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Inside CBS Sports’ Innovative Podcast Strategy

With podcasts like “The Season” and “Off The Bench,” CBS Sports is continuing to innovate and set itself apart from others competing for the same audience.

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Part of being a good sports media brand in 2018 is having an effective strategy beyond just pushing out articles.

CBS Sports is embracing this mentality with content in a variety of formats on a number of platforms. Notably, the brand has been hard at work expanding its offerings and has seen triple-digit audience growth across all of its podcasts this year. Fans who haven’t been subscribing to some of the bigger projects may want to consider jumping on the bandwagon now.

For instance, this season marks the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2008 championship run. Bryant McFadden was a cornerback on that Pittsburgh team and now spends his days as an analyst for CBS Sports HQ. In early November, CBS Sports launched “The Season: 2008 Steelers,” a serialized podcast where McFadden details that magical season week by week (starting at Week 11) with the help of players and coaches who were by his side that year.

Jeff Gerttula, executive vice president and general manager of CBS Sports Digital, explained how this idea came to fruition.

“The idea was a collaboration,” he said. “Our content team was looking for a good anniversary hook heading into this Super Bowl season for CBS. We realized we had an analyst in Bryant McFadden, who played on the Steelers 2008 Super Bowl team. We ran the idea of revisiting the season by him, and he was very interested, so we decided to run with it and start recording. He still has relationships with many of the coaches and players on that team, and he’s had a lot of great conversations on the episodes we’ve recorded.”

Guests on released episodes of the show include Hines Ward, Ike Taylor, and Lamar Woodley, with coaching legends Dick LaBeau and Bruce Arians (along with other players) slated to appear later this season. The show already has a perfect five-star rating on iTunes.

With the impending success of “The Season” and the serialized aspect still being an easy sell for podcast fans at large, Gerttula believes that the format is something that CBS Sports will explore further down the line, provided that it can offer fans the same peek under the hood they will get with the 2008 Steelers team this season.

READ MORE: CBS Sports Turns to Voice to Help Fantasy Football Players

“‘The Season’ falls into a category of podcasts that we will look to do more of in the future — they’re event-driven, around CBS Sports tentpoles, and serialized. With podcasts like ‘The Season,’ we can put a stake in the ground and bring new users into our ecosystem by offering access to these tentpole events.

“We know there’s an enormous audience of Steelers fans, and we’re able to deliver something cool to them with the insider access that we have to this team and their path to the Super Bowl. We’re able to talk to the audience on a more personal level with this kind of podcast.”

In addition to “The Season,” CBS Sports also offers what Gerttula calls their core sports vertical podcasts. This includes shows like “Fantasy Football Today,” “Eye on College Basketball,” and “Pick Six” (an NFL podcast). The brand is also moving some of these shows in new directions in order to better serve fans. “Pick Six,” for example, now offers daily episodes during football season as well as expanding the social content offerings on the @picksixpod social channels.

“One of the goals with the ‘Pick Six’ podcast is to build a brand that’s more than just an audio product,” Gerttula explained. “We have original content on the podcast every morning that’s waiting for you when you wake up, but we also have ‘Pick Six’ social channels, where we can be with you during real-time coverage of games. We give you everything you need to know about what’s happening in the NFL in your inbox each day with our ‘Pick Six’ newsletter; it’s a good template for what we’re trying do with all of our shows.”

READ MORE: CBS Sports HQ Places Its Bets on Sports Betting Show

After a podcast succeeds at the daily episodes strategy, live streaming episodes like a traditional radio show as opposed to the usual podcasting route of recording, editing, then releasing is a logical next step. Notably, the brand is going this route with “Off The Bench,” featuring Danny Kanell and Raja Bell, which made its debut in November.

