How Athletes Can Make Money with YouTube

So, you want to learn how to make money off of YouTube videos?

Making binge-able, notification-worthy content isn’t something that you just pick up and start doing… or is it?

While there are many details to consider prior to posting, the fact is that anyone — particularly public figures— can amplify their voice and shine a light on their personality with the platform.

While the possibility is there for creators, influencers, gamers, and everyone in-between, the opportunity available to athletes is undeniable. Although their value is often measured in fantasy points and on-field performance, athletes bring far more to the table than strictly what they do within their sport. 

And with fans so keen on seeing more behind-the-scenes content featuring athletes than ever before, a golden opportunity has arrived for athletes who aim to grow their fanbase and maximize monetization opportunities. 

Of course, not all athletes are created equal in terms of talent inside or outside of their sport. Different personalities permeate in different ways. Some athletes look to their YouTube channel for long-form content series. Others use it as an extension of their favorite hobbies. But no matter the channel’s focus, the opportunity remains. 

Let’s take a look at some of the athletes who actively leverage YouTube to highlight their interests and help further bring their personalities to life.

Smith-Schuster is savvy not only compared athletes, but is also among the most popular YouTube creators on the planet. Consistently delivering diverse video content while still sticking to what he is passionate about, the Steelers’ star has something for football fans, gamers, and any fans who enjoy football-adjacent entertainment. He segments his videos into different playlists including “Call of Duty videos” (video games) and “JuJu TV episodes” (highlighting his vivid personality). 

His channel covers a wide spectrum including breaking down his own highlights, integrating himself within local Pittsburgh businesses, pulling pranks, meeting his family, and giving die-hards an intimate, behind-the-scenes view into his most pivotal career moments.

Matisse Thybulle

What to do when you are stuck in the NBA Bubble for the better part of the summer? There were plenty of attractions (swimming, fishing, and volleyball amongst other activities), but the public was often left to speculate what Bubble life was like for the players.

Enter Matisse Thybulle. Thanks to countless hours of video that he corded throughout the summer, fans were able to get a glimpse inside the fun that was going down within the Bubble. Thybulle captured a unique, wide-ranging perspective that encapsulated a large amount of his time. His subscribers were treated to the full gamut of the player experience, ranging from hotel meals, recreational time, team bonding activities, and the mindset of his whole adventure.

Perhaps the coolest part of this vlog series was that Thybulle cut, edited, and formatted the entire series himself. Not bad when your full-time career is playing lock-down defense and getting buckets.

Ibaka leverages his YouTube channel to draw a connection between two of his passions: basketball and cooking. 

“How Hungry Are You?” stars Ibaka in a culinary capacity where the big man cooks unique dishes as he talks basketball with current and past teammates. Ibaka promotes a laid-back atmosphere that allows the veteran to ask fellow ballers questions regarding their playing careers, highlights, time off the court, as well as their perception of the sports landscape in general.

Cam Newton

Having recently entered the YouTube game, the Patriots quarterback has hit the ground running, bringing his unique flair from the field to his channel.

Newton gives a unique perspective to fans as he has frequently takes them behind-the-scenes into how he prepares his body for the season. This includes training workouts, stretching routines, and a bit of fun as he challenges teammates in different throwing drills and feats of athleticism.

His willingness to step beyond football helps to set Newton apart. He consistently taps into other influencers and facets of his life to help diversify his channel. Whether he is seeing if YouTuber Logan Paul has the chops to make it as an NFL receiver or going head-to-head with Dude Perfect in an attempt to break their series of Guinness World Records titles, Newton continually pushes the boundaries of what’s expected. Newton is also unafraid of getting real with his audiences as he breaks down his fashion sense, addressing injury concerns, or discussing celibacy. 

As you can see, there are numerous ways for athletes create content and an endless list of topics that you can tackle. It all begins around aligning personality with passions. And whether it’s the offseason, in the middle of game week, or during downtime within the NBA Bubble, athletes everywhere have the accessibility, ability, time, and bandwidth to generate attention-grabbing video content.

