On Friday night, Bleacher Report’s House of Highlights brand is hosting a $100,000 knockout tournament with eight social media influencers that will be streamed on its YouTube channel. The following night, Bleacher Report and Twitter will broadcast a 2×2 game featuring four hip-hop stars—Quavo, Lil Baby, 2Chainz and Jack Harlow.
Both are part of the Turner unit’s growing live event strategy, which aims to produce, broadcast and own competitions that appeal to its young demographic. That’s mainly 13- to 34-year-olds who are typically more loyal to individuals than teams, and those individuals aren’t always athletes.
“With Bleacher Report we’ve always tried to redefine sports for the next generation of fans,” Doug Bernstein, general manager of House of Highlights said in an interview. “We tried to redefine the way sports were covered, and the way sports were curated, and now we’re looking at how to redefine the events themselves.”
These events are two simultaneous jumps from traditional sports like the NBA. First, the athletes are cultural celebrities, not pros. Secondly, Bleacher Report is focused more on the entertainment and interaction than the competitive outcome. The knockout game will be filmed in a space that’s more like a WWE set than a basketball court; the 2×2 game will have a “house party vibe,” with a DJ spinning each artist’s songs after they make plays.
They’ll also each be about an hour, less than half the length of a standard NBA game. That’s important because Bleacher Report judges the success of these events not just by the live audience, but their ability to draw on-demand views on YouTube.
“We are certainly leaning into the idea that sports and culture are no longer on a path to collide, they have combined and are now intertwined,” Bennett Spector, Bleacher Report’s senior vice president of programming said in an interview. “You can’t put music over here and sports over there. Those are one and the same.”
Much of that combination has happened on Twitter, which is what drew the social media company to the 2×2 match.
“There is just as much conversation at times around a new Lil Baby record or a Quavo song, as there is around an important moment in sports,” said TJ Adeshola, general manager of Twitter Sports. “And when you think about that intersectionality of sports, hip-hop and culture, Twitter is the conversation. It’s like the cookout, or the barbershop.”
Both events will happen in the run-up to Sunday’s NBA All-Star game in Atlanta, which will be televised by Turner’s TNT. Executives say the full weekend will showcase all three Warnermedia brands providing for their specific audiences—youth-oriented House of Highlights showing influencers, culture-oriented Bleacher Report featuring musical stars and fan-oriented Turner Sports televising the popular NBA event.
Friday night’s influencer knockout challenge will feature Mark Phillips, Matthew Meagher, Kenny Beecham, Din Muktar, Duke Dennis, Jenna Bandy, Jack Settleman and Desmond Johnson, each of whom has a social following on par with a major pro sports team, Spector said. Both events will raise money for HBCUs.
This is the second iteration of this idea. Bleacher Report did a similar event prior to last year’s edition of “The Match,” the match-play golf series co-organized by Warnermedia. That House of Highlights Showdown, which aired hours before the main event, featured four influencers competing in a golf challenge for $100,000. It drew 20,000 concurrent viewers live, Bernstein said, and the YouTube version now has more than 576,000 views, and an average watch time of 12 minutes, he said.
“If you were to throw out everything you know about creating a sports event, and rethink it from the eye of a 24-year-old, what would it look like?” Bernstein said. “We really wanted something that was relatable, faster-paced and a shorter window of time.”