“We launched ‘Off The Bench’ as a podcast last November, and Danny Kanell and Raja Bell really developed a strong chemistry and rapport. They’re able to offer unique insight into the top stories in sports every day as former pro athletes, and we thought it would be a natural fit as a morning show on our new 24/7 streaming network CBS Sports HQ, which launched in February. We first expanded the podcast from three days a week to every weekday before we started streaming it live on HQ in August.”

The lesson here for media brands is to be constantly looking for new ways to highlight the unique voices within the organization. With shows like “The Season” and “Off The Bench,” CBS Sports is continuing to innovate and set itself apart from others in the space competing for the same audience.

“This has been a good year for us to really develop some of our key voices in that space,” Gerttula said. “Our podcasts give us a more personal touch on the news and game coverage, as well as data-driven discussions we have on CBSSports.com and CBS Sports HQ. The podcasts give us the ability to do more of something that CBS Sports is known for — storytelling.”

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

Digital Media

Bleacher Report’s New Revenue Streams Showcase Publishers Capabilities Beyond Its Digital Walls

After a successful 2018, Bleacher Report has plans to continue to leverage the power of its platform to drive revenue in unique ways.

Adam White

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Like many publishers in today’s media landscape, events have become a key way for Bleacher Report to create additional monetization opportunities for partners, as well as new ways to bring a brand that is inherently digital, into the physical world.

Hosting six events in 2018, the strategy behind the events was finding ways to capitalize on the biggest sports moments of the year.

Their latest event, while somewhat in the “pop-up” side of things, is an opportunity for fans as well as influencers to connect in real life over their love of Kicks.

Finding success with the events they hosted in 2018, Ed Romaine, B/R’s Chief Brand Officer, sees events going forward for the publisher falling into two separate categories: editorial driven and partner-driven.

Their last event of the year, B/R Kicks x The Drop Up, is an example of what an editorial-driven event for the brand looks like.

Spun out of the event, B/R will launch “The Pre Heat” and “Sneaker Shock,” two new content editorial franchises that will be connected to this celebration with seamless values of giving fans experiences that they normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to get their hands on.

“Our tentpole franchise events like this will remain in 2019, but I think you will see us do more advertiser-driven events that are based on in-store retail opportunities,” said Romaine.

READ MORE: Bleacher Report Takes Next Step in Evolution With B/REAL

Executing opportunities like this are what Romaine credits to B/R being able to see revenue growth up over 44 percent year over year. It’s also part of how media companies like B/R are finding ways to diversify their revenue in an age of digital ad dollars being dominated by the likes of Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

“All content providers now are tasked with being a solution center for people who invest in them. Whether it is through media agencies or through client direct buys. Being a 360-degree solution for partners like Levi’s has helped us win business that we probably wouldn’t have been able to win.”

What exactly did B/R do this year to grow its revenue in new ways outside of events? Romaine points to multiple key initiatives, including thought-leadership capabilities and a newly established influencer marketing platform called “B/R Squad.”

Through the thought leadership platform, B/R has worked with different companies and brands in the industry build custom solutions to pressing research or industry questions that they are having trouble answering.

All of the new initiatives come down to one thing according to Romaine: staying competitive.

“I think if any content provider wants to be competitive, then they need to have a comprehensive set of solutions that they have in the marketplace that people can tap into.”

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With the “Drop Up” and events like it going into the future, Romaine is most excited about B/R being able to build out opportunities that focus more on cultural moments and not just sports moments.

“I’m excited about the ‘Drop Up’ because it’s the second time that we’ve expanded beyond just the sports moment and started focusing in on the journalistic culture moments that we’re creating throughout the calendar year. Where you’ll see an evolution from us or where you’ll see a more comprehensive set of events will actually come more from the editorial vision that we continue to dig into.”

While being a media company in 2018 has its challenges, B/R is an example of what can happen when you are able to leverage the attention that you have on your brand.

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How College Football Teams Celebrate Bowl Eligibility on Social Media

Vanderbilt, Wake Forest and FIU offered a handful of examples on how social media departments can capitalize when their football teams become bowl eligible.

