It ranks as one of the year’s more unlikely ownership stories – a group of social media influencers buying a stake in one of the Premier League’s least glamorous, but increasingly ambitious, clubs.
But the YouTube group Dude Perfect’s decision to invest in Burnley on Tuesday reveals as much about the global appeal of England’s top flight as it does the fortunes of Burnley, who won promotion from the Championship last season.
So what lies behind the deal and is it more than simply a PR move?
Who are Dude Perfect?
Dude Perfect started out back in 2009 when five room-mates at Texas A&M University uploaded a video of themselves shooting basketball trick shots.
It was a big hit and the “dudes” have now made hundreds of videos in a similar vein, landing trick shots in various sports and doing all sorts of wacky challenges, making them genuine global celebrities.
All-time hits include ‘Ping Pong Trick Shots 3,’ ‘Fidget Spinner Trick Shots’ and ‘Bubble Wrap Battle’.
Their videos have been viewed 16 billion times, roughly twice for every person on earth, and they have partnered with dozens of big global brands.
The YouTube channel has 60 million followers, making it the 27th-biggest in the world and the second-biggest sports channel after WWE Wrestling. No football account comes close.
You might not have heard of them, but a lot of people have and it’s the exact demographic – young, global, predominantly male – who might be looking for an English football team to support as the Premier League booms in popularity.
Why have they teamed up with Burnley?
Burnley are a team with a proud history, but there is no hiding from the fact they are a small team from a small town, with a ground, Turf Moor, that holds just over 20,000 people. They have a loyal fanbase, concentrated in the town, but they have never been a fashionable club with overseas appeal.
There have, however, been signs that this is starting to change. Manager Vincent Kompany and his free-flowing brand of football have made them an attractive prospect for neutrals, while majority owners ALK Capital have been pumping money into the club for transfers.
After their Championship title-winning success last season, they are back in the Premier League and have the chance to capitalise on the commercial opportunities the top tier presents.
There are elements of Burnley’s story that Dude Perfect relate to. They are, after all, five people who came from working-class backgrounds who can identify with Burnley’s demographic.
It also offers them the opportunity to increase their own brand in a mutually beneficial way. Content creation is a huge part of the future and having five men who excel in it, using their brand to promote Burnley, is only going to improve exposure in an engaging way.
How did the deal come about?
The vision for this deal began to become a reality in May. Chairman Alan Pace travelled to America following the culmination of the Championship season alongside deal-maker Damien O’Donohoe of IKON Capital, who was also instrumental in securing investment from former NFL star JJ Watt and his wife, soccer player Kealia Watt.
Scheduling had prevented the group from travelling to Burnley to experience the town and hold those talks ahead of a potential investment, something the Watts did in March. Instead, Pace met the five members of the group in Dallas.
They have been interested in getting involved with a football team for some time and were excited by the potential of being the first YouTubers to invest in a Premier League team.
After spending time with Pace and O’Donohoe sharing ideas, they were sold on his vision and were eager to get involved.
The first step was the shirt sponsorship for non-adult Burnley kits announced last month, which sees the club’s official sponsor – sports betting company W88 – replaced with the Dude Perfect logo.
Have any other social media influencers invested in English football clubs?
Influencers have dabbled in football before, but not to the extent of investing in a club.
In 2016, Dude Perfect uploaded a ‘Soccer Trick Shots’ video with Manchester City and Arsenal players, including Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne and Mathieu Flamini, which has been viewed 93 million times.
YouTuber, rapper and boxer KSI is a big fan of Arsenal and, last summer, the club announced a partnership with the PRIME energy drink founded by KSI and fellow YouTube star Logan Paul.
Hashtag United ply their trade in the Isthmian League Premier Division and were founded by football YouTuber Spencer Owen (Spencer FC) in 2016.
As far as actual investment in a top-level club goes though, the DudePerfect link seems unique.
What could Burnley get out of it?
This is not about Dude Perfect funding a summer transfer war chest for Kompany. The main objective of the partnership is to continue to grow Burnley’s brand.
Dude Perfect are huge in the United States and the investment offers the opportunity to further attract another new audience and get more eyes on the football club.
The group’s main market is five to 16-year-olds and it is a loyal fanbase. The aim is to have them support Burnley or see them as their second team, which will lead to them wanting to buy Burnley shirts and training kit with the Dude Perfect branding on them. The club have already seen a spike in sales since Dude Perfect’s announcement.
It will increase the club’s reach in the United States on top of the work the Watts are already putting in. Recently, JJ Watt sent some of the new 2023-24 home kits to well-known friends with significant social media followings and they all posted them onto their platforms.
Dude Perfect are travelling to Lancashire this weekend for the opening-day match against Manchester City and a planning meeting is scheduled to take place during that visit that will help outline their strategy. From collaborations with brands to creating specific digital content to build the US audience, the framework of ideas and concepts will be built.
These investments should continue to open up further marketing opportunities. It has been noticeable the number and range of partnerships Burnley have announced in recent months to increase their commercial footprint and there is set to be even more.
“The stars just aligned…we fell in love with it” 💜 @dudeperfect sat down with us and explained why they chose to invest in the Clarets 📽️
The full interview is now on YouTube ⤵️
— Burnley FC (@BurnleyOfficial) August 8, 2023
Is this linked to JJ Watt’s investment in the club?
Burnley’s owners, ALK Capital, have been open to outside investment since taking over the club in December 2020. Former NFL player Malcolm Jenkins became the first minority stakeholder in 2021 and the Watt family followed in May 2023.
JJ and Kealia appear to have bought into Burnley, taking part in the Championship title-winning celebrations and promoting the club all summer. They have combined to create Burnley-related social media content and JJ is rarely without some form of Burnley clothing, usually a cap.
The former Houston Texans defensive end has formed a good connection with manager Kompany and the pair have also shared ideas on the sporting side, with both playing at the highest level in the NFL and in football respectively.
“What I am going to do is help with marketing, brand recognition, commercial aspects, the entire American audience, both fans and investors to try to do my part to grow the Burnley brand and bring global eyes to help tell their story because this place is incredible,” Watt told The Athletic in May. “I’ve only been here twice but the people, the town, the tradition, the history; the world should know about Burnley.”
What appeals is the involvement and influence they can have. Investing in one of England’s elite clubs, some of whom the group support, is a drop in the ocean compared to the impact they can have at Burnley.
Dude Perfect were encouraged by that. They have spoken to Watt multiple times over the phone and his excitement and all-in attitude also helped convince them they were making the right choice.
JJ Watt, welcome to Burnley – this is what to expect
Are we likely to see more partnerships between YouTubers and Premier League clubs?
Who knows? But there are a few reasons why this sort of thing makes sense for a club like Burnley.
It’s difficult for those outside the traditional handful of big clubs to get much of a following overseas.
But in some ways, it makes more sense than the traditional Premier League “brand building” model of travelling halfway around the world to play opponents who, in Burnley’s case, are likely to have a bigger following.
Telling a story and tapping into a huge and engaged online community might get people genuinely interested in Burnley who never would have been otherwise (although translating that to revenue is hard).
There are some parallels with Wrexham, who have huge global reach thanks to the Disney+ show and their Hollywood co-owners.
If Dude Perfect make Burnley videos and just a tiny fraction of their huge global audience sticks around, it could help the club’s finances, not to mention bring a sprinkling of glamour that could boost the club’s ability to attract new players.
(Top photo: X/@DudePerfect)