SVG Sit-Down: Bleacher Report’s Joe Yanarella Believes B/R Betting Is ‘Just Scratching the Surface of What Is Possible’

Why live betting content works and how in-game betting is the next big thing

With college football season under way and the NFL just days from kicking off, it’s the most wonderful time of year for the sports-betting market.

This season feels especially so for sports-betting books and broadcasters: 23 states currently offer live and legal sports betting in some form, and, in another nine states, it’s currently legal but not yet operational (according to the American Gaming Association). There’s promise for big numbers in bets and high numbers in sports-betting–related video content.

Bleacher Report and its sports-gaming–focused B/R Betting are geared up for the upcoming season with a menu of planned new live and on-demand content. That includes The Squad Ride, B/R’s live Sunday-morning NFL betting show that streams directly to the B/R app; new episodes of its hit series Bet$ Friend$ with former NFL receiver Chad Ochocinco; and the debut of Ride Along, a betting series that will feature B/R Betting talent onsite at marquee football games.

Bleacher Report’s Joe Yanarella: “We’re seeing excitement in the [sports-betting] category grow at the same time the technology’s evolving and allowing us to expand our creative experiences.”

SVG caught up with Joe Yanarella, SVP/GM, sports betting, Bleacher Report, to discuss the video content that his team is planning for the new year, why building a community is important to them, and why real-time in-game betting is the holy grail.

What are your feelings going into this football season, both NFL and college? Football is already the kingpin of sports-betting seasons, and now we’re entering a year when more states are on board. How does this feel for you in terms of excitement level compared with other years?
There’s always excitement around football season because it drives more audience than anything we see around B/R in my history here, having been here 12-ish years. With betting, the groundwork has been laid, and now we’re starting to see more and more momentum through partnerships with the [NFL]. It’s really exciting: more states are coming on board.

The momentum is fantastic, and we’re incredibly excited. We’re already starting to see the results of that momentum. We did our first preview show of our Squad Ride Show, and we had our best video views and audience in our history. We had over 200,000 people watching our live show. Just to be able to create that sort of live destination interactive programming in our app is incredibly important to us as a brand and a company.

What content plans that you and the team are working on particularly excite you?
One is our weekly Squad Ride Show in partnership with DraftKings. That’s our weekly NFL show on Sunday mornings. We’ve taken a different approach to it. It’s not just expert picks and information. Our brand value is about being more relatable with the audience and authentic and interactive with them. We’re having a conversation with the audience, and they send us UGC submissions with videos, their bet slips. We all do it together as a community.

I think one of the things we’ve found is, if you try to act more transactionally — which is what most of the traditional brands do: provide information in a one-way conversation — you are judged by the value of that information. Even the best people on the planet are wrong 45% of the time. So your audience dislikes you 45% of the time. What we try to do is build a communal experience where we say, “Hey, we’ve all agreed on this together. This is a bet we all want to do as a community.” They get the experience of riding along with us, and, even win or lose, they say, “Well, that was fun. I enjoyed doing that together. We’d like to keep doing that.” That’s where we are right now in this stage.

In the future stage, we want to get to the point where we can integrate that into broadcast with “ Watch Parties” and elements like that. We’re not 100% there yet in terms of 5G and how quickly things move in real time, but that’s the goal to get to, and I think that’s the exciting part. We’re seeing the community grow and excitement in the category grow at the same time the technology’s evolving and allowing us to expand our creative experiences.

Do you think that community approach attracts the newer bettor? This is probably a question you’ve been asked a million times, but how do you guys approach the balance of welcoming in more raw bettors vs. people who have been doing this for a very long time?
We’re trying to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation of sports bettors. Taking the age out of that, some of them are more casual, some of them come from a fantasy background, and some of them have no background.

[Sports betting] can be very intimidating if you don’t understand the language, the numbers, the odds. But, if we just simplify things, it’s easy.

I can have an opinion on [whether] Ezekiel Elliott or Dalvin Cook is going to score a touchdown this week based on their matchup. Everyone can feel like they are an expert when it comes to that: they have an opinion about it because they’ve watched football. We’re really looking at the casual mainstream fan, who wants to be part of a connective interactive experience, more than the hardcore kind of sharp types.

In terms of live content specifically, company-wide, there’s a huge push to put attention on the B/R app. But you do some live stuff on Instagram and other places. When and how do you make the creative decisions to take something live outside the app to grow exposure elsewhere?
That’s a great question. It’s what we spend our time thinking about every day.

I’ll use the magazine example. It used to be, if you were a family of magazines on sports, you would think about creating one piece of content, and then you would distribute it to five different places. I’d put it on Instagram, Twitter, etc. Nobody thought about the nuances of each platform and their different consumption habit. Our app can lend it all to live. I think we’ve found ourselves thinking about what platforms we value the most. What are the types of content experiences that represent our brand value, and then how do we deliver them?

It used to be, we would just deal out one piece of content on five platforms. Now the ideal is to have a five-tool player or a piece of content that works on every platform. We have to think about which platform and audience we are trying to serve and how that supports our brand values. Then how do we do that? It’s gotten a lot more nuanced than it used to be.

I think that’s the thing we’re trying to figure out every day. When we think about the app, it’s more leaning on that live interactivity. On Instagram — where we’re No. 1 on social and our engagement is five-times our competitors — we’re thinking through what’s that cultural impact in short form or how do we get more UGC into the equation. We’re truly trying to be authentic and relatable. It’s a two-way transaction: the fans send us content, and we use that content to create more content that resonates with the fans because they feel connected to it.

Is there an element of the general industry outside your four walls that you are keeping an eye on to see how it develops and it makes you think that, once it turns a corner, it’s going to be exciting?
Real-time live betting. Micro-betting is something that we believe in as a brand. We found our audience, and our demo is the next generation: younger than the more traditional bettors. Our bettors don’t want to bet as much on pick a side or a total and watch a game for three hours. The nature of [the mobile device] has made everyone want to have everything on demand as quickly as they can have it. That applies to betting, too.

We’ve leaned into more quick-resolving bets in our partnership with DraftKings. We’ve developed together a few bets that resolve quickly because that speaks better to our audience, and the quicker a bet resolves, the more likely you’re going to make a second and a third. You can make multipliers of bets within a window as opposed to one bet that takes three hours to watch.

Once we get to the point where we can eliminate [latency] barriers and get to what we call “hyper real time,” you could actually be betting on play-by-play in the NFL, which would be incredible. This market’s just going to explode. That’s why everyone is so excited about what the market potential is because, right now, we’re just scratching the surface of what is possible.

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