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Vanderbilt celebrated their bowl eligibility with a slick graphic. (Image via Vanderbilt)

At the start of every college football season, one of the main goals of most FBS teams is to reach a bowl game. These high-stakes events are not only a chance for the program to accrue more revenue, but players get one more chance to compete on the field while fans have one more opportunity to see their team before preparations for the new season begin.

In many cases, the excitement from a team qualifying for such a game can provide inspiration for great graphics and social content. Teams like the Vanderbilt Commodores all over the nation churned out striking posts on Twitter celebrating that all-important sixth victory that qualifies teams for bowl eligibility.

That win kicked off a host of festivities centered around the Commodores getting to a bowl, which, in turn, provided the digital team with even more chances to make content.

While reaching bowl-eligible status is an achievement that on its own is worth celebrating for many teams, some programs have the opportunity to celebrate a streak of consecutive years achieving this milestone.

READ MORE: ‘Ask Amelia’ Puts Customer Service in the Palm of Fans

Wake Forest, for example, celebrated its team reaching bowl eligibility for three straight seasons. This was just the second time in school history that the Demon Deacons were able to do this.

Assistant Director of Athletic Communications Dan Wallace explained the specific design elements and parts of the school’s expansive style guide (which recently underwent a rebrand) that went into creating these graphics.

“The black and white was something that we’ve been using for a lot of the score graphics this season. For a couple of years, we really put a lot of emphasis on using the black backgrounds; so this year, we went with the white backgrounds instead. Now, you look at the content going out on our social media accounts all year and you will see a very similar theme. From there, we try to use certain elements that can make each one unique, but still you can recognize that it’s a Wake Forest graphic when it comes out.”

The Demon Deacons now know that they will face the Memphis Tigers in the Birmingham Bowl on December 22.

In the final weekend of the season, many teams learn their fate in terms of going to a bowl game or not. Some programs, however, learned specifically which event they would be attending immediately following the game. This was the case with the Florida International University Panthers, who discovered they would be heading south for the Bahamas Bowl.

FIU Athletics Director of Marketing Scott Yogodzinski explained the thought process behind the design of the announcement posts for the Panthers’ bowl game on December 21 against Toledo.

READ MORE: Will Snapchat Still Be Useful in 2019?

“We wanted to make it look bright and tropical-looking. We’re in Miami — already somewhat of a tropical climate anyway — but we just wanted to push that this is a reward for our team. We have eight wins this year for the second year in a row and just the third time in the program’s history. This bowl is a reward for achieving that.”

Through these specific examples, it’s clear that bowl games can provide a university’s social media department plenty of extra opportunities to drive brand awareness and showcase immense creativity.

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MLB Network Completing the Cycle Towards Opening Day With Winter Meetings

Baseball’s iconic network continues to roll out fresh content throughout the off season starting with the annual Winter Meetings

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There truly is no offseason in the sports world.

For Major League Baseball, the offseason is a chance to fine-tune rosters, revamp on-field protocol, and solidify new strategies and areas of focus heading into the next season. No event plays a bigger role in this than the Baseball Winter Meetings.

Held in Las Vegas from December 9-13, the 2018 Baseball Winter Meetings provide an opportunity for club managers and general managers from throughout the league to congregate. Player signings, potential trade deals, and shuffling young prospects through the farm system are all topics for discussion.

Former Colorado Rockies general manager and current MLB Network studio analyst Dan O’Dowd has leaned on his former experience in the majors when talking to current team officials. He noted that there is a certain energy to the Winter Meetings that makes it a distinct event from the rest of the offseason.

“It is the one time a year where the baseball cycle doesn’t stop for an entire week,” said O’Dowd. “Everybody in the game gathers under one roof to talk baseball.”

With teams sending their lineups of general managers and roster decision-makers to the meetings, the goal of the Winter Meetings is to help ensure that each team’s roster takes shape. Agents, on behalf of individual players, meet with team executives as contracts are negotiated and terms are discussed.

