore year called The Sports Quotient, which was a phenomenal experience. It was a platform for young people to write about sports: podcasts, videos, all those things. We got up to 250 writers and 80 universities.”
Always supply and demand. A few years out of college, The Sports Quotient shut down. “An important lesson for entrepreneurs is that you have to know when something isn’t working,” said Zack, who majored in economics and math at Penn. “What wasn’t working at The Sports Quotient was the demand side. We had the supply. I probably could have recruited 1,000 students to write about sports. But there was not a lot of demand for more written content on the Internet and not enough advertiser demand [to make money from this model].”
Pivot and shoot. Mere months after stopping The Sports Quotient in 2016, Zack co-founded Overtime, with a sharp market focus. “When I think about Overtime and my journey, it’s a direct result of that supply-and-demand problem that I saw with Sports Quotient,” said Zack. “Every company is looking for product-market fit. The majority of companies start with a product and then iterate that product to find a market. At Overtime…we did the reverse. We identified our target demographic, which is Gen Z and Millennial sports fans, and because of a lot of the trends in the industry, this is who we [decided to target] through content, apparel, and experiences. We didn’t exactly know what the product was going to look like, but we knew the guiding principle was the 23-year-old sports fan.”
“One of the things we tried early on that did not work was that we went really wide with the next generation of athletes. I wanted to build a Sports Center for every single high school. There’s not an appetite for that.” –Zack Weiner, President, Overtime
Audience is boss. Overtime has given a lot of thought to how it connects with its younger sports-fan followers. You have to know your audience. “The voice that you’re speaking in and the language you use is a big part of how you get into the hearts and minds of a person,” observed Zack. “Am I talking in a way that resonates with you? If you look at Overtime content, there might be something that a 55-year-old doesn’t even know what we’re talking about. And that’s okay! Because the 25-year-old says that Overtime feels like their friend. [We also try to build] a sense of community and belonging. We respond to almost every DM and comment. We have a relationship with the audience that to me is the new wave of media… Overtime is not one-to-many, it’s one-to-one.”
The Eli Ellis effect. For Zack, Overtime has been a continual learning process. “One of the things we tried early on that did not work was that we went really wide with the next generation of athletes. I wanted to build a Sports Center for every single high school. There’s not an appetite for that,” observed Zack. “Instead, we focused on the best of the best and the best stories… The second mistake was related to that. I used to think the better the athlete, the more interesting they were. That’s not true…If you actually talk to young people, the most popular player on the City Reapers, which had both of the Thompson Twins [Overtime Elite basketball players who were drafted to the NBA], was neither of them. It’s this athlete Eli Ellis, who is huge on TikTok and very relatable…It’s not just about talent, it’s about personality.”
Hoodies and deals. While raking in eight figures through merch and e-commerce helps Overtime make money, its revenues flow from many streams. “We’re lucky that the audience we have is coveted for advertisers,” noted Zack. “Our core, core is 18-25, and most advertisers really want to hit that, so we fell backwards into advertising. Brands started reaching out to us. You want to pay us hundreds of thousands? Okay! A lot of those are now multi-million-dollar deals. What’s good for us is that we’re not seen as a normal media company. They want to leverage us for how to reach young people…To monetize long-term, years ago we made a commitment to launch leagues (basketball, football, boxing). It opens a lot of revenue streams (sponsorship dollars, licensing and merchandise). I think in the next couple of years, league revenue will surpass media revenue for us.”
Parting shots. Think like an entrepreneur, be experimental, be willing to break some rules and step outside of your box, urged Zack. “What I’ve learned in these past 10 years running these two companies is that you could filter an entrepreneur’s journey just through the lens of risk. Not only do you have to take a big risk, you have to convince other people to take risks. You have to figure out what is the next big risk you’re going to take. What are you not going to take a risk on? The positivity and the risk-taking that Overtime portrays externally, we also do that internally.”
Are you an Overtime fan? Why do you like Overtime? What would you hope that Zack Weiner and Overtime know about your profile as a sports fan? Is Overtime getting it right?
Zack Weiner says, “I’ll walk down the street in my Overtime hoodie and some 19-year-old will [give a] shout-out to Overtime and throw up our hand signal…our job as a business is to translate that passion and influence into monetization.” How is Overtime monetizing or making money from Gen Z’s passion for sports?
Do you have a favorite Overtime league, video, player, memory? Share your story in the comment section of this article.