Can Bleacher Report Keep Readers Tuned In After Their March Madness Brackets Are Busted?


For TBS' Bleacher Report, March Madness marks its biggest ad revenue event of the year. In 2015, around 55 advertisers partnered with the publication for the collegiate basketball games, which tipped off on Thursday. Deals range from legacy partnerships with Infinity and Dove Men+Care to brands coming aboard like Southwest Airlines and 7-Eleven.

"Inside of Bleacher Report, our biggest pulse point is March Madness," said Bleacher Report chief revenue officer Rich Calacci, who also is the Turner Sports SVP of sales. "It's like having a World Cup every year. It's a huge opportunity for us."

Thanks to the growth of digital publications and the popular brackets—where fans select winners in the tournament—viewers want to tune in wherever and whenever they can. But, Bleacher Report admitted, after brackets are busted by a few upsets, readership tunes out. This year, the digital publication is strategizing to keep eyeballs, employing a combination of ways to update the bracket game, an aggressive video strategy and real-time social media response.

"We have to feed the need for the sports fans through all these events," Calacci said. "Now, instead of being a college basketball fan for one day to three days, we want them to be an engaged college basketball fan for a minimum of two to up to three weeks."

On March 16, Bleacher Report unveiled Second Chance Opportunity. The variation on the bracket game, which is sponsored by Dove Men+Care, allows fans to make one tweak to their charts after the final 32 teams are selected and before the Sweet 16 games begin on March 26. Calacci said that Iowa State (which was beaten unexpectedly by University of Alabama-Birmingham on Thursday) was key to his March Madness bracket strategy, so he's looking forward to changing that—and stopping the taunts he's seeing on his social media feeds.

In case viewers are still extremely unlucky at picking winners, Bleacher Report is hoping to lure them with quick video hits of highlights of the games through its Team Stream app. Considering that 77 percent of its traffic comes from mobile sources—and 85 percent of its Team Stream app users are under 34—it's hoping that social media-friendly clips will help hook viewers during the tournament and keep them with Bleacher Report.

"We're building graphics on the fly, with producers, editors and talent producing content in real time," Bleacher Report's chief content officer Rory Brown said.

Just how quick can Bleacher Report be at delivering video? Brown said turnaround time from when video production starts to when it is published on the site can be as fast as 15 minutes. During Selection Sunday on March 15—when all the teams playing during March Madness are announced—it produced 35 videos in less than five hours. The publication aims to average 30 to 35 videos daily throughout the tournament.

Brown said his team wants people to be drawn in with its team-and-topic-driven video analysis—but stay to watch its longer features. It will also release five mini-documentaries, including a vignette about Georgia State's Kevin Ware and a profile of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's first basketball team with Army at Westpoint, N.Y.

"If we can do quick, two-to-three-minute analysis videos and create more feature-driven pieces as well, we can give them the best of both worlds," Brown explained.

In case that wasn't fast enough for millennial attention, it's also creating real-time meme-able moments and GIFs on its Twitter feed.

For example, when Georgia State coach Ron Hunter fell off his chair after his son scored the game-winning basket with seconds left, it created a meme referencing Life Alert's brand tagline: "I've fallen, and I can't get up." Within 35 minutes, it was retweeted more than 4,841 times. The image doesn't link to Bleacher Report content, and Brown says they are fine with that.

"There's all kind of opportunities to drive an audience," he said. "There's opportunities where you want to engage that audience, and you can't be overly concerned about driving them back to Bleacher Report. In both cases, it's good for our brand."

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