'At the center of everything': Bleacher Report is a technology company

Bleacher Report is using its first-party data to drive every decision it makes

The NBA All-Star Weekend was marked by high-flying dunks, masterful shooting, the game’s biggest stars and the world’s biggest brands.

What began as a box score blog over 10 years ago, Bleacher Report is now one of sports’ preeminent content machines. From traditional reporting to original online programming, the brand exists across platforms with its range of sub-brands to drive user engagement.

Stefanie Rapp, senior vice-president of revenue strategy at Bleacher Report, told The Drum that, through data collection, fans drive every decision the outlet makes.

“At the center of everything, we're a technology company… Yes, sports culture is the lens through which we look at everything and all the content we push out is through that sports culture lens, but empowering it all is the tech part of the company,” said Rapp.

Part of that content push included Sunday’s (17 February) Fanfest activation. Dubbed ‘B/R X NC,’ it was Bleacher Report’s second major activation around NBA All-Star, and its sub-brand House of Highlights’ first.

Held in Charlotte, North Carolina in the hours preceding the All-Star Game, Bleacher Report’s Fanfest brought in sponsors like Ruffles, Tissot, Intel McDonald’s, State Farm and Foot Locker x Adidas.

Bleacher Report’s chief brand officer Ed Romaine told The Drum that the company revolves its content strategy around major sports events – like NBA All-Star – and around building out its editorial franchises. Late last year, Bleacher Report debuted The Drop Up, a sneaker-themed pop up aimed to celebrate shoe culture and promote its social channel B/R Kicks.

“We have 10 years of data that we have cultivated in a lot of different ways to understand how people are engaging with content [and] when they're engaging with content,” said Romaine. “When we look at games, our editorial guys and social programming guys are imagining different scenarios that could take place inside the games, so that in real time they could connect with our users.”

Romaine said that its users, mostly millennials and Gen Z, don’t consume content linearly; they’re watching and sharing highlights on social media, engaging and communicating in non-traditional ways. This sparked non-traditional content.

Bleacher Report recently launched its animated series The Champions, an irreverent, soccer-themed mini-show. Thanks to Turner Sports, which owns Bleacher Report, the digital outlet now has rights to UEFA Champions League soccer and is looking to capitalize on what it’s seeing as a groundswell of support in America for the world’s most popular game.

Romaine said that while Bleacher Report now has a London office, the company isn’t necessarily shifting its attention to Europe now that it has soccer under its wing.

“We're trying to build for the universal soccer fan, not for market,” said Romaine.

Rapp said, gleaning from the company’s data insights, that soccer fandom in the US is “growing at much the same pace that NBA fandom did about 15 years ago.”

She added that while the National Football League, college basketball and football, and golf are top sports for the brand to align itself with, both she and Romaine believe the National Basketball Association is king, with Romaine calling it “the most emblematic league from what we try to accomplish” from an editorial standpoint.

Bleacher Report is soon to be armed with an even bigger war chest of user data after the merger of AT&T and Time Warner, which can now tap AT&T's set-top box data thanks to its ad business Xandr.

But for Rapp, Bleacher Report is positioned just fine without help from its new parent company.

“The reality is that even without Xandr and AT&T, because of our app, we're sitting on troves of first-party data,” said Rapp.

Rapp stressed that Bleacher Report is focusing on pushing out its app. She also said that opening a London office, a global business hub, will allow the brand to reach new markets, especially Asia-Pacific.

Rapp also pointed to a future where Bleacher Report cements itself in the OTT space with its B/R Live streaming service, hosted by Turner Sports.

“Do I see a future whereby Bleacher Report would take it over? Yes, it makes sense simply because that's an OTT platform app and we have an app. So could I see those worlds merging at one point in the future? Absolutely.”

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