Competitive Marble Racing Finds Fans in a World Missing Sports

Professional basketball, soccer and hockey games were suspended. Major League Baseball canceled the start of its season, and the Olympics have been postponed. But at least one sport remains: marble racing.

Videos of competitive marble racing have gained widespread attention as nearly every sporting event, major and minor, has been placed on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It sucks us into another world, another dimension without war, misery and negativity,” said Dion Bakker, a founder of the YouTube channel Jelle’s Marble Runs.

The world of marble racing recently got a boost from a tweet featuring a video of marbles rebounding along an outdoor sand track. Celebrities such as Pete Wentz, bassist for Fall Out Boy, drew attention to the video, which has been viewed more than 35 million times.

“There are still underdogs and upsets — something to cheer about,” he said.

The Bakkers’ YouTube channel, which gained more than 150,000 subscribers last month, has partnered with Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile and been featured on ESPN and NBC Sports. The videos draw about 10 million views per month, with nearly half coming from the United States, Dion Bakker said.

Jelle Bakker has been making marble runs since he was 4 because he liked the colors, movements and sounds of the marbles, his brother said.

Mr. Woods stumbled upon his first Jelle’s Marble Runs video in 2016 and was struck by the starting lineup and the marbles’ names. For example, Team Galactic are transparent spheres with brown and silver swirls and the O’rangers are solid orange.

Mr. Woods, a car racing enthusiast with a background in public health, posted a commentary of that run on YouTube. Jelle Bakker contacted him, and Mr. Woods has been the channel’s official play-by-play announcer ever since.

“There’s really no handbook for how you call these races,” Mr. Woods said. “Certain things you can pull from auto racing and human sports, but there’s only so many ways to describe how marbles roll.”

Marble-racing fans, estimated to be in the millions, take an active role in creating the sport’s culture.

Jelle Bakker sets the scene, but thousands of fans analyze stats, share memes, build elaborate back stories and discuss the marbles’ “personal” lives on the channel’s subreddit.

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