On March 13 in front of a packed arena located at Atlantic Station in north Atlanta, Team Elite defeated Team OTE 52-45 in Game 3 of the Overtime Elite Finals to be crowned the league’s inaugural champions.
While the season ended for 27 top-tier youth basketball prospects ranging in age from 16-20, there’s still three more months until the end of the school year. Outgoing seniors are traveling to Miami for a well-deserved break from the grind, and in anticipation of what’s to come: recruiting.
Emmanuel Maldonado is headed to Puerto Rico to begin his career with Mets de Guaynabo, Matt Bewley, Jalen Lewis and Bryson Warren are headed to New Orleans for USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team Minicamp (April 1-3), and Jean Montero is going to Portland for the Nike Hoop Summit (April 8).
Founded in March 2021 by Overtime co-founders and former WME executives Dan Porter and Zack Weiner, Overtime Elite (OTE) offers prospects who leave high school and forfeit their NCAA eligibility a six-figure contract plus bonuses, the ability to profit off their name, likeness and image (NIL), equity in Overtime, an education including life skills like financial literacy and media training, but most importantly, an alternative path to the professional ranks with the NBA the dream destination for most, if not all.
“An enjoyable part of the journey has been seeing a lot of the people who would take our call, meeting or Zoom a year ago say, ‘Wow, you guys actually did it,’” says Aaron Ryan, Overtime Elite president and commissioner. “We’re experiencing all of that validation and it’s showing up in relationships, whether it’s conversations with the NBA, engagement with folks in Europe or conversations about collaborating with people in the elite basketball space.
“There’s tons of incredible conversations regarding future partners and potential investors. It’s hard to sell on a concept, which we did, but now we’re actually running downhill to engage new opportunities with proof in that concept.”
Over the past year OTE has been working and operating at breakneck speed not only to recruit some of the premier rising juniors, seniors and post-graduate basketball prospects across the U.S. and globe, but actually give them somewhere to live, train, study and play basketball. The 103,000-square-foot OTE Arena that opened in October doesn’t just serve as a place to play basketball, but also as a living, breathing content machine.
Everything about the venue was strategically designed not only for the in-arena experience—which includes bright lights and colors displayed on LED boards and music controlled from a DJ perched above the court to MCs flanking each other during the action—but to generate a seemingly endless supply of content. Overtime chief content officer Marc Kohn says OTE’s 30-person content team spanning long-form and social are able to utilize 50-60 pieces of content each game whether it’s as singular highlights or posts on social platforms including Instagram and TikTok, as part of player highlight packages or for game recaps or long-form documentaries on YouTube.
OTE Arena boasts 10 cameras that can be switched to during live games as well as other pro cameras and GoPros, no less than five iPhones each game and 360-degree cameras in partnership with Meta Quest all capturing a continuous consciousness of content, “so if something happens,” Kohn says, “I hope we have the shot.”
“We’re not paying for marketing, so content is our marketing whether that’s a 20-second TikTok video, 20-minute YouTube video or a 90-minute YouTube game recap,” Kohn says. “Each of those moments is a time to connect the audience with our players and teams. It couldn’t be more important than when you’re building a league from the ground up to be able to build stars.”
Unlike established leagues like the NBA or WNBA, or high school and collegiate institutions whether it’s Oak Hill Academy or Duke University, Overtime Elite hasn’t created its own history, legacy and mythology, yet.
With an inaugural season under its belt and boosted by Overtime’s large Gen Z social following—55+ million followers across seven social platforms—Overtime Elite has been able to find similar success with 22% growth over the last six months to be the third-fastest-growing Instagram account among sports media companies, trailing only Sportsnet and USA Today Sports, according to CrowdTangle. OTE has a larger Instagram following (337K) than all but three NCAA men’s college basketball programs (Duke, Kentucky, UNC), while its 882K TikTok followers are twice as many as every men’s college basketball team and more than 80% of NBA teams on the platform.
