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Friday Five: Bleacher Report Chief Content Officer Sam Toles

  • Bleacher Report's history of user-generated content includes videos from athletes themselves.
  • Since the suspension of live sports, UGC has generated 40% of B/R’s social engagements.
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Bleacher Report has always prided itself on its relationships with athletes. With the sports industry frozen in suspended animation, that access has never been more critical to its business strategy.

As media companies across the industry shift to cover do-it-yourself videos submitted by athletes and fans, that user-generated content has been a staple of B/R for years, especially on its “House of Highlights” Instagram account.

Five of B/R’s ten most-watched videos on Instagram this month are athlete-centric, said Bleacher Report Chief Content Officer Sam Toles. Since the suspension of live sports, UGC content has generated 40% of B/R’s social engagements. 

“UGC has always been such a critical component to our playbook because it allows our community to relate and connect with content in an authentic way that’s not a characteristic of traditional media,” said Toles. “It gives a window into the up close and personal,’ and a glimpse into the real-life of athletes, celebrities, and heroes that inspire us all.”

In some cases, B/R owns the UGC. In other instances, it reposts videos from athletes and fans.  

At a time when the country is reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, these videos give B/R viewers and readers a needed laugh, according to Toles.

UGC lends itself to “more playful and humorous content, which is especially critical during these uncertain times,” he said. “So while these are unprecedented times, this is almost second nature for us.”

Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy took a deep dive with Toles on the past, present, and future of UGC at B/R. Excerpts:

FOS: Why has user-generated-content become so important to the media during this sports shutdown? Does it make viewers/readers feel like they are part of the story?

Toles: Nothing like this has happened in over 100 years, and sports fans are impacted in ways they’ve never experienced before. Being totally disconnected from the games, teams, and athletes they love makes what B/R does so much more important. 

We are keeping our community of fans connected and entertained through various means – but central to our operating philosophy is that our audience is always a part of the conversation, and UGC is helping to play a big part in this.

We’re able to facilitate this across our social channels and within our app, which is loaded with social functionality and provides the connective tissue between our fans, athletes, and the sports they love.

FOS: So give me some examples of B/R employing UGC in a smart, strategic way.

Toles: From conversations and reactions to the surprising news coming out of NFL free agency, to our animated characters practicing social distancing through “Gridiron’s Prank Video Calls,” and of course through UGC and other content (FaceTime Interviews being a great example), B/R is filling this void through relatable content, conversation, and community. 

FOS: What feedback are you getting on this strategy?  

Toles: We’ve seen some positive trends when it comes to UGC content so far. In March, five of B/R’s top 10 most viewed Instagram videos featured athletes-centric UGC, such as this Kyrie Irving video

FOS: Can you share the most effective examples of UGC on B/R?

Toles: We are continually assessing and iterating what is performing well for us, and thanks to the intrinsic nature of UGC, a lot of the ideating is coming from our community and the athletes themselves. 

We made an impact with the HoH’s viral #InHouseChallenge with Trae Young, which included a video of him doing an in-home 3-point challenge. [B/R worked directly with Young to create #InHouseChallenge, but he owns the content.]

The video generated 2.3 million video views on HoH while generating another 2.3 million views on Trae’s account. This challenge has also led to additional content as fans continue to submit their own, such as the Grapes #InHouseChallenge (1.8 million views) and Ice Cubes #InHouseChallenge (1.4 million views). 

FOS: Will UGC continues to be an important cog in B/R’s content wheel when live sports return?

Toles: UGC has and will continue to be an important part of any successful content strategy, but I do believe we’ll see some broader consumption trends borne out of this. I also think the athletes are seeing the benefits of connecting with fans and using platforms like B/R to broaden their reach. 

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