With sports seasons cancelled and the future of large gatherings uncertain, leading digital sports publication Bleacher Report is getting creative to keep readers engaged.
Two months after lockdown measures began in the US, the novel coronavirus has sent ripples across the American economy. The media industry has been particularly hard-hit, with ad spend dropping and planned campaigns put on hold indefinitely. For Bleacher Report, a digital sports publication based in San Francisco and New York, these market changes are compounded by unprecedented sports cancellations.
Yet despite the slew of unexpected challenges, Bleacher Report has remained resilient and continues to drive steady engagement from both advertisers and readers. We spoke to Alex Goldenberg, Bleacher Report’s Manager of Integrated Strategy, about how he and his team have adjusted to post-COVID economic challenges and shifts in the media landscape.
Adjusting to Remote Work
According to Goldenberg, his department — integrated strategy — acts as a liaison between Bleacher Report’s sales and content teams. “Essentially, when clients come in through the sales team, we work with the content team to come up with ideas, whether it’s social media, some kind of event, or a partnership with an athlete,” Goldenberg explains. “Then if an advertiser does decide to spend with us on a campaign, it’s my team’s job to ensure that the execution we promised runs smoothly.”
Because of the cross-functional nature of their work, his team transitioned easily to remote work when major cities began implementing lockdown measures. Goldenberg is based in New York City, but he relies regularly on digital tools for communication with clients. “For most of my time at Bleacher Report, I’ve been on mostly West Coast accounts. The account executives I work most closely with are based in L.A. or San Francisco,” Goldenberg explains. “As a result, 60 to 70 percent of my day-to-day conversations already took place over Google Hangouts or Slack.”
Goldenberg acknowledges that the integrated strategy department was probably among the better-prepared teams in the company. But despite some initial hurdles, Bleacher Report teams across different offices have transitioned quickly to remote work by using their existing tools. “For the most part, we haven’t really had to implement any new tools,” Goldenberg says. “We’re just trying to be more responsive and transparent overall.”
Generating Creative Sports Content — Without Live Sports
Of course, adapting to remote work has not been Bleacher Report’s only — or indeed most significant — challenge. To put it simply, the real difficulty is figuring out how to run a sports news website when there are no live sports. For Goldenberg’s team, this challenge is two-fold: creating compelling content, and convincing advertisers to continue to purchase ads on Bleacher Report.
Bleacher Report responded to the first challenge by getting creative with its content output. “The one good thing is that our content team has a lot of time to experiment, create, and ideate,” Goldenberg says. “The other day, our team put together a collaborative document with about a hundred new ideas based out of quarantine-related trends. That type of exercise was definitely something we’d never done to that extent before.” Goldenberg highlighted a post about swapping NBA players’ hairstyles with their teammates’ that garnered over 32k retweets.
By publishing a steady stream of new content, Bleacher Report has been able to assure ad buyers that site traffic and user engagement will continue to hold—even without live sports. “Our analytics team has been sending out reports every day, and we’re still the most engaged-with sports brand on social media,” he observes. With impressive engagement statistics, Bleacher Report has retained a large number of its advertisers — especially in gaming and entertainment. “You can still put out content encouraging people to watch a TV show or play a video game. I think it’s a little more difficult to put out content encouraging people to buy clothes or something like that right now,” Goldenberg says.
Bleacher Report is successfully keeping its readers entertained by focusing on innovative content strategies that sustain user engagement. With a healthy blend of innovation and humor, Goldenberg and his team appeared to have pulled off a near-impossible feat — convincing advertisers that a sports publication can thrive even with live sports on pause.