Ep. 48: How Bleacher Report Is Engaging Fans with Will Tidey
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Will Tidey, Senior Manager Integrated Strategy at Bleacher Report, joins Rob Cressy to talk about how Bleacher Report is engaging fans. How does a sports publisher create content with very little sports on? What did Bleacher Report learn from The Match 2: Tiger Woods & Peyton Manning vs Phil Mickelson & Tom Brady? How much does having no fans in the stands affect the fan experience of watching a game? How has the creation of content changed and how has Zoom and live streaming allowed fans to get closer to athletes? What is important to brands and agencies right now with sports partnerships?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to the GameDay Playbook, presented by FanFood. A discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host, Rob Cressey and joining me today is Will Tidey, Senior Manager of Integrated Strategy at Bleacher Report. Will, great to have you on the show.
Thanks for having me. I appreciate you reaching out. And yeah, I'm excited to talk about all of this.
I'm excited to jam with you too. So can you give a quick overview of who you are and what you do?
Will Tidey: (00:41)
Well, I am an English guy who now lives in the U.S. I've been with bleach reports for almost 10 years now. I've worked half of that time across the content creative org, and now I'm on the strategy side. So, primarily what I do in a nutshell is bring together partnerships with brands and around our content and experiential events, and all the different things that we bring to market so that our partners can get the best possible results.
Rob Cressy: (01:10)
So, one thing that I have to give credit to Bleacher Report about is they actually earned my attention. And as someone who is a content guy who specializes in fan engagements, one of the things that were a big challenge for me, when I looked at the sports media landscape was a lot of the content was homogenous. It was copy-paste, insert what's everywhere else, because we all have the same slate of content. But, with Bleacher Report, I noticed you guys started to get more creative. You're more social and how you built out your home page. It really resonated with me a lot more. And I could see a piece of content from bleach reports at times, and know that it was something from Bleacher Report. So, I wanted to start out by giving you guys that shout out because I'm someone that I want to engage with brands, but the brand has to be able to do that for me first.
Will Tidey: (02:07)
Yeah. Well, we appreciate that. And I think the reason that people love Bleacher report is that uniqueness. We're in a time of abundant content. So, for you to build a brand and to have something that people can really feel invested in, it has to be unique. It has to have an individual voice. And I think that's been the focus of our creative development over, you know, goodness, 5, 10 years or more now.
Rob Cressy: (02:34)
So, let's look at the current times that we're in because as a publisher and as a company, creating content based around the world of sports, never in my life did I think we would get to a point where we said, guess what's not available? Sports. I get it that we've got Korean baseball and a variety of other things, and sports are starting to slowly trickle, but from a content creation and strategy standpoint, how did Bleacher report sort of, think about all of this where a large majority of what you and your teams would be creating is not there?
Will Tidey: (03:07)
Yeah. I think the first thing to say is obviously we took a big breath. What happened, happened quickly. I think what was important was that our leadership on the creative side, on the revenue side, took some time just to assess where we were and what was the right thing to do. So, I think, with something as serious as this, it's important that you get your tone right. Equally, as we've moved forward we have a vital role, I believe, in providing some relief and some release and continuing to entertain people who we know are going through a very difficult time. So, I think it's getting that balance right, that's difficult. I personally feel we've done a good job. Although, nothing's ever perfect. But I know it's been a difficult and huge credit to the guys that run our creative stuff on the social side of it. They've done a good job.
Rob Cressy: (03:59)
So one part of creating content is sure you can put it out there, but you do want to be able to engage fans. I know there's such a social nature to what Bleacher does. How have you changed or how has the evolution of the way that you're engaging sports fans right now been?
Will Tidey: (04:17)
Well, I think there are some, there are some more obvious things that you can do in a hiatus period like this. I mean, we've done, we've revisited great moments in sports. We've looked back, which is something that the audiences enjoy doing. We've also experienced really, really good results around some new content formats. So, using our app to build out AMA’s to engage to bring athletes on from home, to, in a way, use the opportunity to bring our audience closer to athletes and inside their homes where it wasn't previously possible. So, it's been a lot about innovation and it's been a big ask. Cause obviously so much of what we do is based on the narrative, the running narrative of sports results, and sports trades, and those things haven't been happening.
