Triller Embraces Sports as it Looks to Challenge TikTok, Reels

    • While TikTok and Instagram's Reels are the two more notable social media platforms in sports, Triller is aiming to break through in the industry.
    • Notable sports properties to emerge on Triller include the Golden Knights, Chargers, Mets and NBAMemes.

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Last year, TikTok burst onto the scene by becoming the next great social media platform. Nowadays, there are an increasing number of short-form content platforms vying for sports fans’ attention — including Triller. 

Founded in 2015, Triller originally positioned itself as a music video maker platform. Users could record themselves lip-synching or performing a song, and look to the app’s artificial intelligence capabilities to cut out certain clips. Essentially, people would create the content and the app would edit it for them.

As TikTok’s status in the U.S. remains in flux due to its privacy concerns, Triller has seen massive growth. On Aug. 2, Triller ranked No. 1 in all categories of the Apple App Store across 50 countries. The company claimed that its number of user downloads increased by over 20 times that week alone and surpassed 250 million downloads worldwide — though those figures have been refuted.

Charli D’Amelio — who as of Nov. 10 is the biggest TikTok personality with more than 97.9 million followers and 7.6 billion likes — announced that she would be joining Triller, though she still actively posts on TikTok. Josh Richards, another famous TikToker with more than 23 million followers and 1.4 billion likes, joined Triller as its chief strategy officer. 

Alongside Triller’s influencer growth is the sports industry’s increasing interest in the platform. Over the summer, teams like the Los Angeles Chargers, Vegas Golden Knights and New York Mets created accounts on the app. Another notable sports presence on Triller is @NBAMemes, which boasts nearly four million Instagram followers and was recently acquired by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Seeing those sports accounts launch on Triller is just the beginning for the app’s burgeoning sports reputation, according to co-owner and Executive Chairman Bobby Sarnevesht. 

“Music has always been a very integral part of sports,” Sarnevesht said. “From live sporting events to just going into the gym, music fuels a lot of the sports that we watch. As we look at the sporting world, it’s just such an exciting space for us to expand into and tell those stories.”

It is also ready to take another step into sports — broadcasting events. This summer, the app announced that it will be exclusively streaming the Mike Tyson-Roy Jones Jr. heavyweight fight scheduled for Nov. 28. The Tyson-Jones Jr. bout is Triller’s first live pay-per-view event and will be the first of the “Triller Battles” series. 

Reports indicate that Triller paid $50 million to host the three-hour live event. After the app previously hosted TrillerFest, a three-day virtual music festival in April, Sarnevesht says that the “Triller Battles” is its first venture into live events. 

“When we first presented this to Mike … let’s be honest, Mike had a lot of options,” Sarnevesht said. “It could be the last fight of just one of the most iconic fighters of my time. We were like, ‘Wow, it’s gotta be done here.’ We’re doing a lot of things with our live product, and what a better way to really kick off the live product with one of the most exciting fights that I’ve seen and heard about in the last 10 years.”

Outside of live sporting events, Triller has also grabbed the attention of many prominent sports organizations. With more than 3.9 million Instagram followers, @NBAMemes has become known in sports social media for its meme-driven content and memorable captions. The account was recently acquired by daily sports fantasy company Playline, which is led by co-founders Aaron Avruskin and Jason Falovitch. 

Avruskin says that @NBAMemes was drawn to Triller because of its involvement with the Tyson-Jones Jr. fight and the growing number of influencers occupying the platform. It currently has more than 181,000 followers on Triller since joining in late September.

The @NBAMemes account has found success on Triller with its original, video-centric content. A mashup post featuring the Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler, the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James and a notable scene from “Avengers: Endgame” has more than 367,900 views. Avruskin says that clip is one of Triller’s most-viewed, non-music videos in its history. 

“Those original edits that we’ve made have wound up being our best performing pieces of content,” Avruskin said. “While we are taking existing content that we’re distributing on NBA Memes, it’s also nice to see that this new, original, Triller-first content that we’re putting out there is what’s being best received.”

One of the reasons behind TikTok’s sports success is the diversity of content that the industry experiments with on the platform. It wasn’t just the on-field game product that resonated with followers. They were equally as likely to engage with other notable sports genres: smaller leagues, media, female fans and, perhaps most surprisingly, mascots

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Similar to Benny the Bull’s industry-leading success for both himself and the Chicago Bulls, the New York Mets see Mr. Met and Mrs. Met as being the face of their Triller profile. With baseball on hold until spring training in 2021 and Mets players enjoying the offseason, Will Carafello — the team’s senior director of social media — has turned to mascots to fill that content void. Carafello and the Mets joined Triller on Aug. 7, quickly becoming verified on the app. 

“We definitely struggled, I’d say in the early goings, but [the Mets’ Triller account] was spurred by the fear of TikTok shutting down,” Carafello said. “How do we fill the void to also make sure that this could be something that could help our business? It could be where our fans are going, so we want to make sure that we’re an early adapter to it.” 

While they’re not featured in the majority of the Mets’ Triller page, Mr. and Mrs. Met have been included in some capacity across 11 of their 34 posts. 

“Obviously with very limited access this year to our players, we relied on the mascots and it was kind of fun — two of our best Triller videos are Mr. and Mrs. Met participating in the trends,” Carafello said. “We’ve obviously utilized our resources as best as we can, but those trendy videos seem to be doing well. And we’ve unfortunately not been able to kind of get our players more involved because of the restrictions and access to them. But we’ve seen those [mascot] videos do really well, so we’re going to continue to monitor and see which way things go.”