With more than half of Americans millennials or younger, and Gen Zers’ disposable income reaching an estimated $360 billion in 2021, Overtime and Overtime Elite are poised to continue to build on their ever-growing relationship with the present and future sports fan and consumer.
“I think there’s hopefully appreciation and respect (for what we’ve built), but also surprise that we don’t play by this traditional playbook,” says Porter. “… I’d argue in some ways we’re probably the first league that’s almost been built for the TikTok generation. It doesn’t mean all of our videos are dancing and funny. Our goal is not just having the game, but everything—life, training, the whole 360—and TikTok is an organic platform for that.”
OTE content has 425 million views to date across all platforms and accounts. Viewers spent more than 41 million minutes watching full OTE games on YouTube with nearly 1 in 4 (23%) watching game videos, which typically average 50 minutes in length, until completion.
Porter says OTE has had several offers for its rights package, but they want to take their time to continue to follow the strategy they’ve embraced to disrupt the content/social media space as well as youth basketball.
Being able to control everything in-house gives Overtime Elite the ability to churn out content—whether it’s for their own social media or in conjunction with brand partners—at lightning speed.
“Speed has been in Overtime’s DNA from Day 1—that’s how we’ve been able to grow across social media,” Kohn says. “The ability to be first has always been something that has been incredibly important to us.”
During its inaugural season, OTE signed multi-million-dollar, multi-year partnerships with Gatorade, State Farm and Meta, while spurring Topps’ return to basketball after a 20-year hiatus.
OTE partnered with Pharrell’s global streetwear brand Billionaire Boys Club to create a cultural campaign that intersects sports, fashion and music. Six OTE players were utilized in the brand campaign that included hoodies, T-shirts and socks, while all 27 players wore special edition warmups and uniforms.
“There’s real magic not only in the concept but the execution of foundational partnerships because when the blueprint isn’t completely sketched out, the ability to alter or adjust to the needs of a partner and their consumers and to experiment and iterate inside of a deal is really welcoming,” says Ryan, “especially when you’re trying to acquire and engage a future consumer who are quite elusive.”
Not only is OTE working with external brands on partnerships, takeovers, collaborations and products, but it is giving power to its players, who have the ability to explore interests off the court. OTE is utilizing Shopify’s creator program—which NBA star Jimmy Butler used to launch his Big Face coffee brand—to help Jalen Lewis, Bryce Griggs, Jai Smith, Jahzare Jackson and Ausar and Amen Thompson launch their own Shopify websites later this year, while De’Vontes Cobbs is exploring his interests as a commentator.
While the players continue to build their individual brands, interests and personalities, Tyler Rutstein, vice-president and general merchandise manager at Overtime/OTE, and his team are hard at work finding new ways to provide a more unique identity to the league’s teams.
Team Overtime, Team Elite and Team OTE will be rebranded ahead of the second season, with each team represented by its own distinct color scheme, name and identity. As part of their education curriculum, OTE players were paired with local artists in Atlanta to build these new team identities.
“For them it’s probably the most hands-on experience they could ever get on this level just seeing so many things,” Rutstein says. “It’s super important. These guys are all trailblazers since they’re the first to come to OTE and take this leap. They came here and signed without even seeing an arena.
“For me, it’s important for them to go in and really come with a new, fresh and innovative outlook. Eventually they’ll all probably sign with the Nikes, adidas and Pumas of the world but they’ll come in with so much more experience in terms of how to manage that process. They’re going into those conversations with such detailed knowledge but also a holistic point of view of what’s really driving what they want.”
The players’ education isn’t limited to the basketball court. As head of academics, Maisha Riddlesprigger oversees six learning facilitators who, like their counterparts on the court, utilize a personalized approach with each student in the classroom.
Rather than lumping the nearly 30 athletes into one room at a time for English, history, math and science, Overtime Elite features a 4:1 student-teacher ratio. Rather than teaching about supply and demand in economics, learning facilitators are leveraging real-world scenarios or situations more applicable to teenage basketball players like the supply and demand they experience with sneakers and apparel on the GOAT app.
