A few months ago, I discovered a new kind of YouTube video. This is called the “extended climax”, and it usually takes the form of a video between eight and 18 minutes long, with quick jumps between all the most important parts of a game.
Since embracing extended highlight glory, I feel like I’ve watched more sports than ever. I’ve seen every Arsenal goal and near goal, every Steph Curry cool shot for the Warriors, every Daniel Jones run for the Giants, every Aaron Judge strikeout or home run for the Yankees. But I rarely, if ever, sit down to watch a game. I used to! But why would I do it now? All the good parts are there on YouTube a few hours later.
Much has been said over the past decade about how highlight culture is changing sports. (Ruining it, some might say.) For a time there was a moral panic about sports centerbite-sized interpretations of sports. Then it was House of Highlights on Instagram that threatened to become the biggest thing in sports tv as viewers began to care more about sick dunks than final scores. And indeed, the whole experience of sports fans has changed! Young viewers follow individual players rather than teams; they care as much about off-pitch stories and personalities as on-pitch results; they really love scrolling through highlights on TikTok. Leagues, teams and broadcasters have caught up and are embracing these platforms and angles more than ever. Now everyone is also talking about gambling and fantasy and how these are changing the way we talk about sports.
It’s just… the game. Minus all the boring parts.
But extended highlights look completely different. It’s not “the only game you need to see from the game”; it’s… the game. Only shorter. It’s like the radio edit of a song or the TV edit of a movie – it just cuts out the boring bits, and most people will like it better as a result. Eighteen minutes of a 90-minute football match is enough to show the starting formations, the kick-off, every significant scoring opportunity, every yellow and red card, every corner kick and every dribble move cool that ultimately went nowhere. No, you don’t see the three-minute buildup that led to the goal, which purists will tell you is the whole point of the game. But you TO DO get a sense of the flow, the momentum, the mood of the game. It’s a remarkably complete narrative in a tiny chunk of time.
Almost every major sport and league offers these extended highlights, and I can’t believe they all do. Live sports are the most expensive and coveted thing in the media world right now, and you’re only offering a free approximation on YouTube? (To be clear, I love it. Please don’t stop even though it seems like a terrible business decision.) Embracing the internet as a sports distribution tool was the right decision – I’m not sure what to do supercups of every game has been.
Pitch clocks made baseball faster. Extended highlights make baseball path faster.
I also think the extended highlights could be a clue to the future of the sport. The internet-ification of sports has long been happening in subtle ways – sports tweaking their rules to be just a bit more exciting and action-packed, more easily wrapped up in a TikTok or Reel. This year alone, Major League Baseball has expanded bases and banned highly effective defense, which means steals and runs are both up. More highlights!
The internetization of sport has long been happening in subtle ways
But MLB also instituted a pitch clock, which made games more than 25 minutes less. And there are even more extreme examples to come. Take the League of Kings, a new football league trained in part by soccer superstar Gerard Pique. It’s seven-on-seven football in squads owned by well-known streamers, with all sorts of tweaks designed to make games faster and more chaotic. There is no pretty game here; there is, instead, the “golden card” that teams draw before the game which says things like “any goal scored in the next minute counts double” or “instant penalty”. And the whole game lasts only 40 minutes.
Or there’s LIV Golf, the new (and highly controversial) PGA Tour competitor that’s transformed tournaments from four rounds to three. She has fewer competitors and throws more at the same time, which means the day’s round goes much faster. The objective, as with the Kings League, is to ensure that something exciting is always happening and that everything happens faster.
It makes sense, right? As viewers, there are so many things vying for our attention that hardly anyone wants to see a pitcher scratching their nose or two defenders kicking a ball back and forth for 38 seconds. In 2023, even an 18-minute video is a lot to ask viewers to focus on. Sports, just like other types of entertainment, have no choice but to move everything at breakneck speed or risk losing viewers to the TikTok app on their phones. Of course, when sports grows harder and gets faster, it creates room for new types of content around games. Which means even more competition. It’s hard to see how it all slows down.
It’s crazy how much of a basketball game you can last in nine minutes and 12 seconds.
For a long time, the sports world viewed YouTube with a kind of side-eyed confusion. Some saw it as an invading force threatening the primacy of their live games — the NFL, in particular, made a habit of picking copyright fights with anyone who tweeted a highlight from the game. Others saw YouTube as a valuable way to expose more people to their best content. “We are incredibly protective of our live playing rights,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. said in 2016. “But for the most part the strengths are marketing.”
That’s probably still true, especially in the context of “look at that cool lens”. It could turn non-fans into casuals and make people want to watch more. But watching Arsenal’s extended highlights against Liverpool didn’t make me want to go watch more – it made me feel like I’d watched it all. And it only took 16 minutes.