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“Clubs talk amongst each other but there is a bit of competitive tension,” said O’Dowd. “Every club has suites within the hotel where they talk strategy and meet with agents. With personnel sometimes traveling from one side of the hotel to another to meet with various representatives and clubs, it is usually a flurry of activity.”

In today’s social media landscape, news is breaking at a record pace, ultimately allowing MLB Network to share that news to the baseball world.

“For general managers, it is very difficult to contain their plans regarding free agents and trades,” said O’Dowd. “It is more about controlling the outcome as it will find its way into the media one way or another. Everyone is looking for news.”

Due to the amount of breaking news and storylines to keep fans updated on, MLB Network utilizes a full crew and new show segments to keep the public engaged. With over 45 hours of live, on-site programming from the beginning of the Winter Meetings to the end, there is plenty of content for fans to digest.

From live coverage provided by Ken Rosenthal and Tom Verducci amongst others, to interviews with managers and insight into club strategy with O’Dowd, Dan Plesac, and the rest of the MLB Network crew, there is no shortage of communication and planning that goes into the day-to-day operations for the media outlet.

“Our team is excited to get to Las Vegas to cover the Winter Meetings,” said Dave Patterson, SVP, MLB Network Production. “The adrenaline of our analysts and production staff will be pumping for four straight days because the next big transaction could come at any time from any club. We’ll be on our toes and ready to change direction at a moment’s notice.”

What’s new this year? Coverage of the Winter Meetings across all of MLB’s media platforms will be presented by the advisory, assurance and tax firm CohnReznick. As part of the collaboration, MLB Network will produce a new series, “Business of Baseball.”

The series will go in-depth within the issues that surround clubs both on and off the field. The first episode of the series will begin on Saturday, December 8 at 8:00 p.m. ET and feature general managers Alex Anthopoulos (Atlanta Braves), Rick Hahn (Chicago White Sox), Dayton Moore (Kansas City Royals), and Mike Rizzo (Washington Nationals) whilst being moderated by O’Dowd and MLB Network host Brian Kenny.

“During filming, there was such authentic communication amongst the managers,” said O’Dowd. “Those guys were so transparent with their thoughts when we were discussing topics that were not easy to be so vocal about. We talked for over two and a half hours discussing everything from analytics to general manager/club manager relationships.”

MLB Network’s content doesn’t stop after the Winter Meetings either. Directly after the conclusion of the meetings, MLB Network Presents will roll out with its latest program, “Eck: A Story of Saving.” Hosted by Bob Costas, the original series, which launched in January 2015, covers some of the most iconic moments and players of baseball from MLB Network’s own unique lens.

Weekday programming staples such as “Hot Stove,” “High Heat with Christopher Russo,” “MLB Now,” “Intentional Talk,” and “MLB Tonight” will continue to provide expert analysis and captivating debates throughout the offseason.

And with the start of the new year marking MLB Network’s 10-year anniversary since its debut, content will reflect the best of what the network has to offer. The “Top 10 Right Now!” series returns for its ninth season after the new year. The series, which ranks the top MLB players at each position, will be followed by the six-part series “Top 100 Players Right Now!” which reveals the pecking order of the best players in the game.

READ MORE: Through New Company, Former Pitcher Hopes to Change Baseball

While there will be plenty of discussion highlighting today’s elite players, MLB Network will also take time to honor baseball’s greats as it announces the results of the 2019 National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot on Tuesday, January 22. The network will also air the first interviews with the new electees. This will transition into the start of spring training and the beginning of another edition of regular-season coverage.

MLB Network certainly keeps busy throughout the year; highlighting the build-up towards the playoffs and breaking down highlights throughout the postseason and World Series are staples of its programming. Yet, the network has continued to keep fans informed of offseason headlines, roster reshuffling, and new content to surely fill the craving as we look towards Opening Day.

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