In the six years since Tom Thirlwall joined Bigballs Media he has transformed the company from a commercial film production company into a new model sports media business. In 2012, Bigballs launched Copa90, a YouTube channel designed to disrupt the world of football media. Aimed at millennial fans of the beautiful game, Copa90 chose not to fight for rights to matches, traditionally the route to success in sports broadcasting, and in fact not to show highlights of games and goals at all.
Instead it is focused on the fan experience. “We decided that the shows that we create were going to be shows that shone a light on stories, championed fan culture or delivered opinion that you couldn’t see anywhere else – those were the founding principles,” Thirlwall told CR in a feature on Copa90 in our December 2015 issue. “We were going to tell the stories outside of the 90 minutes that made the 90 minutes matter more.”
The brand now has over one million subscribers on YouTube, across 200 countries, and in 2015 combined with KICK in the US to create the largest digital-first football media business. Copa90’s forward-thinking approach extends to its content – which mixes beautifully shot, heartfelt reports with more light-hearted fare, such as ‘listicles’ – and also its advertising, which has seen brands including Hyundai sponsors documentaries on the channel. And the brand’s goals remain big: “A big ambition of ours is that by the time the 2018 World Cup kicks off, we’ll have more correspondents, filmmakers, storytellers in and around Russia than the BBC and ESPN,” says Thirlwall.