Rob Cressy: (05:10)
With that, with the innovation. I like to look at what the NFL Draft did, where all of a sudden they're used to having an on-location event. The first-round draft picks go, they shake Roger Goodell's hands. But this year we were given a different experience and it was a good one. Where, all of a sudden, we were able to see behind the scenes of the coaches, the GMs, and where the players were coming from. So, like you're talking about with the innovation, do you think that these are things that some of them will continue moving forward, as opposed to just being a one time stop gap?
Will Tidey: (05:45)
I absolutely do. Yeah. I think The Match, which was a big success for us as an organization, was it another good example of that. We had Tiger Woods obviously, and Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. We didn't have a crowd. So, you're missing that obviously, but where we added was you got some bits that you wouldn't typically get. We had mikes on the guys. You can hear them talking with the cameras on their buggies as they're driving around. So, you're getting an insight into their character that you wouldn't typically get. So, I do think there'll be some really good learnings from this. The NFL Draft is a really good example. I thought they did a great job. We ran a show ourselves that was, I think, a production miracle that they pulled it off, but we had people in different locations that were somehow pulled together. So yeah, I do think that's the benefit of a time like this is that you're pushed to get creative and some of those things, maybe they make sense to carry on.
Rob Cressy: (06:45)
When speaking of no crowd, I'm someone who's a little bit more of a contrarian by nature and I don't believe that the no crowd is a big thing for fans. It's bigger for the companies who have the dollars invested, the leagues, the players, the media companies there, where they want to be able to engage them. But, as I think about it, if there was a crowd for the Tiger and Phil match, would that have changed my experience at all? The answer is no. As I think about when I consume games right now, you know what's a lot more important? The second screen. The crowd is there as ambiance, but as we're seeing with some of the early soccer games that have been pushed out with crowd noise there, it's all the same difference there. I don't believe that a lack of fans in the stands is going to change my experience because quite frankly, I go to so few games, but I'm so used to watching games on TV while having Twitter open, while having tweet deck open, being on Instagram, all these varieties of different things. What is your thought on no crowds from a Bleacher Report standpoint?
Will Tidey: (07:58)
Well, I mean, I think the first thing is we are seeing, as our insights are telling us, we are seeing people going to the second screen increasingly now. I mean, it was already obviously the dominant trend that people were watching on at least two screens with fans in the stadium. I think for us now there's an opportunity that if there is a little bit of quiet to what you're watching, it's on us really to fill that entertainment void. I personally have watched some of the soccer and it's been a bit flat for me without the crowd in there. I think you can feel it in the athletes, that they're not bouncing off what they were bouncing off before. So, I think on us, really, that if you're on your timeline while you're watching the return of the NBA and it's in Florida, or soccer, that we really have to bring that value that I think people are looking for.
Rob Cressy: (08:46)
Keeping with the theme of how things are creating. I think one of the biggest victories that are to come out of this is the accessibility of being able to create content anywhere. So, you actually used a great example of the golf carts in the Tiger and Phil match being wired up. So, we could see a video and we could hear the video. And previously that did not exist. As we think on the creative side of things. So someone like me, I use zoom to record my podcasts because I can get the audio of it. I can do a video with you. I can also live to stream this, and you're starting to see this on major television as well as with major media networks there. So, now what was previously thought of as we need this giant studio set, I'll be in Ernie and Kenny and Charles.
Now, all of a sudden, there is something about the way that we can do this from anywhere. Do you think that this is something that is just going to become one of the tools in our belt? Will this become the main way of things or will we go back to the way that things were with highly produced studios and maybe a trickle here and there of someone doing something live from their house or from a location?
