YouTube on laptop
Youtube is one of the most profitable online platforms CNET

In 2018, two brothers from north London decided to have a bit of fun.

Louis and Milo Rusi started filming their weekly small-sided football games on a phone camera, uploading the grainy footage to Youtube in the form of highlight clips.

"It was for our own entertainment", said Milo. "At first it was just for our team group chat, but eventually we realised that the clips of everyone joking around were genuinely funny, so we decided to share them with a wider audience."

For a while, there was little interest. Then, suddenly, one of the videos of the team, named 5ive Guys FC, went viral, and everything changed.

Now, they boast 147,000 subscribers, with their videos totalling over 16 million views. It's all evidence of the rising popularity of the Youtube football space.

Youtube and football have always shared common ground since the video platform was established in 2005.

The very first viral video on the site was a three-minute clip of professional footballer Ronaldinho hitting the crossbar three times in a row.

Since then, clips of players, highlights of famous matches, challenges and skits have proved to be a successful means of accumulating millions of views. Last year, YouTube began to stream some football matches exclusively on their platform. Recently, Youtube football teams, like 5ive Guys, have begun to dominate the online space.

It began with the emergence of so-called "fan-cam channels", such as the infamous Arsenal Fan TV, and has now evolved to online clubs, live-streamed matches and "influencer players".

5ive Guys' winning formula is to capture their weekly matches, in a 7-a-side league, where they often face aggressive, law-bending opponents, with their own commentary layered over the footage.

The channel has also achieved success by focusing on the different personalities within the team, and their individual narratives, as well as the football itself.

Full disclosure: I've occasionally played for the team myself. In 2019, by chance, my own team played against 5ive Guys in a league match. After the game, Milo asked me to help out his team, who were in need of a striker.

Although, it was far from a case of instant success for the channel.

"The biggest challenge was convincing the boys to engage with the camera," said Milo. He describes how most of them were understandably shy at the beginning, but he encouraged them to just be themselves.

"Other Youtube teams have tried to force characters they felt would be entertaining, but we've made sure all our personalities are authentic, and people engage with it because it's real."

It took a while, but 5ive Guys FC have built up a loyal online following, with some fans now turning up to their games in real life. This success has led to an appearance on Soccer AM, sold-out merchandise and multiple brand partnerships. One of their most recent videos has over 130,000 views less than 4 days after being uploaded.

For many young people, the personal, unfiltered content offered by Youtube Teams feels more relatable than following elite football clubs. "I just feel like I really know each player," one of 5ive Guys FC's subscribers explained. "In the last video, one of them did a celebration I'd messaged him to do earlier that week."

The player-viewer relationship is certainly stronger on Youtube than in traditional football. "Our content is completely based on what the fans want," says Milo. "From picking the team, to which games we play, it's all in tune with audience feedback on our videos."

5ive Guys FC players
5ive Guys FC players pose with their 100,000 subscriber plaques Instagram: 5ive Guys FC

Today, there are hundreds of established Youtube teams who upload their weekly matches to a regular audience. If you totalled up all the minutes of football content on YouTube, it would take more than 2,000 years to watch it all. An annual charity match featuring prominent online footballers peaked at 2.6 million live viewers in 2022, with this year's edition expected to surpass this figure.

The concept is relatively simple: A football club where matches are filmed and uploaded exclusively to Youtube, along with behind-the-scenes footage of team talks, player interviews and match preparation. This model was first established by Fifa Content Creator Spencer Owen in 2016 with his team Hashtag United.

Fast-forward to 2023 and his channel has amassed over 108 million views. In early 2018, Chelsea player and Spanish international César Azpilicueta invested in the club and became a co-owner. Hashtag United now have more subscribers than the majority of Premier League teams, including Everton, West Ham United and Aston Villa.

While it may have begun as a football team, the channel now functions as a thriving business venture. Thousands of content creators are able to make a living from running channels like Hashtag United.

Their main source of income comes from the Youtube Partner Program - creators can join this once they've accumulated 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time. This provides access to monetization features such as Google Adsense.

Through Adsense, marketers and advertisers can buy ad space on YouTube and show their ads on relevant videos. The platform embeds these ads into video content and generates revenue based on clicks, views and impressions - the content creator receives 55 per cent of this income and Youtube takes 45 per cent for itself.

Youtube Partner Programme Criteria
The Partner Scheme offers guaranteed income for popular creators Google Support

Once a channel is big enough, there are other potential avenues for income. Brand sponsorships, fan funding and merchandise sales all offer additional revenue options for popular uploaders, ensuring that if you can maintain a large and loyal following you're guaranteed to make a healthy profit.

Through the Youtube Partner Program alone, it is estimated that Hashtag United earns over £70,000 per year. In 2022, the average YouTube pay in the US was about $1,154 per week. The year before, the top 10 highest-paid YouTubers collectively earned about $300 million - this figure was 40 per cent higher than what the previous year's top earners on the platform raked in.

According to Milo, this is only the beginning of his channel 5ive Guys FC, saying, "We are very ambitious. We want to be playing in real stadiums with high-profile players in the future, and perhaps tour around the UK playing matches and meeting fans."

With a successful business model, a dedicated fanbase, and a clear vision, there seems no reason why his Youtube Channel won't climb to even greater heights.