Learn how — and why — ESPN executives and Peyton Manning courted basketball content’s King of Gen Z ahead of a major NBA broadcast deal.
Last offseason, NBA executives, media moguls, and prized prospects descended on Las Vegas in the heat of free agency.
As July temperatures topped 115°, players of All-Star status and admins with six-figure salaries sweated out pitch meetings, setting up contract conversations and icy negotiations inside air-conditioned hotel suites.
All the while, Adam Silver and his colleagues waited with bated breath as Victor Wembenyama took center stage at the NBA Summer League, televised on ESPN and streaming on the $24 billion network’s app.
For those sporting suits that Nevada night, the stakes were higher than 7-5. An impending NBA TV deal rumored to touch $75 billion was — and still is — on the table for Silver and execs at Amazon, Apple, ESPN, and any bidder willing to spend.
While the world watched Wemby take his first shots in a Spurs uniform, talent scouts in the broadcast business centered on another viral sensation. Standing shy of 6 feet and having no college experience, Chicago’s own Kenny Beecham became the belle of the ball behind the scenes in Vegas.
“This was our first time to be free agents,” Beecham told Boardroom when recalling his hot months on the open market.
For those wondering why a Summer League soiree would take place over a 26-year-old talent in street clothes, it’s time to get familiar.
Making a name for himself as a YouTube creator and building his brand in Enjoy Basketball, Beecham is a 10-year veteran in the content space. Across channels, he’s created over 2,000 videos and amassed a billion views.
Because of this, Beecham became the center of attention for notable networks looking to put their best foot forward when entering basketball’s big bidding war over TV and streaming rights. That summer in Vegas, big wigs across cable, audio, and all platforms met with Beecham’s team to strike a deal dead set on securing hoop content’s King of Gen Z.
“We spent a considerable amount of time speaking to different networks and production companies,” Enjoy Basketball co-founder Cody Hock told Boardroom. “Those conversations started months ago and culminated relatively recently with Omaha and ESPN.”
Agreeing to a partnership with Peyton Manning‘s production company and Walt Disney’s $24 billion sports network, Kenny Beecham and Enjoy Basketball’s Through the Wire podcast will be rebranded as Numbers on the Board. Bringing along his friends, Kenny’s camp will work directly with Omaha Productions — a content company oozing with momentum.
Additionally, the distribution deal puts them under an ESPN umbrella, rapidly expanding into alternative broadcasts, branded content, and other new media avenues.
“The opportunities are endless,” Cody said.
Speaking to the power players at Enjoy Basketball, Boardroom breaks down what the year of leveling up looks like for Kenny Beecham and his prized partners.
Windy City Content Machine
Kenny Beecham was born on Oct. 4, 1996, in Chicago.
Completing his first sentences by the time the Bulls had won their last championship, basketball was long in the blood of the young creative.
“I’ve been making content for over a decade at this point,” Kenny said. “Originally, it was just for the fun of it. There was no YouTube partnership program; I just watched other people make content, and it was mostly around gaming.”
Now 27 years old, the man behind a billion video views is still the same kid creating content in his basement.
“Traditionally, you go to college for a journalism degree,” said Kenny. “You start in a film room, and you do that for 10 years before you even get a shot at linear or radio. I don’t have a college degree. I didn’t do any internship.”
Such a path to online fame is not unusual in today’s creator economy. Still, it’s one of organic growth that rarely bears meaningful fruit in the sports media landscape dominated mostly by major networks, player podcasts, and storied newspapers.
It’s a path particular to Kenny, and likely that of future creators to follow.
“I know for sure that there are people that come after me that are going to be ten times better than me,” Kenny said. “But I want people to know there are different ways to get into the space.”
No doubt, plenty of people know Kenny’s content and creative path. Over a million subscribers can count on new uploads from Kenny multiple times a week.
Just like the league he covers, the broadcast business has gotten younger and faster.
“Every single day, we’re doing something new,” said Kenny. “A new follower, a new DM, a new company. It’s going really, really fast.”
The pace of play is real for someone constantly feeding fans and tirelessly keeping up with 30 franchises partaking in an 82-game season. Every evening at 6 p.m. sharp, Kenny’s bunkered down in his office or basement, zeroed in on at least two live games. When the sun rises the following morning, he’s back at it, catching up on the other 12 outings.
When it all adds up, that’s 2,460 games in an NBA campaign, plus the playoffs. That’s not even accounting for all the time spent filming, editing, unboxing partner packages, and ensuring his skills on the sticks in 2K are sharp.
Despite his various creative endeavors, it’s still ball above all.
“I have an entire document of every single game I’ve watched this season,” said Kenny. “I take notes, put questions I might want to see answered, and I dive into a few games a night.”
All the hours of watching game tapes and doing research have paid off. In a YouTube economy that sees creators steadily sprinting up a treadmill on an incline, Kenny’s not huffing and puffing out of fatigue or for attention. His honest opinions and appreciation for the game’s intricacies have created a community that tunes into every video, even if they don’t align with each angle.
