Not too long ago if you went up to an NBA media member, or even most knowledgeable fans, and said your lineup of writers included veterans like Ric Bucher, Ethan Skolnick, Kevin Ding, and Howard Beck, one would guess maybe USA Today, a revamped ESPN, maybe even Beck’s former home at The New York Times. Few would guess Bleacher Report.
However as the 2013-14 NBA season dawns, that’s where these NBA media members are, covering the game from a home many of them would have scoffed at even a few years ago. The ownership and bright lights of Turner (and their deeper pockets), as well as the continued chaotic state of traditional print/online outlets has given Bleacher Report an enlarged window of opportunity to gain not just buzz, but even more “street cred” from skeptics in the team and communications world in the last year, and into that window comes some pretty solid and well respected media types.
Now the bread and butter of BR’s success still remains its casual but passionate followers who love lists and videos and opinions about hot topics. Most BR writers will never see, hear or maybe even follow Mssrs. Beck and Bucher when they contribute, and the large majority of those who post on the site will never see the inside of an NBA lockerroom. However none of that changes the fact that now, instead of looking askance when doing credentialing or gaining access, even the most hardened of PR types at pro teams, and hopefully NCAA ones as well, will have to find not just a seat, but a credible seat for a lead Bleacher Report writer. Whereas eyes may have rolled by a space and attention limited leadership of an NBA team before at “bloggers,” who were seen more as a nuisance than an opportunity, now a big name, one with a respected reputation, means giving more thought to BR than before.
Want more proof of brand acceptance? The new NBA “Blue Book” which lists every media outlet in order of priority, now has “Bleacher Report” listed amongst key online media outlets. The NFL, in its “Black Book” did not, nor has MLB listed Bleacher Report as a news outlet before in any formal way. While it helps that the site is Turner owned (a valuable NBA partner), again, that is “street cred” and a third party acknowledgement that shows the strong and steady progress that the company is making not just with fans but with some of its biggest critics of the past.
This is not to say in any way that every team in the past has shunned the “Blogger” world or even larger outlets like The Big Lead, or SB Nation or Bleacher Report. Enterprising teams looking for coverage; the Golden State Warriors, the New York Islanders, the Detroit Tigers, the San Francisco Giants and others, have found ways to embrace and effectively work with all forms of media. The move to BR for the respected NBA members is also not just about having a jones to write for the site either. There is the attractive light of television and Turner’s relationship with the NBA that really makes the partnership work for all these writers. They also all fit a profile of embracing social media, which again helps raise the Bleacher Report profile amongst more traditional consumers as well as those audiences which the platform has done so well cultivating. So multimedia, not just the ability to write and write in either short or longform, works to help raise awareness and credibility for both the media member and the site. Without being able to deliver on all fronts…the millions of eyeballs for TV, the thousands if not millions of page views online, and the steady social media stream…the partnership would not be that attractive or lucrative for either side. However with those three pieces, seeing those high profile names alongside the BR logo makes much more sense.
What does this mean for the future of sports media? Well it doesn’t mean that every writer approved by BR is suddenly going to rush out and get a seat courtside at Madison Square Garden or the Staples Center. The brand is VERY strategic in who and how credentials are doled out, and they usually only go, in any sport, to a very select few. It also doesn’t mean that every online site, especially those without a broadcast media partner, can rush out and create a feeding frenzy for longtime correspondents in every sport on the planet. There has to be a great mix of social, traditional following and the ability to be at least in some way telegenic to make it all work. Any number of sites have tried to bring in “big name” media members in recent years only to see the model crash because not all three pieces of engagement were working in lock step or were not that clearly defined. It is still a very slippery slope to find what does work, who works well in the space, and more importantly, what works with consumers and with brand partners. All of that is still a work in progress.
What does it mean for Bleacher Report as the NBA season tips off Tuesday night? Continued growth and acceptance on all levels, and for the ever fluid world of media today, that’s a good thing.