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Ghosting the establishment: What sport can learn from The Sidemen and MrBeast 👻

The Sidemen's recent announcement to open a ‘ghost' hotel is the latest example of the power of content to appeal to, build trust, and drive commerce among younger generations.

With Halloween approaching, let’s talk about ghosts for a moment.

Ghost kitchens, that is.

Euromonitor have stated a belief that ghost kitchens could become a $1 trillion opportunity over the next decade. And, according to various reports, 51% of restaurateurs in the U.S have now shifted to them, seeking to cash in on the rapid rise of food delivery apps.

Essentially, a ghost kitchen is a facility set up with delivery apps like Doordash and UberEats in mind. It can either be a stand-alone kitchen, existing restaurant kitchen, or specially made facility housing multiple operations.

As a result, they have also paved the way for virtual restaurants and even virtual franchises, 100% digital brands that exist only online.

MrBeast Burger, which operates out of 300 existing restaurant kitchens across the U.S is perhaps the best example of the virtual franchise concept – or at least the most famous one.

In exchange for a cut of sales revenue, MrBeast (a.k.a Jimmy Donaldson) simply supplies the name, logo, menu, recipes and publicity images to any restaurateur with the ‘space and staff to make burgers as a side hustle’.

Many other creators have also got in on this trend, including The Sidemen, who launched their own virtual fried chicken franchise called Sides. They have since used their influence to market this ‘restaurant’ to their millions of fans online (just look at any of their recent videos and you’ll see the prompt to ‘🍗 Order food NOW at:’ in the description).

However, the YouTube supergroup have now gone a step further, applying the same ‘ghost’ concept to the hotel and travel industry.

The Sidemen have announced plans to open a ‘ghost’ hotel in the summer of 2023.

The idea is the result of a partnership between their management team, Arcade Media, and Ghsthotels, a new start-up that plans to launch hotels inspired by entrepreneurs, creators, and personalities.

The Sidemen are among the first influencers to partner with the new firm and it is reported by Tube Filter that they will also invest in the company by participating in its first funding round.

“Just like Ghost kitchens have changed the food and restaurant industry forever, we believe that Ghost Hotels will have an even bigger impact on the hotel and travel industry,” Ghsthotels Co-Founder Idel Judanin in a statement.

The concept is pretty similar as the group avoids many of the fixed costs by partnering with existing hotels and accommodation by simply providing them with “trademark Sidemen touches” and offering customers personalised messages.

Like with food delivery, this latest venture also taps into a key consumer trend among a prolific audience demographic for The Sidemen. A recent study reported that 72% of Gen Z respondents plan to spend more on travel than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic, the highest of any generation.

The move, in my opinion, is further evidence of the shift in influence from brands to creators and storytellers. And it certainly provides an opportunity for traditional sports rightsholders, who would typically just sign a sponsorship deal with an established restaurant or hotel.

While I wouldn’t expect to see rightsholders necessarily pick up on the ghost concept just yet, we are seeing an uplift in experiential licensing. Formula 1, for example, are set to launch F1 Arcade, a first-of-its-kind premium venue in London next month. Similarly, the MLS have acquired a stake in Toca, which has social football venues in the UK and US.

Furthermore, there is undoubtably an understanding by now within sport of the power that personality and storytelling has in appealing to, building trust, and driving commerce among younger generations.

Interestingly, this is something that was discussed immaculately by Danny Townsend, the CEO of The Australian Professional Leagues, on a recent episode of the Unofficial Partner podcast.

“It is all about engagement at the end of the day,” explained Townsend. “The more engaged the fan, the more likely they are to act on their behaviour – they’ll go to games, they'll buy memberships, they’ll buy merch, they’ll download apps, they'll do things that enable you to drive a return on that investment.”

“Content is the honey in the honey pot. That's what gets them there (into the league’s owned app) and gets them continuing to come back. The two biggest investments we made were building that digital and data infrastructure that enabled us to go direct to consumer in a very sophisticated and compelling way and then the content investment.”

As the likes of The Sidemen and MrBeast continue to illustrate, content is the pillar on which all else is built.

What do you think? It certainly provides food (…or room) for thought 😉


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