NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – Professional Ultimate Frisbee players must have second jobs to make ends meet. Marques Brownlee’s side job happens to be more lucrative than most others.
Brownlee, who plays for the New York Empire in the American Ultimate Disc League, is a Tech YouTuber. His channel has 8.9 million subscribers, and he earns hundreds of thousands of dollars a year when he reviews products and interviews tech giants like Bill Gates and Elon Musk. His videos have an average of nearly 1 million views per day.
In his YouTube biography, Brownlee describes himself as a geek, tech head and Internet personality – but not an athlete. In his videos he rarely mentions the sport – usually referred to as Ultimate – but he blocks enough time for his sporting activities. His double life is clearly outlined on his calendar, which he holds to the hour, months in advance. YouTube on weekdays. Ultimate on weekends.
“Many of the companies I work with don’t respond to my weekend calls or emails,” Brownlee told the Associated Press after a recent playoff victory for New York. “So weekends are weekends for Ultimate.”
His YouTube career has enabled him to meet fans around the world. And when he’s on the field, his part-time job is the reason he’s recognized.
At a game in Washington, an opponent, Joe Richards, stood up to guard him. Before the game was resumed, Richards leaned over to say something.
“I started playing Ultimate because of you,” Richards said.
Brownlee said he was used to that kind of interaction. He feels responsible for using his celebrity to promote Ultimate – a game similar to football that uses a plastic disc instead of an elongated ball.
“We don’t really do it for the salary,” he said. “This is a promotion for the sport.”
So far, however, the league has not done much to take advantage of Brownlee’s fame.
“I won’t say it wasn’t a thought,” said team leader Barbara Stevens. “He’s a professional player for the New York Empire. That’s my requirement for him: to show up at games that are ready to play Ultimate. I know people think I’m crazy, but I won’t change my philosophy.”
Brownlee didn’t play in New York’s unbeaten play-off win over Toronto on Sunday on his home field, a tiny football stadium in the suburb of Westchester County that is also used by Monroe College.
Brownlee’s extreme long-range goal would be to play at the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee has recognized Ultimate, but the sport was not shortlisted for the 2024 Games in Paris and left 2028 in Los Angeles as the next opportunity.
“This is the dream for the sport,” Brownlee said. “Just to share airtime with all the other sports so she gets the respect she deserves.”
Brownlee’s start in Ultimate was just as natural as his start on YouTube – he just signed up. The sport was born in 1968 at his high school, Columbia High School in Maplewood, New Jersey, and he joined the team with just one Frisbee camp.
While at the same high school, he attended YouTube for product reviews, but found the content unsatisfactory and realized there was a shortage in the market. In 2009, at the age of 15 and without formal education, he released his first video under the username MKBHD.
Four years later he exceeded 1 million subscribers.
“Proudest moment on YouTube,” he said about the milestone. “It’s kind of gorgeous. I couldn’t imagine so many people listening to what you’re saying.”
His fame has also brought him into contact with mainstream athletes. Kobe Bryant interviewed Brownlee in 2015 for the launch of the then Lakers star. Even then, Brownlee tried to integrate Ultimate into the conversation.
“(Bryant) just said how, ‘cool’,” Brownlee said laughing.
Brownlee’s teammates don’t know exactly what to think of his off-the-field Stardom.
“We’re all amazed at the success he’s having right now,” said Empire player Conor Kline. Marques is a great guy. Although he has a great personality in front of the camera, he’s a little more shy in real life than you might expect. But I think he’s really opened up over the years. He has a heart of gold. He’s a competitor.”
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