So, creating YouTube content is possible. But to earn money from these efforts, athletes must first attract an audience and rack up significant view counts on their channel. 

1. Attract Your Audience

Building an active (and valuable) audience on YouTube rarely happens by accident. While the road to income takes intention, many creators find success by making their passions, hobbies, and special skills the cornerstones of their content plan. With unmatched skillsets and unique personalities beyond their sport, athletes have an opportunity to establish an audience by finding the intersection of a.) personal passions, and b.) the interests of fans.

With this in mind, you can map out and create the content that attracts more views, subscribers, and ultimately, brings value to your channel. 

2. Follow trends

One method that resonates with even the most casual observers is hopping on the latest popular trend as it’s making the rounds. Keep in mind that this is not a complete strategy; this must be interwoven within the main core content that your subscribers should know you for.

Still, following trends and adding your own unique spin can create shareable, even viral, content that will expose you to new audiences. This will also show your fanbase that you are able to stay current with up-to-date content while remaining true to who you are.

+ Taking notes outside of sports

An example beyond the world of athletics, the duo of Whiskey Vault’s channel revolves around fun-loving whiskey reviews. They speak to their audience who is attracted to both their reviews and comedic style. 

By keeping an eye out for other popular trends and YouTube accounts within their orbit, they saw that popular YouTube star PewDiePie posted a video comparing a $50 whiskey to a $500 whiskey. With a massive following, the clip rapidly generated a huge number of views.

Recognizing the immense potential that this potential interaction had in store, the duo reviewed PewDiePie’s original review in their signature style. This strategy worked two-fold as they appealed to their original following while also gaining new fans that were familiar with PewDiePie’s YouTube channel. The result was a massive uptick in video views and a plethora of new subscribers.

3. Publish consistently

Consistent, predictable publishing is key to building a loyal audience. If they know new content is coming, they’re more likely to subscribe and repeatedly tune-in. This starts with understanding what types of content you’ll produce and how you’ll stick to a schedule. With that, you’ll be able to accurately structure your content schedule. 

Athletes with one competition per week perhaps could create dedicated pieces of content that align with the consistency that comes with a game/match week.

For example, if you play on Sundays, showcase practices or specific workouts early in the week, meal prep and stretching exercises towards the tail end of the week, off-days or fun activities to de-stress as gameday approaches, and then a reaction clip following the game’s conclusion.

This of course is not going to be every athlete’s exact schedule or fit every content plan. But it can serve as a simple outline of how building that consistency with your audience can let them know when to tune in and draw their attention to your content.

4. Collaborate with other influential channels

This step is all about exponentially growing your audience. In theory, if you are consistently publishing quality content, your channel’s growth will be steady and consistent. Sure, there may be something here and there that can cause fluctuation. But by and large, you are aiming to attract and retain folks that fall within your desired audience. 

That’s where collaboration comes into play. This venture provides the opportunity to join forces with a fellow influential creator to align audiences in the hopes that they overlap.

For example, JuJu was able to count his base of subscribers being Steelers and USC fans. But by teaming with big-name gamers and Twitch stars, he was exposed to a massive new audience, with the gamers were exposed to football fans. 

These scenarios, when authentically aligned can cause a subscriber and view-count boom for both parties. By fiding a natuarl overlap YouTubers can help bring audiences into each other’s worlds, increasing the value of both channels. 

5. Attract attention, but deliver value

It is paramount to keep the audience in mind when creating YouTube content. All users strive to create content that attracts new views and provides value to the current audience. However, this can be difficult. Often what will make a video earn attention or go viral is not what current subscribers are passionate about. Given that dynamic, it’s vital for creators to strike a balance between attention and value.

Additionally, once a user lands on your channel, they should be able to easily understand what your brand is all about. For this ‘discovery’ content, creators can brainstorm concepts that can give a casual user an idea of what to expect and a very big picture overview of why they should tune in.

A popular strategy is to “play the hits.” Recapping your past content into a “Top 10” or “Best Of” collection can help to gain new followers and quickly get them caught up to speed on what the channel is all about.

