How Bleacher Report is expanding in the UK

When you walk into Bleacher Report’s U.K. offices in London, the first thing you notice is a video studio dedicated entirely to shooting Facebook Live streams and Snapchat Discover content.

Yesterday, former NFL star Osi Umenyiora was front of camera filming his weekly snaps. The topic: NFL predictions and player weightlifting techniques. He does everything from voice interludes encouraging users to “swipe up for more” to full-length videos directed by Bleacher Report’s head of video Neil Welch. It’s a slick filming process: 20 minutes and he’s out.

Just as well, because the seven-person video team is preparing for their next shoot: Bleacher Report’s “World Football Weekend Preview” Facebook Live show, devoted to the other type of football, which kicks off at 2 p.m. GMT. Both Facebook and Snapchat have played an equally important part in Bleacher Report’s rise in the U.K.

When it comes to expanding abroad, Bleacher Report is squarely focused on platforms. The digital media sports company is a giant in the U.S., where it has 30 million monthly users according to comScore, but is 3 years old in the U.K., where it has just 1.7 million monthly visitors — a small audience for a staff of 32.

For Bleacher Report, the end game isn’t to use social platforms to drive people back to its own sites. The sports publisher believes the future is in distributed content. And for the U.K. team, the strategy is to build audience and brand awareness, then ramp up the sales side.

“The commercial team is skinny because we’re still in a growth phase here,” said Bleacher Report’s head of operations, James Grigg. “We want to be known as a quality publication. Monetization is a challenge with social distribution, but it will build,” he added.

Meet the team
Bleacher Report’s focus on brand and audience-building is reflected in the team’s makeup: Of its 32 staff, just three have sales roles. The rest are a mix of editors, mobile and video specialists, social media editors and designers. The social team has a dozen people, half of whom come up with editorial ideas, and the rest a mix of graphic designers, videographers and image manipulators. Seven people look after its mobile app curation and content creation. A team of four is dedicated to Snapchat.

Most of the team are in their mid-20s and come from a mix of traditional and digital media backgrounds. One element of a typical newsroom that’s missing: There are no text writers. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any written journalism. The team uses up to 20 regular freelancers who work remotely. The core team has three commissioning editors, and one of its text-based specialties is 3,000-5,000 word features, which it publishes once or twice a week.

The social team uses web tool Trello as its ideas mood board. Fans these days are as interested in information related to football players’ lives as they are in actual matches, so Bleacher Report features a lot of lifestyle-related content that has a longer shelf life than content that’s just pegged to the games. The whole team relies on Slack for internal communications and liaising with the U.S. office.

Former New York giants player Osi Umenyiora does weekly NFL predictions for Bleacher Report Snapchat Discover.

Snapchat Discover audiences tire easily
Given the age group of the BR Discover audience is between 15 and 25 years old, they tire easily if content formats become repetitive. After three weeks of seeing the same type of content audiences begin to cool, according to Bleacher Report U.K. editor-in-chief Lee Walker. So new formats and fresh ideas are put into play on a regular basis. That means a lot of analysis goes into monitoring completion rates and views to keep formats fresh.

“The Snapchat team has been ring-fenced because it requires a very specific skill set, which is very analytical,” added BR’s head of operations, James Grigg. Part of the reason the team closely monitors snap completion rates is for advertisers. BR is a Snapchat Discover partner in the U.K., which means it takes home half of the ad revenue from editions, with Snapchat taking the rest. It’s had sponsors like Nike and Adidas, and with ad slots every four snaps, ensuring the audience doesn’t drop off before the second and third ad slots is critical, added Grigg.

Facebook Live ripe for sponsors
Bleacher Report has experimented a lot with different varieties of Facebook Live content, from the hand-held, wobbly videos that give the viewer a behind-the-scenes feel to its reporting, to the more polished, long-form shows. Currently, it films three 45-minute Facebook shows a week, with three studio cameras.

Aside from the World Football Weekend Preview, which runs on Thursdays, it runs the “Champions League Preview Show” on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. GMT, and a “Premier League Six-Pointer” on Sundays at 7 p.m. GMT. Each average a minimum of 50,000 views on Facebook. One 90-minute stream showing English footballer Rohan Ricketts playing the latest EA Sports FIFA game two weeks ago generated 400,000 views. Grigg said its Facebook Live shows have already attracted inquiries from brands and agencies regarding sponsorships.

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