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Last week, Bleacher Report released the first episode of its latest series, “Sneak This,” a 15-minute, four-part sketch comedy show hinged on sneaker culture — not exactly the usual content for a sports media company.

“Sneak This,” hosted by comedians Rob Haze and Jamel Johnson, is part of the B/R Kicks vertical, which was launched six years ago as Bleacher Report’s way of getting its foot in the door, so to speak, to sneaker-head culture (a group of fashion enthusiasts who are fans of sneakers and athleisure brands).

The crossover of interests between sports fans and sneaker heads was easy to identify, given frequent brand deals with NBA stars and sneaker manufacturers like Michael Jordan and Nike, so it seemed like a “natural evolution” for B/R’s editorial, according to John Marcelo, director of brand strategy, B/R Kicks at Bleacher Report. But the idea of creating an entire vertical that talks about shoes — and, later, sports lifestyle and off-the-court outfits — was also done in an effort to get new, non-endemic brands, like fashion houses and spirit manufacturers, interested in advertising with B/R.

Since launching, B/R Kicks grew a slate of shows that are distributed across parent company Turner Sports’ linear TV channel, Bleacher Report’s livestreaming app, and its social media channels. The shows are led by athletes, on-air talent and even musical artists, who talk about their own interests in fashion and athleisure wear.

The first brand deal signed to B/R Kicks was in 2018 and since then the volume of revenue has increased by three times, according to a company spokesperson. Since the start of the year, total revenue for the sneaker vertical has doubled over 2020 thanks to seven signed brand deals in 2021 with companies like JD Sports, Truly, Finish Line, and Crown Royal. 

B/R Kicks has “given us a real avenue into the fashion world, and not athletic wear fashion, but fashion and retail. Think Bloomingdale’s, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Armani — all of those conversations have started through the B/R Kicks lens,” said Stefanie Rapp, chief revenue officer at Bleacher Report. “The approachability of the brand is what has really driven those conversations for the fashion houses.”

One of its series that’s distributed on linear is a segment called “Fit Watch,” which runs on TNT on Tuesday. The shows hosts — Dwyane Wade, Candace Parker, Shaquille O’Neal and Adam Lefkoe — critique NBA players’ outfits that they see online.

“‘Fit Watch’ is something specifically that has opened doors for us with Bloomingdale’s and Saks. A lot of the shows that [Marcelo] produces open the door — it doesn’t always mean that that’s the exact thing we sell, but [an] entry point into [Bleacher Report],” said Rapp.

The goal of “Sneak This” is to further replicate the successes that “Fit Watch” has had with getting new advertisers to start conversations with Bleacher Report. In the 24 hours of going live, the show collectively earned more than 5 million views across all of the social posts and on the app, Marcelo said.

Media companies regularly realize their audiences have more interest than one particular vertical and want to monetize those other adjacencies, said Barry Lowenthal, CEO of media buying agency Media Kitchen. That’s why newspapers have many different sections — to give advertisers the ability to be next to content that is more in line with their brands, as well as to avoid controversial subjects elsewhere in the paper, he added.

While it’s not a unique distinction that they’re making, Lowenthal said, it is a smart business decision. Creating a larger ecosystem of content by adding fashion and lifestyle coverage through the lens of sports will enable B/R to monetize even more aspects of their existing audience. 

There needs to be proof of concept, however. Buyers for retail brands who are being introduced to a traditionally sports-focused company like Bleacher Report through a vertical’s sneaker and lifestyle adjacency are going to want to see affinity data between a football fan and a fashion house, for instance, said Seth Hargrave, VP of strategy at media buying agency Media Two.

“As we look at hard conversion data for our retail advertisers, the importance of affinities for other brands paints a picture of who we need to target and how they need to be addressed with messaging,” Hargrave said.   

B/R Kicks still generates only a fraction of the popularity of the B/R main channel, with 12,500 subscribers to the Kicks’ YouTube channel, compared to B/R’s 2.25 million. On Instagram and TikTok, however, there are better indicators that the B/R Kicks audience is both present and sizable. Kicks has more than 750,000 TikTok followers and 2.1 million Instagram followers, compared to B/R’s 2.4 million and 16.1 million, respectively.

“Choosing to ‘diversify’ can be a dangerous game and shouldn’t be done just for the sake of it,” said Niki Bell, a media strategist at Media Two. “At the end of the day, the question should be, ‘Is B/R Kicks providing value to the audience, and are they engaging?’ Otherwise, any ad revenue increase will be short-lived.”

“The question is how far can they stretch the environment before they seem inauthentic,” added Lowenthal.

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