Yeah, I mean, I think the truth is it's probably somewhere in the middle. Because this has happened, our audience is definitely not, if they're seeing a slightly lower production quality in a Zoom interview at home with an athlete that they admire that is not jarring to anybody anymore. It is almost expected that that's going to be the content format. So, I think that changes perception straight away. So, if that's a way to get more access to athletes, I don't think our audience cares. I think they just want to get close to the athletes. So, if it happens to be a shot like this, and we are filming right now, a series with some soccer Academy players in Missouri, and we've done everything remotely so far. And it's been really interesting cause it's also, you get a kind of openness in this forum that maybe you don't get if you cruise all-around somebody. It’s strange, I think. So, yeah my answer, to condense, is I think elements of this will keep going.
Rob Cressy: (11:14)
And as a sports fan myself, I actually prefer it because like you said, sometimes we're so used to the canned response when a player hits a game-winning shot and they just, Hey, we're moving on to the next game, it was a great win for all of us, we're going to celebrate with the team, but it's onto the next thing. But, there is something different about the ability to get someone where their guard is a little bit down because I think one of the big opportunities for any brand is the ability to relate to their audience and make them feel part of what they're doing. So often there's those who have and those who have not in the industry where it's like, Oh, there's all the people in the media doing all the amazing things. People just dream of doing that one day. But, all of a sudden, you see an interview on Zoom and it may or may not be perfect, but I'm never sitting there saying I need perfect quality. All I care about is the connection that can be built. And if I can get a better interview with an athlete or someone by doing it via Zoom, for me that's a big victory.
Will Tidey: (12:01)
Yeah. I would agree with that. I mean, obviously our audience is wanting both things. There's still a hunger for the premium, the premium touch and in-depth storytelling. But, I think how we come out of this and which bits we keep is just, it's all down to strategy, and looking at what we were able to look and see what our audience really connected with. If they did, we'll keep doing it.
Rob Cressy: (12:28)
So, that's actually something that I think is extremely important for everyone listening right now, as we think about how do you market? How do you engage fans? How do you build a community? How do you do your social media marketing? It's a matter of saying, all right, what are the different ways that we can create, so we're not all 100% on one thing? The different narratives that you can tell are, as I like to call them, content buckets, and really strategizing about your mix because Bleacher is not going to go 100% Zoom. They're not going to go 100% studio only. And for any business, it's extremely important to say, listen, let's write this down and create a healthy mix knowing that we can pull lovers one way or another if we were to think about your entire content and strategy on a scale of zero to 100. You can almost assign a percentage to each one and say, listen, this can float one way or another, depending on what's going on.
Will Tidey: (13:22)
Yeah, I think you're right. My role specifically, I'm hearing a lot from brands and agencies, and that's been interesting because a lot of them are coming, asking for this kind of hiatus style production approach. You know, Audi, as I mentioned, are really excited about the fact that we're going to start our series with them with a completely remotely filmed episode. So, I think that tells us from the market side that there's an openness to that. We've obviously seen numerous commercials already now that are playing on the Zoom theme or the lower production value to give you something that feels authentic. Yeah, it's super interesting.
Rob Cressy: (14:06)
As a whole, can we dig a little bit deeper into the way that brands are thinking about this, because I think brands like to try and push the envelope, but they don't exactly like risk. They want to sort of a little bit of both things there, but at the same time with the way that consumption habits have changed, fans want a reason to look forward to hearing back from you again and engaging. They don't just want to hear, but what I'm selling, but what I'm selling, because quite frankly, the majority of things have become a commodity. You can buy anything from anywhere at any time. So, now what is going to make me feel some sort of way about your brand, whether it's via content or a contest or sponsoring something like Tiger and Phil. So, I'm curious to hear from you sort of a deeper insight on how brands are adjusting to all of this because this is a big change for a lot of them.
Will Tidey: (14:59)
Yeah, it really is. I mean, we are obviously when this first happened, I think there was a little pause on the brand and agency side, as well as they figured out strategy. And now we're getting a lot of a lot of briefs coming to us, a lot of brands that are looking to do things, and I think you're dead right what you said. At this point now, it's about that emotional connection to their customers, whether it be an auto brand or a restaurant. It's just about making sure that our audience still has an awareness of their brand and feels good about their brand. Obviously that's where our job comes in because of the tone and the execution are really important. I mean, this is not the time to make a, obviously make a mistake with brand tone. So yeah, I think it's a very sort of delicate ground and that's where we're working with brands and brands and just trying to figure out what the right play is right now.
