Bleacher Report and House of Highlights founder Omar Raja are expected to part ways, sources tell Front Office Sports.
After nearly four years of helping grow House of Highlights to over 14 million Instagram followers and recently becoming the first U.S. sports publisher to surpass ESPN’s following on a social media platform, Raja is expected to leave the company, sources said.
Raja had recently entered into contract renewal discussions with Bleacher Report, but the two sides could not come to an agreement, said sources. His contract expires on December 31, 2019, and he’s expected to draw multiple lucrative offers from other media companies, sources said.
ESPN could be a frontrunner to hire Raja, given its increasing investments in basketball and social media content, sources said.
DAZN North America and The Athletic could also be potential landing spots for Raja, sources said.
Regardless of where he chooses to work next, sources say that Raja’s future will be resolved within the next couple of weeks.
Both Bleacher Report and Raja declined to comment.
With Raja’s departure, Bleacher Report will retain full ownership of the House of Highlights brand. With a full team already in place for it, there are no plans of having one single person fill in as Raja’s successor, sources said. Going forward, Bleacher Report will continue to work with a variety of influencers while also seeking out multiple talents to integrate into its programming, sources said.
Despite Raja’s impending exit, it hasn’t slowed the growth of House of Highlights.
When Raja created the House of Highlights Instagram account in 2014, he was a 20-year-old college student at the University of Central Florida.
During that time, Raja was able to amass between 700,000 and 800,000 followers on Instagram. That’s when Doug Bernstein, the-then vice president of social media at Bleacher Report, took notice in July 2015. By early 2016, Bleacher Report had acquired House of Highlights for an undisclosed price, Bernstein became its general manager, and Raja joined shortly after graduating from UCF.
“Where we have had success is in growing an organic audience the hard way – day by day, bit by bit, learning, failing, growing and having that process just work,” Bernstein told Front Office Sports in early October about House of Highlights’ social media expansion. “With House of Highlights on Instagram, we hired Omar because he was the best at growing on Instagram’s platform.”
Since being acquired by Bleacher Report, House of Highlights has set its aspirations beyond Instagram – and hopes of becoming a true media brand. House of Highlights recently launched on YouTube, where it has accumulated more than 1.64 million subscribers and was the fourth-biggest US-based sports media account in June.
In late July, it made TikTok its next foray into social media, quickly gaining roughly 350,000 TikTok followers after its inception. It exceeded 500,000 TikTok followers by September 15 and currently stands at 1.4 million on October 22.
The last semblance of Raja’s time at Bleacher Report comes not through Instagram, but on Twitter. In 2018, he and Bleacher Report launched the House of Highlights show, a monthly Twitter show starring Raja and guests out of the company’s New York City offices. The show had its second season premiere on October 22 – with Raja to remain on it through the end of the year.
“We want each of our platforms to reflect our brand values – but the way in which we execute is really, really different,” Bernstein told Front Office Sports in early October about operating House of Highlights’ various social media accounts. “We’ve been able to manage expectations, I think pretty decently, because the growth has just been quick and that helps kind of manage expectations. But I think it’s really about hiring people that are dedicated and focused on it as opposed to trying to have everybody do a little bit of everything.”