Front Office Sports Q&A With TikTok’s Robbie Levin

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Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

In 2019 alone, social media app TikTok has more than 614 million downloads and reached the one-billion mark in February. 

With growth that is now measured by the billions, TikTok is spreading its wings across the globe, especially within sports. 

So far, TikTok has secured partnerships with sports entities like the NFL, NBA, and Wimbledon, among others. Whether it’s a sports league of any shapes and sizes, media companies, teams and universities, or even mascots, the sports industry has clearly recognized the potential that TikTok holds.

But while the future looks extremely bright for TikTok, especially as it relates to helping the sports industry reach all sorts of new fans, there are still concerns surrounding TikTok’s future. With an ongoing government investigation centered around regarding TikTok’s data censorship and privacy, it’s unclear how it will hamper any of that growth going forward.

Robbie Levin, TikTok’s strategic partner manager for media and brands, spoke with FOS about TikTok’s relationship with the sports industry and its expectations heading into next year.

The questions and responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Front Office Sports: How and why did TikTok get involved with sports in the first place?

Levin: At a high level, we’ve been really thrilled with the growth of sports content on the platform. We think sports accounts provide really unique and engaging content that our users have enjoyed engaging with over the last year and a half. From a support team perspective, TikTok allows for its partners to showcase a different side of their brand. Not necessarily highlights or even up to the minute score updates, but it’s really more fun, personality-driven content. You wouldn’t expect a league like the NFL to have a “VSCO Girl” post – but on TikTok, it actually performs well. So it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship for us and all of our partners.

FOS: Why do you think sports content has been able to stand out and resonate as well as it has on TikTok?

Levin: A lot of our core partners are true entertainers, so they understand what users want to see and they are used to engaging with their audiences in unique and fun ways. I also think that sports teams and leagues, in particular, have done a great job of reacting to and responding to our community. Our incredible community of users has propelled so many fun unique challenges. The reason that our sports partners have been able to find success is that they’ve engaged with those trends and those hashtags. You’re seeing that with everyone from Philadelphia Eagles to NASCAR to the WSL. Our sports partners have done a great job of listening and creating.

FOS: What qualities or values does TikTok look for when pursuing sports partnerships?

Levin: We want to make sure our partners are thinking strategically about the platform. The content that works on TikTok doesn’t necessarily work on other platforms and vice versa. We just want to make sure our partners have a sound strategy on the platform and that they’re thinking critically about how they can program content that’s fit for TikTok. I also believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, so to speak. When you look at the community of NBA teams or MLB teams or Minor League Baseball teams, these teams are playing off of each other building together and helping each other grow. When we are onboarding partners, I think much of the appeal is that ‘hey, you are a part of this community and you can help each other grow and then find success on the platform.’

FOS: What’s the biggest takeaway you have regarding the sports industry’s interest in TikTok?

Levin: As a sports fan, the biggest takeaway that I see is how much fun teams are having on the platform. This is a unique opportunity for teams to showcase a different side of their athletes. Something that’s more personality-driven, a little more lighthearted. I think there are a ton of places where fans can go for highlights or where fans can go for score updates. But in today’s day and age, a lot of teams and leagues and media partners are looking to showcase a different side of sports. We all as sports fans appreciate the amazing culture and personalities of sports. I think TikTok has done a great job of showcasing that. I think that’s much of the reason that Benny The Bull has found success. As you look at our top teams on the platform, like the Golden State Warriors or the New England Patriots, they’re doing a fantastic job of showcasing the behind-the-scenes and more lighthearted fun moments that paint a full picture of the brand.

FOS: Heading into 2020 and beyond, what will TikTok’s sports strategy look like?

Levin: We want to make sure that our partners feel supported and that they’re continuing to grow at a healthy rate. There’s a variety of ways that we can do that. I think having partners participate in our sports. Whether it’s being patched tags or having them use in-app creative effects and stickers, I think that’s a great way to continue that growth. I also think one area that we’re excited about is our community of creators. These are our incredibly talented, thoughtful, hardworking individuals who create amazing content for the platform every day. To the extent that we can continue connecting creators with our sports partners, I think we’ll be able to find a lot of success.

FOS: From a sports standpoint, has TikTok’s ongoing government investigation hindered its potential growth in the industry?

Levin: I think we are excited about the growth of our teams and I think our teams wouldn’t be on the platform if they were worried about any repercussions. As we look to 2020, from what I’ve heard, our teams are focused on creating great content and engaging with the platform and any factors outside their control will play out as they may.