NBCUniversal adds Refinery29 to its growing list of digital publisher and platform partners

NBC Sports and Refinery29 are embarking on a yearlong social editorial and marketing partnership focused on telling stories about female athletes and other women in sports. It’s the latest instance of NBCUniversal working with a platform or digital publisher to create digital content.

The partnership kicked off this week with a new Instagram account, @onherturf, which will promote women in sports through videos, photos and graphics. With the Winter Olympics still happening, broadcast exclusively in the U.S. by NBC Sports, the account mostly features highlights from the games, as well as quotes and illustrations spotlighting different athletes.

Refinery29 joins BuzzFeed, Vox Media, Snap and Apple News as digital companies or platforms that NBCUniversal has invested in or partnered with for digital content. NBC Sports and Refinery29 declined to comment on whether NBC Sports is funding On Her Turf, with Storms reiterating that it is “both an editorial and marketing partnership.”

“We feel there’s a real opportunity here to showcase powerful women in sports and tell these inspirational stories,” said Jenny Storms, CMO of NBC Sports Group. “At the same time, we recognize that it would probably work best if we created a partnership with someone that’s already in the space and speaking closely to millennial women. That’s where Refinery29 comes in.”

While the Olympics provide an easy opportunity to cover female athletes, other sports leagues and competitions broadcast by NBC Sports, including the NFL, the NHL, the English Premier League and NASCAR, are male-dominated. In these instances, NBC Sports and Refinery29 will focus on female fans of the sports and top female executives and personalities at the leagues themselves. Content also won’t be restricted to the sports that NBC Sports has broadcast rights to.

On Her Turf, which might eventually expand beyond the Instagram account, will also focus on how issues such as equal pay and mental health affect sports.

NBC Sports’ tie-up with Refinery29 is reminiscent of its other digital publishing partnerships. With BuzzFeed, in which NBCUniversal has invested $400 million, NBC Sports has programmed two Olympics-themed Snapchat Discover channels during the last two games. NBCUniversal also recently teamed up with BuzzFeed on a new millennial parenting channel called Playfull. With Vox Media, which NBCUniversal invested $200 million in, the  media giant formed the Concert ad platform. Across its various divisions, NBCUniversal is also the biggest producer of Snapchat shows. (NBCUniversal is not an investor in Refinery29.)

NBC Sports will handle ad sales for On Her Turf, centering on custom videos and images and sponsored editorial pieces.

“This will be beyond spots and dots,” said Storms. “And sponsors will be interested in this because we’ve seen partners attach themselves over the past year when it comes to stories of female empowerment.”

“There’s an opportunity for brands here, particularly those marketers looking to align their brands with the idea of female empowerment,” said Josh Spiegelman, managing director of Spotlight, Mindshare North America’s sports and entertainment practice. “I’d be interested in seeing what they do next with custom content solutions for advertisers.”

Refinery29 has three people dedicated full time to On Her Turf and six more helping part time. The publisher will take the lead on packaging and programming the Instagram account and any other platform On Her Turf expands to. NBC Sports is supplying Refinery29 with its live sports and other sports-related video, including archival footage, and assisting in programming and distribution with the help of its 10-person social team.

“We’re looking to highlight the role sports plays for women, and partnering with NBC Sports gives us access that helps us extend even deeper into this space,” said Amy Emmerich, chief content officer at Refinery29.

With On Her Turf, some of the intention is to drive people to tune in for NBC Sports broadcasts, but the companies don’t want to hit people over the head with it, according to Storms.

“The kernel of this idea is that we offer more women’s sports in prime time than anybody else,” said Storms. “We want to engage our female base.”


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