As Turner Sports and the linear cable network TNT look to rebound from a singularly disrupted 2019-20 NBA season, the company will be forging headlong into the multi-screen experience. As a pure digital play, Bleacher Report is key to Turner’s efforts to engage with a younger audience that is increasingly consuming its sports coverage away from the homey trappings of linear TV.
While the NBA already reaches an audience that’s considerably younger-skewing than the other major sports, Bleacher Report’s coverage is designed to hit Gen Z fans where they live. About 90% of Bleacher Report followers use a mobile device while watching TV, and 75% of those users who self-identify as NBA fans say they use social media while parked in front of the tube. More than half of Bleacher Report’s social engagements and app usage occur during live NBA games, a percentage that’s in keeping with the brand’s core audience of fans age 17 to 37.
The efforts to super-serve this coveted cohort will be visible from the jump. In a new wrinkle, live games will be streamable through the B/R app, a development that will allow users to watch while chatting and otherwise engaging in the various social intricacies which are endemic to young fans—and all on one platform. This marks the first time Turner’s NBA coverage will be offered as a full-on “TV Everywhere” play, which means that cord-cutters/-nevers will have to shake down mom and dad for the cable password. For hoops fans who aren’t total spongers, an over-the-top streaming service is a wise investment; at $30 per month, Sling TV is the cheapest option on the market.
Bleacher Report is also developing a series of programs designed to maximize NBA consumption among younger fans who can’t be pinned down to a single screen. According to chief revenue officer Stefanie Rapp, B/R is putting together a couple of online betting shows and is working to expand the in-game prop betting experience. Since he penned a prescient 2014 New York Times piece opining in favor of legalized gambling, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been outspoken in his advocacy for in-game wagering, and how the ability for fans to bet on what kicks Kyrie will be wearing and whether Jayson Tatum will score 12 points in the first quarter should go a long way toward keeping younger enthusiasts from tuning out during the course of a game.
Silver is also big on fourth-quarter micropayments, the frictionless, small-change transactions that would not only ensure instant access to NBA games in progress, but may also go a long way toward restoring a demographic balance that’s been upended by cord-cutting. Turner has already kicked the tires on the fractional game plan, as subscribers to the premium B/R Live service may stream the fourth quarter of any out-of-market game for $1.99.
On the advertising front, look for new Turner Sports/Bleacher Report marketing partner FanDuel to make a splash during TNT’s in-game coverage and in various executions across the B/R app. As part of a deal that was first announced in July, FanDuel serves as the exclusive sports-betting provider for Turner’s NBA programming and Bleacher Report’s pro hoops content. Upon signing the multi-year pact, the brand immediately was integrated into the fabric of the NBA on TNT studio show, by way of a recurring branded segment dubbed the “Charles Barkley Guarantee.”
FanDuel’s arrangement with Turner got even cozier Monday, when the digital sportsbook locked in Barkley as its ambassador-slash-spokesman. As much as Sir Charles’ carnival-barker endorsements and contrarian predictions make for a whole lot of diverting content (in both the traditional TV and sharable social media spheres), more impressionable viewers perhaps would be better served by not betting the kegger fund on Barkley’s picks. Among the untenable on-air pronouncements Barkley made over the course of 2020 playoffs was his call for a Blazers sweep of the Lakers in the first round. L.A. won that series 4-1.
As it happens, the canned statement attributed to Barkley in the FanDuel release really gets to the heart of why the networks have gone all-in on legalized sports betting. “FanDuel helps our show be more informative and interactive, and they do it in a way that any knucklehead could understand,” Barkley said. “So even if your team is down by 20 in the fourth quarter, with FanDuel you’ll have a reason to keep watching.”
And that effectively crystallizes the three-way intersection of live sports, a booming betting market and a demographic that has the attention span of a Dalmatian on diet pills. The longer you can keep Gen Z jabbing the buttons on their combination media portals/biofeedback devices, the more likely they’ll stick around until the final buzzer.