For community-focused content, this is the bread and butter of what you have already been doing. It’s the opportunity to further lean into your brand and double down on the videos that have helped to grow your audience to this point.

Each of these types of content operate in the balance with one another. If attention and discovery-focused content isn’t delivered,  subscribers aren’t likely to consistently grow. Meanwhile, ignore your existing community may leave fans wondering why they’re following in the first place.

Making Money with YouTube

So, you have a solid audience base that you’re keeping engaged and active with consistent, relevant content. Now comes the fun part: cashing in on your efforts.

There are many different opportunities for YouTube monetization. The methods that you leverage can depend on your audience. Specifically, there are many demographic factors to consider:

  • Gender (depending on how this skews, this can influence whether you attract brands targetting one or both genders)
  • Age (further segments which brands will consider your channel)
  • Geographic location (may determine if international vs. regional vs. local brands are interested in investing within your content)
  • Overall engagement (watch time is an indicator of how attentive and engaged your audience is)

Keeping these in mind, you can start to segment the brands that you are able to and looking to attract. 

The following are specific tactics that eligible athletes can leverage to begin earning income with YouTube.

Join the YouTube Partner Program

This is a crucial step after building a dedicated audience. Channels that have hit the eligibility requirements of 1,000+ subscribers and 4,000+ watch hours over the past year are eligible to enroll within the program and activate this revenue stream. The process is easy to set up (it includes creating an Adsense account and setting your monetization preferences). 

Keep in mind that number of views do not correlate directly with ad revenue earned as you’ll need viewers to interact with the video ads or watch an ad in its entirety in order for it to remain a viable profit stream.

  1. Go to YouTube Studio
  2. Click ‘Other Features’
  3. Click ‘Monetization’
  4. Create an AdSense account or connect your existing AdSense account to your channel.
  5. Set monetization preferences.

While the partner program has long been a common way to monetize your YouTube presence, YouTube Premium offers a new option.

YouTube Premium is a paid membership program that enables fans to view videos and support their favorite channels without having to watch ads. The amount of money that content creators are paid is based on how much content their YouTube Premium members watch.

Sell products or merchandise

This one is a no-brainer. What fan doesn’t love merch?

Coffee mugs, t-shirts, hats, additional perks… the possibilities here are limitless. Sure, it will take a bit of hustle to create and deliver consistent merch and persuade your viewers to further invest their time and money within your brand. But the payoff can be enormous as it not only generates an additional stream monetization for you; it’s an additional advertising route as your fans will serve as your marketers, bringing your brand to new, diverse audiences.

License your content to media

The white whale of content: going viral. Though there isn’t an exact science for how it works, if and when it happens, you can capitalize on it. If demand is high, you may have the option to license your content to brands, advertisers, and media outlets in exchange for cash. 

Endorse brands and products as an influencer or affiliate

If you develop a valuable audience with relevant interests and viewing habits, you can capitalize monetarily by promoting or endorsing products and services that align with your brand. 

Through endorsement marketing, you can collaborate with brands by shouting out their products or services within your videos. Whether it is a brief mention (“this episode is sponsored by ____”), product placement (showing or using the product/service within your video or live stream), or a testimonial for the product/service, you can truly bring real value to the brand. And if the product or service is one you truly stand behind, the message will come across as genuine to your audience, making it all the more valuable for your brand partners.

Affiliate programs are another option in which you work directly with brands by promoting their products on your channel. This is often done by utilizing promo codes that reward your viewers for being fans of your channel.

Affiliate marketing can further be activated by performing a product review on a product or service that you have used. While these partnerships can be lucrative, athletes and creators have to be careful to maintain a balance of paid vs. unpaid content. Too many obvious promotions may cause your channel to fall out of favor with fans. 

With this in mind, work to authentically integrate paid mentions or requests for funds within your content in a way that stays true to your core audience.

The modern athlete has never had more opportunities to create revenue streams beyond their sport. The success stories are many, with charismatic personalities having tapped YouTube as a viable platform to extend their personality and speak to their passions. And with the numerous ways to generate cash from these endeavors, it’s never been a better time to pick up a video camera, hit record, and see what happens.



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