Video: John Oliver backs Dutch brothers' competitive marble racing league

John Oliver announces Last Week Tonight's sponsorship of Jelle's Marble Runs and the Marble League
John Oliver announces Last Week Tonight's sponsorship of Jelle's Marble Runs and the Marble League. May 18, 2020Last Week Tonight / HBO

American television show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver pushed two Nijmegen brothers' marble racing league into the spotlight. After British-American comedian John Oliver announced Monday night in the U.S. that his show will be sponsoring Jelle's Marble Runs, the YouTube channel's subscriber figures quickly shot up.

Oliver described the marble racing videos as "absolutely fantastic" and "a beautiful competitive event" that the world needs "more than ever right now." He is not alone, with race highlights now shown on ESPN, and rolling competitions often featured in television news coverage.

Jelle's Marble Runs was thought up by two brothers, 34-year-old Jelle and 39-year-old Dion Bakker. Namesake Jelle has been fascinated by marbles since he was four years old. "Jelle has autism and creating Marble runs is still one of his greatest passions," the duo said on their Patreon page. They told broadcaster NOS that in 2006 the two decided to post their marble races on YouTube and it grew into a marble racing league with rival teams like Raspberry Racers and Green Ducks.

The brothers already had a significant fan base before John Oliver found them, with some 800 thousand subscribers. But since the Last Week Tonight broadcast, their subscriptions have grown by well over 100 thousand in less than a day, Dion said to the broadcaster. Oliver announced that his show will be the channel's main sponsor, donating 5 thousand dollars to a food bank in the name of the winning team in each match, and another 20 thousand dollars to an international aid organization in the name of the league winner.

Dion did not want to tell NOS how much the brothers get themselves, except that they are now "on the verge of making serious money" and can now properly compensate their international team of designers, composers and community managers.