On top of the primary education they receive, OTE athletes also learn about financial literacy, media training, advocacy, social media and more as part of their secondary education.
“I always tell people it’s our goal to get them to, through and beyond professional sports,” says Riddlesprigger. “We’re training them basketball-wise to get them to professional sports, we’re training them with the skills like life training to get them through, and the seeds we’re planting with things like financial literacy, understanding business and entrepreneurship is getting them beyond their time as a basketball player.
“It’s unfair to not equip them and not be honest with them about the reality that the average NBA career is not the LeBron (James) career. We would be negligent if we had them think of this pie-in-the-sky dream. We want them to be realistically optimistic, so optimistic about their future because they’re extremely talented high-level players, but we also know the reality—there’s injuries, trades and just the business of basketball. If we lead with realistic optimism, they can have a Plan A, and then a Plan B and C so it doesn’t come as a surprise.”
To help facilitate their Plan A, Overtime Elite provides the players with an endless supply of resources and opportunities at their fingertips whether they’re working with athletic trainer Adam Smith to improve their strength or mobility, recovering and resting with Markus Klusemann, head of health and performance, or want to hone their skills with anyone on OTE’s basketball coaching staff headlined by Kevin Ollie, who won the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with the University of Connecticut.
It also means providing opportunities for team scouts, coaches, general managers and other decision makers to not only view the players, but also see their progress.
Before tipping off their inaugural season, OTE hosted a Pro Day for scouts to get glimpses of the players. Many will return in April to see how the players have grown and progressed during a week-long series of practices and skill sessions in anticipation of the NBA Draft in June.
Brandon Williams, executive vice-president and head of basketball operations, said 29 teams were represented at the first event in October and scouts from every NBA team have visited OTE Arena throughout the course of the season.
“One of the things that was important in our recruiting process was communicating to these top prospects and their families that they would have a new and unique opportunity to be scouted,” says Williams, who won the 1999 NBA championship with the San Antonio Spurs. “Where prospects are challenged is that NBA scouts don’t get to see this process—they’re often reduced to a small sliver of opportunities in the senior year of high school and freshman year of college. As an NBA scout I’m relying on a quick peek at the McDonald’s All-American Game, (Nike) Hoop Summit and a couple of popular events over the years, but they’re all-star environments, they aren’t practices or training.
“Other than word of mouth, you really lack film on athletes at the time. In this environment, we’re able to bring some of the necessities to the scouting process like film and data. We’re able to provide evidence of the growth of a young player between 16 and his draft year.”
Heading into Year 2, Overtime Elite plans to expand roster sizes with the hopes of bringing its teams overseas to play international competition in order to give players more exposure while increasing competition. Iron sharpens iron.
OTE planned to play abroad in 2021, but concerns over the Omicron variant halted any international travel. With a desire for a more robust and stronger competitive schedule for the players on the court and the cultural experiences and bonding off it, Overtime Elite is excited to take its talents overseas whether that’s France, Spain, Eastern Europe or Asia—even if that means creating an international tournament for other countries to come to.
Not only does OTE have its sights set on growing globally, but strengthening its relationship with the local community in Atlanta will pay more dividends across the board, according to Ryan.
“I think we’ve built a tremendous building and we’ve seen incredible signs how the City of Atlanta has embraced us and how the community has come to understand who we are and what we’re about, which is being an active community member and opportunity to engage with the game, especially at an earlier part in the journey of elite athletes,” he says. “We’re excited to figure out what that ultimately looks like long term. How do we partner with the city? How do we engage fans in a way that makes us theirs?
“I believe if you do that right, it translates through the lens and on our social, storytelling and game broadcasts and attracts more fans to what we’re doing. It attracts more athletes, more commercial partners. In many ways, a lot of what we’re able to accomplish in our engagement in this market will have an impact on what happens outside of it.”