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Bleacher Report's CEO says sports gambling is a secret weapon to becoming a 'true challenger' to ESPN

9th December, 19:13

Bleacher Report wants to woo the "other 95%" of gamblers who are casual bettors with entertaining betting-related programming, like its forthcoming "B/R Betting Game Show," Mittman said.

On Thursday, Bleacher Report is premiering a weekly game show for sports gamblers that will be filmed live at its studio in Caesars Palace's sportsbook in Las Vegas.

Players in the "B/R Betting Game Show" will try to predict the outcome of athletic contests and other challenges for a chance to win cash prizes. It'll be hosted by a rotating cast of pro athletes and influencers, including ex-NFL player Chad Ochocinco, with a goal of creating moments that Bleacher Report can distribute on its app and social accounts throughout each week.

The game show, which is part of Bleacher Report's B/R Betting vertical, is one of the ways the digital sports media brand, geared toward millennials and Generation Z, is trying to get gamblers to spend more time within its app and website, and engaging with its social accounts.

The plan to woo casual sports bettors -- a group that is growing as more US states move to legalize sports gambling -- is one piece of a broader strategy to expand Bleacher Report's reach and revenue going in 2020, and close the gap with some of its larger competitors like ESPN, CEO Howard Mittman, who took on the job in February, told Business Insider.

"We see significant opportunity not only to continue to elevate ourselves up from the broader publishing set, but to really start knocking on the door in terms of becoming a real, true challenger brand unlike anything else that we can see around the landscape of sports media," Mittman said.

The digital media brand, which was acquired by Turner in 2012 and is now part of AT&T's WarnerMedia, will become the main digital hub for all of Turner Sports, its cable-TV sibling, beginning in 2020. Bleacher Report's main app will also be combined with its subscription-streaming offshoot, B/R Live, in the next 12 to 18 months.

At the same time, Bleacher Report is expanding its breadth of gambling content, which is housed in one of its verticals, B/R Betting. It aims to get its audience of young, mostly 21- to 34-year-old sports fans, more engaged with its app and website.

The company found through surveys that 82% of its users are current bettors or interested in betting. Bettors can be lucrative audiences. Gamblers are five times more engaged within Bleacher Report's app than non-bettors, the company said.

That's more eyeballs that Bleacher Report can serve ads to and generate other revenue from, such as fees for referring sports fans to sportsbooks or betting platforms. Affiliate fees are not a significant part of Bleacher Report's revenue today, Mittman said, but the company could explore the opportunity.

The opportunity around sports gambling comes at a time when many digital media startups are consolidating to survive, as Business Insider recently reported.

Bleacher Report isn't the only digital media brand vying to be advertising's gateway to sports gamblers. Other digital media brands like Barstool Sports are making plays for betting audiences, as are traditional media companies like Fox, which partnered with a Canadian bookmaker to launch a sportsbook this year.

Mittman said Bleacher Report is taking a slightly different approach from its competitors. It's not pursuing hardcore gamblers, or "sharks." It's interested in the "other 95%" of sports fans of gambling age who bet or might be interested in betting recreationally, Mittman said.

Bleacher Report is courting them on social media and its own platforms with content, like the "B/R Gaming Show," that is meant to entertain more than gambling shows that are loaded with stats and betting picks.

"It's part of the evolution of how we see betting content continuing to develop to entertain younger consumers," Mittman said. "There's a fun, interactive element to what we're doing that brings sports betting to life, pulls them into our ecosystem, and then gives us a chance to expose them to all of the different, even sometimes more traditional, kind of content experiences that we offer."

Bleacher Report is also exploring narratives that center on unique characters, celebrities, or talent, like a November video about a man who bet millions on the Houston Astros during the 2019 World Series. The team lost.

In February, around the time that Mittman was promoted to CEO, Bleacher Report announced a partnership with Caesars Palace to launch a studio at its Las Vegas sportsbook, and share betting data that the media brand can use in its content.

"It was an evolution of the sports betting content that we had already been creating and a significant advancement of it," Mittman said.

Bleacher Report has found some early success with its betting vertical.

The company shared a few stats:

Mittman also said B/R betting has been a "meaningful contributor" to the company's overall revenue.

The company declined to reveal its revenue. Sahil Patel reported for Digiday in June that Bleacher Report, overall, was on track to grow in 2019 its revenue by 50% to $200 million.

"We are significantly, in terms of revenue, behind ESPN, although we out punch them relative to social scale and engagement," Mittman said of Bleacher Report as a whole.

Next year, for Bleacher Report and Turner Sports, will be about trying to alter that equation as much as possible, with a little help from sports betting.