Bleacher Report, House of Highlights Bring Video-Filled Fan Activation to NBA All-Star

Onsite activation will be a centerpiece for video-content creation at All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, NC

For the team at Bleacher Report (B/R), it doesn’t get any bigger than NBA All-Star Weekend.

According to the digital publisher, B/R drives more video views during All-Star week than in any other week of the year, approximately 37% more than during the average week of the NBA Playoffs.

“The connection between sports and culture, and basketball and culture, continues to intensify,” says Howard Mittman, chief marketing officer/chief revenue officer, Bleacher Report. “Hardcore fans and casual fans alike are increasingly obsessed with the NBA, not just with what’s happening on the court but with what’s happening off the court. That ability to connect with fans is perhaps on no greater display than in All-Star Week.”

For B/R, this is the Oscars, and, for the second straight year, it is being treated as such, notably with the construction of a large fan activation at Music Factory in Charlotte, NC. Called B/R X NC and open 1-6 p.m. on Sunday, the complex will feature two full basketball courts, a concert stage, loads of interactive exhibits, and more. But, perhaps most important, the facility will also serve as the home of all B/R social-video content creation for All-Star. There is a live-programming studio and a new House of Highlights-branded activation where B/R talent and even fans can create their own social-driven video content.

“The way we think about all of our events and physical activations is that we’re not building an event or an experience,” says Mittman. “We’re building a physical set to entertain consumers on the ground but, more important, to capture, create, shoot, and push content out to the 100 million social followers that we have across all areas. When we think about video, we’re, perhaps, thinking about it in a slightly different way than traditional sports brands, but it doesn’t undermine the impact, the value, or the sheer importance of the role that video plays. I don’t know that it’s possible to engage modern consumers, especially the millennial and Gen Z consumers that we deliver to, in a way that deepens our connection with them better than video does.”

With more than 12 million Instagram followers and about 1 billion social engagements across all platforms in 2018, House of Highlights is a rising brand in the sports-media space, and its founder, Omar Raja, will play a key role in the activation, even collaborating with fans on creating NBA-centered video content.

Mittman acknowledged the value of Raja’s contributions, noting that B/R X NC is the kind of interactivity with the audience that helps gives the brand raw credibility with NBA fans.

“Omar is the founder, and founders approach how they operate in their business in very different ways,” says Mittman. “We’re blessed that Omar has been able to make the transition from content curator and owner of the voice into becoming a personality and a visible presence on his own. As we’re watching him grow, he’s just as likely to be in the control room, scanning through videos and clips at midnight with the rest of our team as he is to be on the set of the NBA on TNT or rubbing shoulders with Lebron and KD at the All-Star Game.

“That’s a big part of how you create an authentic connection with the Gen Z fans that the House of Highlights services,” he continues. “I don’t think the traditional velvet rope that you would put around talent in a strictly linear setting works for Omar in terms of who he is, and I don’t think it would work for the now 12 million followers of House of Highlights who have grown to love him and appreciate him and feel invested in his success and the story of the brand.”

This strategy of a live activation in the host city of the NBA All-Star Game began last year when Bleacher Report set up shop in Los Angeles. It was a huge success, drawing more than 4,000 attendees (which far exceeded the number expected). Mittman noted that, two hours before the event opened, there was a line of more than 500 people waiting to get in. As a result, B/R has endeavored to grow the size of the activation to ensure that more fans can access the space and not have to wait long to get in.

“When you are doing an event like this, in year one, you’re really trying to prove proof of concept,” he says. “I think we did that [in L.A.]. One of the things that we underappreciated was that fans in our community would have to show up at our events. It’s one thing to see numbers tick up on a social post or read a social graph compiled for you by your data-science team, but it’s another thing to see human beings leave their homes to meet their friends to get in line for a physical activation. We were hopeful to have that kind of response. but I can’t honestly say that we knew for certain that that would happen until we got to experience it. This year, we recognize the sheer power that the brand has to pull consumers out of their homes, and we’re building the event to accommodate that but also to take advantage of it by offering more event activations, more consumer interactivity, and more experiences for those consumers when they do show up.”

Sponsors have also responded, with sponsorship dollars doubling last year’s. B/R and House of Highlights have the support of some major brands: Foot Locker, Intel, State Farm, McDonald’s, Mountain Dew, Caesars Entertainment, and Wilson want to be a part of the fun in some way, whether with physical activations at the Music Factory or integrated into video content throughout the weekend.

“The moment is as ripe as any to create a physical-content collaboration and experience,” says Mittman. “The sponsor dollars have flown in a way that prove that out and that our assumptions around this business at this moment in time have been correct. We sit at the center of sports and culture — and are organic to both sides of the equation — like no one else.”

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