It’s probably too soon to tell, but the new paid basketball league for 16- to 18-year-olds is certainly intriguing.
Overtime Elite (OTE) will pay top high school ballers $100,000, provide health benefits, allow athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness, and give players equity in Overtime, the digital media company. And if an athlete doesn’t want to go pro after two years, Overtime will cover $100,000 of the player’s college tuition.
The league, which will consist of 30 players, plans to launch in September in one unannounced city.
Chances are, you’ve seen Overtime on your social media feed. Their clips have turned high-school hoopsters into viral sensations and their video content is devoured by Gen-Z. Overtime was co-founded by Dan Porter, an internet entrepreneur, and Zack Weiner in 2016. The company also has financial backing from Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony’s Melo7 Tech II fund, and venture capital firms. Late NBA Commissioner David Stern was also an advisor and investor in the company.
But just last year, Overtime was reportedly in “survival mode” after laying off 23 percent of its workforce at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So how can a five-year-old media outlet known for highlights and merchandise afford a venture as large as OTE?
Well, in a statement given to Deadspin, Overtime said, “We’ve got strong financial backing from many of the world’s best investors.” The company also said it has raised an “unannounced” amount of funding, but enough to turn their vision of a new league into “a reality.”
“2020 was tough for everyone,” the company said of its layoffs, “but we came out stronger on the other end.” Over the course of a year, Overtime’s audience doubled and they finished the 2020 with more funding. “With the new league, 2021 is looking even better.”
Overtime Elite won’t be the only league to disrupt the traditional U.S. amateur sports model. The Professional Collegiate League (PCL), slated to tip off in 2021, is set to cause a stir as well. And like OTE, the PCL will pay amateur athletes for their work. The PCL, of course, will compensate college-age athletes, not high schoolers. Still, the PCL says they are “not competitors” with OTE — quite the opposite.
“We’re excited to see the continued development of Overtime Elite,” PCL co-founder and CEO Ricky Volante told Deadspin. “The PCL fully supports elite high school basketball players having the opportunity to be compensated, while maintaining their educational opportunities.”
Both the PCL and OTE plan to offer an education for their players. OTE will educate high schoolers in small group sessions where they’ll have the opportunity to take courses in financial literacy, media training, and social justice advocacy, among other more “traditional” classes.
“We need to do a better job of empowering the next generation of players and setting them up for success,” Carmelo Anthony, a new OTE board of directors member, said in a statement. “OTE is leading the way on that front by offering players a comprehensive route that fully develops the athlete — not just basketball skills, but also education, economic empowerment and building their own brand. Having this type of guidance for high school players is critical in setting them up for a successful career both on and off the court.”
Even though OTE touts economic empowerment and will offer a course in social justice advocacy, the league is only for boys. Overtime told Deadspin a girl’s league is part of the company’s “long-term vision.” But, for now, OTE is “addressing a specific need and a specific set of problems we saw in the larger basketball ecosystem where we were uniquely positioned to help.”
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” the email to Deadspin continued, “and this is where we’re starting.”
Where OTE starts could be enough to completely change the culture of U.S. amateur sports. But a lot can happen in a matter of months.
Congress could also change the nature of amateurism. Cory Booker recently told Deadspin that there is a “real window of opportunity” for his College Athletes Bill of Rights to pass. Forthcoming NIL legislation at the federal level and in various states could also challenge the longstanding business model for amateur play.
Plus, there’s always the possibility of a new league with a new mission running into roadblocks. The Junior Basketball Association, a league founded by LaVar Ball in 2017, aimed to compensate high school and junior college ballplayers. The JBA only lasted one season. Fortunately, OTE looks like they have more competent management than LaVar Ball.
Only time will tell if OTE becomes the amateur sports game changer many have been waiting for. But OTE told Deadspin it’s ready to work now. “We’re building up a robust infrastructure that will enable us to make these young mens’ dreams a reality.”
“We’re serious about it. And we’re not looking back.”