Donald De La Haye Jr., aka Deestroying, started making YouTube videos well before earning a football scholarship as a kicker at the University of Central Florida. His path took a number of surprise turns before he found himself sharing a stage with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell — not as a draft pick but as a partner with the league as it enters new digital territory.
As Deestroying’s videos started gaining traction and generating income in the 2010s, the era just before “name, image and likeness” (NIL) rules changed the game for college athletes, NCAA officials gave him a choice. “They told me, ‘Hey, you can’t make money from your content while you’re a college athlete. You either need to delete your channel and donate the money back, or you’ll forfeit your eligibility. Or, just keep doing what you’re doing and you can no longer be a college football player,’” De La Haye, 26, told Deadline in an interview.
While it wasn’t the easiest of choices, he took the latter path.
Today, the Deestroying channel has 5.3 million subscribers and a burgeoning relationship with the NFL, which is leaning into the destination’s fervent, young-skewing following as the league deepens ties with YouTube. The Google-owned video giant is the new home of Sunday Ticket, which is available either as a stand-alone or as an add-on for YouTube TV subscribers.
De La Haye remembered seeing “a whole lot more potential” in YouTube compared with his future as a player. “It just made me happier,” he said. “I had a lot more passion and a lot more love.”
The positive vibes have has been evident in this summer’s start to an international tour for Deestroying’s 1ON1 franchise, with stops in Denver, New Orleans, Buffalo, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., during the runup to the NFL season. During the season, there will be stops in five more cities, including London.
Videos in the 1ON1 series (watch an example above) center on backyard-style competitions between a wide receiver and a defensive back, who battle each other for passes thrown by an off-camera quarterback. With as many as a few thousand fans in attendance, the events teem with a high-spirited energy reminiscent of basketball’s And1, a footwear and clothing company that successfully expanded into media with a series of streetball videotapes in the 1990s.
Deestroying presides as the host and ringmaster, carrying a microphone and providing commentary and reaction, but the collective feel and the atmosphere he cultivates is the real draw. Some players fly or drive several hours to get to the contests, which award top prizes of as much as $10,000 to the winner. In addition to cash prizes, the current tour’s top players will return to take part in a special 1ON1 edition at the 2024 Pro Bowl in Orlando.
Before the multi-city tours and cash prizes, Deestroying managed to break through by tracking down former pro receiver Antonio Brown and other players for early videos that gained millions of views.
“I collab-ed with a lot of NFL players, whether I reached out to them on Instagram or they reached out to me,” De La Haye remembered. The roster of guests grew to include notables like Russell Wilson, Justin Jefferson and Tyreek Hill. The current tour has drawn free agent and former league MVP Cam Newton, retired standouts such as Santana Moss, college star Travis Hunter and active players including Kam Curl and Milo Eifler. For many participants, De La Haye said, “it was the same story — they said their sons kind of put them onto my content. I remember I reached out to Antonio Brown [in 2018] and ended up doing a collab with him and that went really well. … I came up through the ranks a bit, met a lot of people and I guess the NFL noticed what was going on.”
Once Deestroying was on the league’s radar, he became part of its strategy for augmenting the Sunday Ticket package, which YouTube acquired in a seven-year deal reportedly worth $14 billion. Goodell and Deestroying discussed the team-up at YouTube’s Brandcast event for advertisers at New York’s Lincoln Center in May. The goal is to not only present telecasts of a full slate of Sunday games, just as previous longtime rightsholder DirecTV did, but to tap into the creator community on YouTube and surround the games with extra material.
“Who better to help make that happen and amplify that, you know?” De La Haye said of creators.
As with breakout Netflix series Quarterback, whose debut season this summer has taken viewers inside moments like Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes battling through a sprained ankle in the playoffs, the hook for fans will be the inside view afforded by NFL Films. The league’s media arm has been documenting life on and off the field practically since the leather helmet days and long has set a high production bar. Even though the setup for Sunday Ticket preserves a high degree of control for the league, which means less unfiltered material, it also represents a digital milestone for an American institution once nicknamed the No Fun League for its stiff public posture and strict rules against on-field celebration.
“They’re giving us creators crazy access to be able to build content and give fans and people who watch our content access that they’ve never had before,” De La Haye said. Although he declined to offer too many specifics, he said there will be “different game-day scenarios” and “exclusive access to content that we haven’t been able to use before. Back in the days, we’d get copyright-struck, and content would have to be taken down. But now we get to use content from the NFL. There’s a lot of different things — access is going to be crazy.”
In historical terms, the new YouTube presence is making up for lost time. “The NBA and other leagues did a good job at embracing social media and the NFL is finally doing that,” De La Haye said. “Basketball players, you see their faces everyday, so you see their personalities develop. Football now, with the power of social media, guys are able to develop personalities online and speak for themselves and have their own voices and just bring more excitement to the game. Fans are able to attach themselves to, like, a Justin Jefferson or someone like that. They’re doing dances and celebrations. [The league] is making things more fun and exciting for fans who are watching at home. They’re doing the mic-ed up videos on YouTube, stuff like that.”
The success of Quarterback, which featured camera crews embedded with three quarterbacks through the 2022 season, “gives me ideas for my content,” he added.
Brandcast was the latest accomplishment in De La Haye’s unlikely journey. The ex-kicker admitted to being a little nervous being in such a spotlight at David Geffen Hall, despite having logged hundreds of hours on camera. The rush afterward was better than splitting the uprights with a game-winning field goal, he said.
“It was dope, people were coming up to me saying: ‘You did a great job onstage. I work with this brand or that brand. We’ll get in touch with you to do something.’”
Content Source: deadline.com