Beyond t-shirts: Bleacher Report plans to develop and sell 600 different items in 2019

After testing out one-off items, capsule collections and a pop-up event in 2018, Bleacher Report plans to build bigger commerce programs in 2019.

On Tuesday, it unveiled a line of merchandise produced in partnership with NBA All-Star Dwyane Wade, the DWade World Tour, to commemorate the three-time NBA champion’s final season in the NBA. The line will include t-shirts, hats, hoodies and long-sleeved shirts. It’s weighing opportunities to collaborate on shoes as well, the company said.

Overall, Bleacher Report plans to double the output of its commerce team, putting 600 different items for sale in 2019, a company spokesperson said. The Turner-owned sports publisher has plans to launch around eight collaborations in 2019, said Ed Romaine, Bleacher Report’s chief brand officer. This includes partnerships with athletes as well as high-profile recording artists.

These collaborations will be larger than one item, too. While earlier Bleacher commerce plays concentrated around a single item — such as the sweatshirt it sold to capitalize on the “Hoodie Melo” phenomenon that shot across NBA Twitter in 2017 — the collections planned for this year will be larger.

“We’re moving beyond releasing t-shirts,” Romaine said, describing the DWade World Tour project. “I would say for the first time this is an all-hands-on-deck situation [for a commerce project].”

Though it’s one of its fastest growing streams of revenue, commerce remains small for Bleacher Report. A spokesperson declined to share hard figures for Bleacher’s commerce business.

The publisher now has five people on its commerce team, which sits separately from business development or marketing.

While some publishers have started to regard commerce as a major revenue opportunity, nascent publishers such as Bleacher Report are also drawn to it for its branding and marketing potential; it’s a way to communicate to audiences that they are at the heart of certain cultures.

“This is a broader marketing and branding play,” said David Meltzer, the CEO of agency Sports 1 Marketing.

Bleacher Report hired a director of operations and a head of design, who will build out brand assets that will allow the publisher to promote its collaborations across all of its channels.

For example, DWade World Tour, Bleacher Report worked with Turner, its parent company, to ensure the collaboration will be integrated into linear TV broadcasts. A branded profile of Wade will run at the conclusion of a Miami Heat broadcast later this year, and Bleacher Report-produced advertisements will run on both linear and broadcast will air during the game as well. Wade will also be wearing items from the line on his way to the arena locker rooms, a walk that many sports media executives have likened to a fashion show runway.

To promote the products, it will lean on owned channels such as its mobile app, its team stream app, as well as some advertisers. The line’s items will also be sold at a live event Bleacher Report is hosting at the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.

As with previous collaborations, the Wade collection will only be available for a limited time; Romaine declined to share information about how much of any of the items it intends to sell. Bleacher Report said sold “tens of thousands” of the soccer jerseys it launched in the summer of 2018.

These kinds of collaborations figure to become more commonplace, not only as publishers look for more ways to diversify revenues but as athletes become more aware of the opportunities available to leverage publishers’ distribution muscles.

“There is now a ‘stage theory’ where athletes and publishers need to capture, amplify and perpetuate content digitally to monetize it,” Meltzer said. “There is a new awareness of personal brands and their ability to leverage new digital publications with a younger, more engaged audience.”

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