Rob Cressy: (15:59)
I think when you talk about tone and delicate, it really comes down to being intentional. You can't just go through the motions. I think that's actually a big challenge that a lot of brands have faced in the past is they treat social media marketing just like going through the motions that the act of creating and putting something out means that we've done it as opposed to saying, wait for a second, we understand the temperature of the room now. We need to make sure that we go above and beyond to know what we're doing, but also to make sure that we engage that audience to keep that conversation going.
Will Tidey: (16:33)
Yeah, I think so. I think the thing that the key to all of this is conviction in what you're doing, and understanding that the match is a good example. For it to work, obviously we're in difficult times and everybody's going through their own challenges, but for it to work, the four athletes had to have fun. They knew that they knew their responsibility. I think the brands attached to it. Because of the way it was framed, there was obviously an understanding of what was going on and we were making a charitable statement, but people want it to be entertained. They want it to escape for their Sunday afternoon. So, that's where a brand has to show conviction and we have to show conviction as content makers and saying, look, this is for your entertainment. You need it, have a release right now. I think back to the very start of this, and I think it was Tiger King that was the thing that came right at the start. And then obviously we've had The Last Dance since then that has been the sort of prevailing things. But, there's an element of that. Then that's our job. We've got to entertain people and give them something to get them through, you know.
Rob Cressy: (17:45)
I love that, because that's a hallmark of the way that I always and operate and certainly from the marketing and content side of things, because the reason people consume content, the overwhelming majority of the time, is because they do want to have fun or they do want to be entertained. While understanding the temperature of the room, you can't always just keep saying given everything going on, and given everything going on, we do have to move forward and create something that is fun for others because those are the things that are really going to resonate.
Will Tidey: (18:17)
Yeah. It's not always easy. The return is some of these leagues, there's always going to be a thread. Take the return of European soccer right now. There are definitely some voices, some players that aren't feeling it right now. What we know is our audience is excited. So, it's on us creatively to embrace that with them and not to get involved with, it's not our place to get involved, or mine, in any way with any of the kind of bigger political and strategic questions, you know.
That's a great way to end it. Will, I really enjoy your mindset around all of this and the way that you use a great example, the Tiger and Phil thing is so perfect because I'm still talking about tiger and Phil one week later, because it was an element of being back in the community and sports flow. It's probably the biggest thing that I miss about everything that's gone on is I miss being on Twitter and on a whole to whole basis, everybody commenting on what's going on or making a joke about Tom Brady or the amazing shot that he had. That's why I love sports is because of the community and because of the comradery. So, thanks for all your insight there. Where can everybody connect with you?
Will Tidey: (19:32)
Well, I'm on Twitter, @WillTidey. A good place to hit me up. That's about it really. I'm not on TikTok. I'm a bit old for TikTok. But, you can obviously, to follow the Bleacher Report, House Of Highlights, We Are Football, We Are Gridiron, the whole stable. Get following those accounts. On TikTok too, actually, I think we’re making some waves there. So yeah, follow us and feel free to reach out.
Rob Cressy: (20:03)
And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I'm curious if we were going to put on a scale of zero to zero to 100. Where is your hunger for sports right now? What is it? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @FanFoodondemand, on Instagram @FanFoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms @RobCressy. And before we go, we're going to start something new. We love it when you give us a rating and review on iTunes because it helps people discover the show. When you do, we will give you a shout out on the show. So, I want to give a shout out to Nathan, who gave us five stars saying, “featuring real innovators in sports like you, Will.” He says,” our team loves getting the latest content from those who are progressively innovating in sports. The latest episode with Don Davis co-founder and chairman of the professional fighters league was insightful and exciting, check it out”. Nathan, The Bruce, I appreciate the love my friend and let you know we recognize you.