Inside the English Football League's branded content drive

Brave Bison's football content

The English Football League (EFL) is embracing branded content as a means of getting brands more engaged with the group's partner clubs, it has signed video agency Brave Bison on to deliver the product.

The EFL unites the Championship, League One and League Two, a total of 72 teams across England and Wales. As a representative of top UK clubs it is super-charging its digital channels to create a brand-safe space where bespoke branded content can build a mutually beneficial relationship between fans and partners.

After four years working with digital partner Brave Bison, the EFL has extended the partnership for another two years as it pushes to improve and monetise 58 club websites while delivering branded content. It builds upon the launch earlier this year of the ambitious iFollow platform that looks to bring non UK and Ireland EFL fans coverage of their favourite teams.

The Drum talks to Jon Kitchen, commercial director of Brave Bison to understand how to build such an offering from scratch and why it is a feasible route for sports leagues.

The transformation of the Football League

Since 2015, the Football League has gone by the EFL, delivering a new identity including a logo adorned with 72 stars representing its member clubs. It unifies England’s second, third and fourth tiers to create a more commercially desirable package, one that looks to stand out from under the English Premier League.

Those visiting the likes of Brentford or Bolton’s websites, for example, will notice the sites share a universal design, designed and operated by Realise. These sites are embedded with club content, video, ecommerce widgets, mentions of sponsors and ad units that will serve content, largely programmatically, although league partners like SkyBet can utilise them directly when required.

It is on this infrastructure, rolled out in 2017, that Kitchen hopes to attract brand partners. It is, according to him, a place with filled with “millions of engaged fans who want to be there”, he adds “it also has the benefit of being a brand-safe space.” A valid point seeing as the likes of YouTube is clamping down on creators amid concerns from advertisers their media spend might be wasted on undesirable content that juxtaposes their values.

Video is core

Brave Bison has brought together fractured ecosystem comprised of clubs of varying resources. Upon this foundation, Kitchen is working to deliver options for brands to get involved, Kitchen says: “Video will absolutely be at the heart of our branded content.

“We are working to shape that proposition. It is in development with the EFL, we have a huge amount of video production expertise, and access to influencer talent. We will be working with partners of the EFL but also coming up with ideas to find new partners.”

To fuel this growth, the video production service boasts a host of influencers including Slash Football, numerous studios, and a reported five-a-side pitch that could conceivably factor into any future activity. Kitchen comes from LadBible where he was head of sales. He was there during a period that saw the young media outlet grow from humble social media roots to pursue a more mature voice in order to attract brands.

He says his day-to-day was composed of “building a commercial offering, across branded content”, he adds “it put me squarely into the social media place and really gave me an understanding of how brands operate in that space”.

Although coy on what partners are onboard for the earliest branded activations to come from the project, Kitchen says that the work demands more than just being a digital partner.

“Brave Bison is really in sync with the EFL. We are an extension of them,” he concludes.

John McCarthy

John is an entertainment marketing reporter at The Drum. He writes about the amazing marketing stories coming from the movie, TV, music and video game industries. He's also the hunt for the weirder trends in marketing and advertising.

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