As the Mets prepare for 2021, Carafello wants the team to continue putting out more Triller-specific content. With the 2020 MLB season officially under wraps, Mets fans can expect more mascot posts to come this offseason. Currently at more than 121,800 followers, reaching a milestone marker like one million followers is not of interest to Carafello at the moment. With the more content that the Mets release on Triller, he expects that that will translate to growth in numbers. 

“We really want to see that the numbers grow up from a follower standpoint, but also want to see that we’re getting a lot of views on the video,” Carafello said. “To me, that is a pretty good measuring stick as far as — one, the platform saying that, ‘This is good content, so I’m going to put this in front of more people.’ Then, obviously, people are sitting through and watching it. They think it’s relevant to them as well.”

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The next several months can play a huge role in Triller’s future within both sports and the broader social media space. If TikTok’s owner ByteDance is unable to finalize a sale of the app to a U.S. company, its potential ban could open the door for Triller and other apps — Byte and Instagram’s Reels, to name a few — to unseat the current short-form video leader. 

If TikTok does manage to survive, Crystal Duncan, senior vice president of influencer marketing at Edelman, believes that it’ll be an uphill battle for its competitors — including Triller. However, she believes that the situation between TikTok and the U.S. government highlights the importance of sports brands diversifying their social media portfolio to include various platforms. 

“I think that because of the uncertainty with TikTok, influencers [including those in sports] don’t want to lose that voice or that platform, so a lot of them are being smart and saying, ‘Okay, what I could do on TikTok, I can do similarly on Reels or on Triller. Let me make sure I’m diversifying myself,’” Duncan said. “When Vine ended up getting shut off, a lot of those influencers and creators lost kind of their whole audience, because they were just on one platform. I think a lot of the [sports] influencers are now kind of diversifying to make sure that they can be creative in a couple of different places.”

The similarities between TikTok and Triller also extend past their place in social media. Like TikTok and its ongoing data concerns, Triller has faced controversy surrounding its download figures. Following TikTok’s India ban, Triller issued a press release that claimed its downloads grew to 250 million globally across iOS and Android. It also separately reported 65 million monthly active users.

Questions surrounding these estimates emerged when Apptopia, an app store intelligence firm, found that Triller had been downloaded 52 million times, not the 250 million that it alleged. After Triller threatened to sue Apptopia for providing allegedly false information, the latter pulled its report. Sensor Tower, an app store intelligence firm, later told TechCrunch that Triller had reached 45.6 million total downloads across iOS and Android — less than the 52 million mark that Triller had publicly criticized. As of Nov. 10, Triller’s official website states that it has 120 million downloads. 

Sarnevesht says that the ambiguity surrounding Triller’s downloads hasn’t impacted the company’s sports relationships; it has, though, made it more difficult to paint a positive portrayal of Triller. That’s why it continues to work with companies like Apptopia and Sensor Tower so they can better understand Triller’s data and, according to Sarnevesht, change the narrative surrounding Triller. 

“The reality is that our enemies are rich and they’re very powerful,” Sarnevesht said. “They have very strong press relationships through their powerful press agents and they can push any stories they want.”

He added that Triller has been giving Apptopia and Sensor Tower access to the company’s internal data to create updated reports. 

“We’re going to just continue to tell our story because you know what? Honestly, it’s a beautiful story, and it’s going to be a great story.”

Alessando Bogliari, CEO of The Influencer Marketing Factory, knows that Triller isn’t the first company to potentially overinflate its metrics. Regardless of the metrics’ validity or Triller’s current trajectory, he thinks that it will still continue to harm the company’s perception among the general public.  

“That is definitely something that is already like a red flag,” Bogliari said. “If you need to boost the number of downloads and other metrics to appear bigger than what you are, that is not a good sign for companies and other people that want to try it. Because if that is the case … if let’s say it lied on the number of downloads, will it also lie maybe on the number of views that its videos are getting?”

Even with the Golden Knights and Mets having already reached hundreds of thousands of views on Triller, Bogliari says that the lack of engagement could dissuade notable sports properties from joining the platform. The Golden Knights’ best-performing Triller post has more than 2.6 million views, but only 79 comments. The Mets’ best Mrs. Met clip has been viewed more than 375,600 times, but has garnered only 18 comments. 

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“Triller’s not that strong yet to say, ‘We’re going to invest money there,’” Bogliari said. “I think that Triller has to find its own tone and voice, actually understand their audience and how they want to create storytelling. If you go in the ‘Sports Section’ … under the few videos that are viral, I see a bunch of videos with one view and zero engagement. It’s like a bunch of uploaded videos, but there is not like a structure in mind.”

“It’s like no strategy there, so why would you go there and maybe spend money to create content that might not be seen properly or may not have enough engagement?”

Despite these concerns, Sarnevesht is confident that Triller’s unique audience will differentiate it from its biggest foe in TikTok and help the platform carve out its niche in the social media space. Hootsuite estimates that 69% of TikTok users are between the ages of 13 and 24; Sarnevesht claims that 70% of Triller’s user base is between 17 and 23.

With Instagram and Facebook reaching as many as 52.9 million and 113.3 million 13-  to 17-year-olds, Sarnevesht believes that Triller’s user base will be the reason for it succeeding in an increasingly crowded short-form media landscape. 

“It’s a space that we feel we’re really strong in and getting stronger every day,” Sarnevesht said. “We’re just going to continue making the content and making the product better and making the product have more features and give creators additional tools to be able to create the content that they have, fulfill their vision and let people tell their stories.”

“It’s a competitive space and everyone in the space has got a lot of money,” he added. “When I tell you we’re an underdog, that’s the understatement of the year, but that’s okay. We’re going to be alright, because the momentum is with us.”