“It’s hard to have an NBA opinion or sports fan base that rocks with your content to a whole new level,” said Kenny. “I see so many times, ‘Kenny, I don’t agree with you. But I respect what you’re saying.’ I read through my comments all the time.”
Already a decade in the game, Kenny’s come to a point where he doesn’t harp on the negative noise, nor does he put it out.
“I try to be constructive but recognize all the cool things,” Kenny said. “I’ve found a viewer base that shares that same sentiment.”
A viewer base that includes thousands of Gen Z hoop fans, dozens of NBA All-Stars, and a handful of execs at ESPN.
Eyeballs in Bristol
When ESPN chairman Joe Pitaro thumbs through First Take ratings and streaming subscribers, viral video statistics that once seemed vapid suddenly hold more weight.
Amid a cord-cutting era, networks like ESPN rely on new platforms, alternate broadcasts, and personality-driven programming to remain relevant to fragmented audiences and potential partners. Adam Silver and Kenny Beecham are sitting on opposite ends of the same list of partners.
The NBA is nearing the end of a $24 billion deal with Walt Disney that grants broadcast rights to ESPN and ABC. Already, both networks are utilizing alternative broadcasting streams to make the most out of their 100 regular season games and their piece of the NBA Playoffs and Finals.
When it comes to linear ratings, the NBA is nowhere near the NFL in dominance as a live TV destination. However, the NBA excels in social media, streaming services, and a Gen Z audience.
“The NBA has a younger-skewing fan base that is more liable to be accessed via a streaming platform,” former NBA executive and sports media consultant Ed Desser recently told Bloomberg. “You’ve got to fish where the fish are.”
Swimming in the perfect pond is Kenny’s collective.
The Enjoy Basketball brand itself boasts over half a million fans, proving profitable through merchandise, YouTube revenue, and branded content. Additionally, it circulates a three-times-a-week newsletter that points to the potential of Kenny’s fans aging gracefully with his youthful content.
It’s a territory that even basketball’s highest-profile talking heads heading into 2024 weren’t building when they were in their 20s.
“Kenny owns that Gen Z demographic,” Cody said. “The rest of those guys? They have an audience that skews a little bit older. He’s done a great job of building a community and developing that deep parasocial relationship online.”
Since declaring the partnership with ESPN and Omaha, the announcement video has already amassed over one million views in less than 24 hours. These are figures not new to Kenny and Enjoy Basketball but instantly exciting for the bosses back in Bristol.
“Everyone we talked to believed in us as a show,” Kenny said. “When you create content, you get numbers, but you don’t always internalize that there are actual people behind the numbers, and some of those people might be higher-ups at companies.”
“ESPN was a massive draw for Kenny and the guys,” said Cody. “It was something we always wanted to do. Surrounding Kenny with a brand was the natural move for his career.”
For Kenny and Enjoy Basketball, the ESPN backing brings in a wealth of licensed NBA highlights and access to a Rolodex of podcast guests.
“The resources go up,” said Kenny. “We have the opportunity to use more game footage. We’re still trying to figure out the levels to the new resources, but what we’ve seen so far? It’s pretty cool.”
For ESPN, Kenny offers an invaluable co-sign and perspective as they continue to grow their audience and content concerning the massive NBA media rights deal. So far, leaning left has already proved fruitful for football and ratings, as a whole.
“The McAfee signing has been a revelation for them,” Cody said. “The new wave of sports media is personality-driven, bringing alternative audiences into their mainstream audience.”
In February 2022, Omaha Productions inked an agreement with ESPN and The Walt Disney Company.
Led by Peyton Manning — a talent who’s had tremendous success as a quarterback in the NFL and a host on SNL — the Hall of Famer’s ability to improvise on the fly found new form through the breakout success of Monday Night Football with Peyton and Eli in 2021.
Since then, the Super Bowl champ has continued to climb creatively. At ESPN, Omaha has helped ideate alternate broadcasts for UFC, college football, and even golf. Outside of Bristol, the production company caught fire through 2023’s Quarterback on Netflix.
When it came to courting basketball’s most creative content creator, game instantly recognized game.
“We clicked immediately,” Kenny said.
“They understand the power of creators today,” said Cody. “For them to add production value and a lens on distribution? It’s very mutually beneficial.”
On the outside, a 47-year-old football great from New Orleans and a 27-year-old YouTuber from Chicago might not seem to have much in common. Dig deeper, and a shared ethos of creativity, sense of humor, and sports smarts place each entity and their respective brands as two peas in a pod.
“Our whole mission at Enjoy Basketball is no hot takes,” said Cole. “Let’s focus on the game, uplifting the players, and positivity. Omaha stands for the same values, and they loved our mission.”
Even so, it was the former NFL MVP who had to pitch a content creator 20 years his junior.
“One of the things that made us make our decision was a text message from Peyton,” said Kenny. “He mentioned how big it was for him to bring people to his team that are about empowering the game. When you watch The Manningcast and a quarterback throws an interception? They don’t look at it just like this quarterback messed up, they figure out why it happened and praise the defensive scheme.”
This fall, the stars aligned.
Months after the free agency frenzy in Vegas, the Through the Wire cast and Omaha founder met in Colorado to produce their first project: the trailer for Numbers on the Board.
“We were in Denver for the ring ceremony for the Nuggets, and we got the opportunity to shoot with Peyton,” begins Kenny. “Me and all the guys were nervous because Peyton is one of the greatest of all time. He one-taked every single line.”
After the shoot in the Mile High City, Peyton chopped it up with Kenny and crew about hoops, football, and life. From there, the set was stamped, but the expectations also became real.
“Most people recognize that Omaha and ESPN are the cream of the crop,” said Kenny. “When you grow up, you turn on the TV for sports, and ESPN is the place you go to first. It was always a childhood dream to work for the network. You see Stuart Scott, Stephen A. Smith? Man, one day, it would be cool to be in that infrastructure, and we’re there now.”
Kenny Beecham is officially in the big leagues, but his ascent is far from solo.
Backed by the Hock brothers, who have managed him for four years, the Enjoy Basketball x ESPN x Omaha Productions podcast, Numbers on the Board, will still feature Pierre Andresen, Mike Heard, and Darrick Miller. Though NotB in both YouTube and audio forms is the foundation of this new partnership, the creation of additional digital shows, alternate broadcasts, and branded content is also on the table.
“We’re going to play our strengths first and foremost, and that’s YouTube,” Cody said. “There’s a lot of conversations about doing interesting things on linear for the show and Kenny.”
For those unfamiliar with showbiz lingo, linear means TV. In this case, TV means the ESPN network we all grew up on.
While branching out through Beecham and his Enjoy Basketball roster are all part of the Disney company’s grander plan to remain relevant to the youth through streaming services and online platforms, the head of the 44-year-old snake is still sizzling Stephen A. Smith moments on First Take and live broadcast of NBA, NFL, and NCAA action.
Ahead of the deal, Kenny has already appeared alongside Stephen A. on First Take after guesting on the industry vet’s podcast. The 12 minutes on TV still register as groundbreaking and surreal to Kenny, though his performance proved him right at home.
Like Smith, the team at Enjoy Basketball already views Kenny as a franchise player on any platform.
“We see him as a generational talent,” Cody said. “The distribution and eyeballs we’re going to attract going forward? The rest of the world that doesn’t know him already is going to be like, ‘This is my guy.’ The way he’s covering the game is really unique, he’s a special talent.”
In recent years, Kenny and his team at Enjoy Basketball have built a brand that not only hits homers on YouTube videos but has grown massively through newsletters and branded apparel. For the Hock brothers, the ultimate goal is to make Kenny the North Star of Enjoy Basketball and create a universe similar to The Ringer or Meadowlark Media.
“Most of them are personality-driven at the top,” said Cody. “We see similarities between Kenny sitting in that same position and building a network and distribution center around him. How do we put a brand around him similar to Pat McAfee, Bill Simmons, and Dan LeBetard? How do we build his career sitting atop as the talent but allow a platform for him to produce and direct?”
By working with ESPN and Omaha, Kenny will be front-facing on a bigger stage while still having the space to curate Enjoy Basketball content behind the scenes.
It’s the next chapter in elevating Enjoy Basketball as a business and Kenny Beecham as a thought leader.
“I’ve always strived for what seem like unattainable goals,” Kenny said. “Now, my goal is to be one of the top minds in the basketball world. I think that having these ties to Omaha and ESPN is the best way to make that a reality. There’s only so much I can do without a larger platform, and ESPN is the largest platform I can get.”
With the backing of ESPN, he has a chance to be recognized as one of roundball’s best philosophers in 2024. Perhaps “one of” isn’t ambitious enough.
“I want to be No. 1,” said Kenny. “It’s gonna be a journey, it’s gonna be extremely hard, and it’s gonna be extremely unlikely. But I feel like if I don’t have a goal that’s unlikely? Then I’m selling myself short.”
To be No. 1, he’ll have to continue to outwork and outpace the competition. To be recognized as No. 1 by industry peers and national media, he’ll have to increase his airtime on ESPN’s most prized live TV real estate.
The latter is perhaps the biggest challenge in a space dominated by journalists twice his age and athletes already known nationally for their court resumes. Kenny is cognizant of the challenge but not deterred.
“I didn’t go to school to be a journalist; I’m just an NBA fan that makes videos in my basement,” said Kenny. “I don’t know how much I’ll be respected in the linear world, considering I don’t have that background that most people fight for. But I’m going to try my damndest to get the respect of everybody just by being good at what I do.”
Just days into the new job, Kenny remains the same relatable hoops fan despite the elevated platform. The morning of our conversation, he’s still reviewing notes from a slate of 14 NBA games, headlined by an instant classic matchup between Victor Wembanyama and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The generational battle brought out the best of both competitors, each elevating their intensity and debuting moves unseen thanks to the primetime platform blessed by brighter lights.
“I had a feeling it was going to be a great game,” said Kenny. “There’s something about national TV.”
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