"This shit is a vibe. I see the vision." - Jaden Smith
From establishing a presence at Bleacher Report's first true large-scale All-Star activation in Los Angeles with a party at Jimmy Goldstein's house and a venice beach concert and fan festival with Jaden Smith in 2018, to developing a consistent experiential design language for the next one down in Charlotte North Carolina, and finally culminating in a third year in MJ's old stomping grounds in Chicago the common challenge was how to truly reflect the voice of the average B/R consumer, and how to make it so that the digital touchpoints of the experiences we did IRL had enough of an impact and footprint that even people who couldn't attend could get the vibe and enjoy what we created. This bridging of the physical and digital was a key aspect that needed to be woven into the fabric of each event, whether that was through photobooths or through AR filters as a means to differentiate our unique value proposition and drive revenue and fan experience.
Each year, the biggest stars and athletes descend upon NBA All-Star Weekend to help make this one of the biggest and most viral events of the year. The stars of the NBA ascend to a singular city to play in a weekend of festivities and celebration. While professional basketball is usually played in front of a packed house in a basketball arena, Bleacher Report intended to bring the game back to the streets for this year's All-Star Weekend, staging a large-scale fan activation in Santa Monica prior of the game right on the water with the sounds of the amusement park and beach ringing through the air. Like always I got to wear many hats and straddle cross departmental responsibilities to help elevate the event to fit within our cultural vibe.
Bleacher Report wanted to turn All-Star on it's head and establish itself as a player in the experiential space to help attract advertisers and sponsors, and my role was to help ensure it resonated with our audience and had the connective tissue between the physical activations and what we were doing online and on social. This meant everything from being a part of the brain trust that made decisions on talent and activations, to capturing content day of for our social platforms and sponsors, to producing interesting experiential moments for our fans.
From animated shows to social content to studio interviews and more, Bleacher Report created multiple access points for fans to engage in our content with every iteration designed specifically with the platform and distribution mechanism in mind, and events was the most tangible version of that. We harnessed the power of our industry-leading portfolio of social accounts, along with our B/R App, original programming, and live events to advance our mission to make it as easy as possible to be a sports fan, and this mission fit in perfectly with the vibes in Los Angeles on the weekend of All Star, to bring it to life and bridge that gap meant finding ways for fans to dive into the culture in invigorating and memorable ways. I helped take this digital ethos and bring it to life at BR LA through the creation of one-of-a-kind interactive fan experiences.
The BR/LA experiential event, which took over the historic Santa Monica Pier, was a first for the organization, a chance to showcase how B/R could do IRL events in the ilk of Complexcon or Art Basel, establishing an exclusive All-Star event to allow fans' own expression and creativity to bloom via a variety of innovative hands-on activities and performances. Tapping in an artist like Jack Perkins for example for our photo booth moment since he was an illustrator working with us from the early Media Lab days shows how that DNA was built into the attitude and voice for the event. Each event celebrates all aspects of culture—from sneakers to music and the passion for the game.
The tone for the experience was set at the entry arch: the juxtaposition of hip, street lifestyle with the playfulness of LA beach culture. Venice street ball hoops and the sounds and snacks of the beach meets the high flying dunks of the NBA and fashion from it's tunnels and hardwood, we wanted it to feel straight up like a level out of a video game. From the moment you walked in you felt an event that blended street art murals, environmental graphics, Bleacher Report branding, and sponsor logos throughout the space, forming a ribbon that weaved throughout the pier. Take a peak at the recap video I put together below to dive into the experience:
BR/LA was all about personal expression and creativity, from the musical performances and live art displays to the actual artistry displayed on the basketball court, something that the brand reflects with its encouragement for consumer-created content. A rotating rhythm of program spaces encircling the primary circulation area enlivened the whole pier. This allowed people to flow in and out of the activity, acting as either a casual observer or a participant, while never missing a beat between the stages, basketball court, and sponsor zones. The space was meant to optimize the space in between the concert area and the basketball court.
The basketball court for performances and live demonstrations, as well as a stage for musical performers and DJs, including Jaden Smith, were among the highlights of the bookend sections. The secret show with Jaden ended up being the cherry on top of a truly epic weekend where Bleacher Report showed up in tons of unique ways, but from the DJ events to the many hoops events throughout the day to the dunk contest and photo booths, there was plenty of wall to wall entertainment throughout every moment of the day it was also clear that there was no shortage of quantity to the quality experiences.
When going through different artists to select who represented Bleacher Report and our audience the best, I was a fierce proponent for Jaden and was glad we eventually landed on him because he truly has that Gen-Z perspective on how important things like being conscienscious about the planet is while still being drippy as hell. All it took was a single tweet from him for masses of kids to come flooding down to the pier, despite it being just half an hour prior to showtime.
The all ready full crowd swelled to complete capacity as word spread and chatter around the all star game lead all the folks attending to Santa Monica. Jaden had this kind of pull and he gave Bleacher Report that stamp of approval through association. With this type of project, Bleacher Report could prove that we were not only able to move digital audiences but that we could do that in real life as well, and that this could be a viable sponsorship platform and consumer touchpoint for our brand.
The motto for our All-Star activation was Hoops, Sounds, LA. This meant that we had Jaden Smith locked in for the secret show portion, but we wanted to make sure that in staying true to our DNA that we had a basketball court activation, and what better way than to take to the streets that host the famous Venice beach basketball tournaments and were Kobe's backyard for over 2 decades and turn them into a hoop sanctuary. We collaborated with two endemic sponsors who we knew would be willing to go big, especially with an audience as young and into the game of basketball as ours. NBA really is our bread and butter, and it came to life in LA.
If on one end of the Santa Monica pier you saw us amplifying sounds like Jaden telling us he has "Icon tatted on his torso", on the other you could hear the familiar sound of basketballs dribbling on asphalt and players loudly exclaiming "And-One" at the top of their lungs. One of the things I did throughout the day was worked with Lance Fresh to capture interviews and social media content for our instagram stories to help showcase the full coverage of BR LA and all the different activations present, but also get a pulse of the people on the ground.
McDonalds has had a history of sponsoring the All American Game and we have had a longstanding good relationship with Brand Jordan and Nike through our BR Kicks arm. These two helped us to really take the court and turn it into a key part of our overall activation. Not only did we host a skills challenge and class in the morning, it was then followed by celebrity influencer street ball tournaments and finally a House of Highlights Dunk Contest judged by Terrell Owens and Omar Raja himself.
From an athlete integration standpoint, we wanted to tap in key cultural influencers and people embedded within the culture to help amplify our sponsored activations and give cache to our presence, and our all-star brain trust really had to go through deliberations to find the right mixture of youth appeal and affordability for our event and we settled on the likes of Andre Drummond to judge our JBL DJ contest, Brandon Jennings and Ryan Hollins to activate in our McDonalds hoops camps, Don Benjamin or Terrell Owens playing in our celebrity and influencer games with folks like Famous Los. In many ways, it was the comment section of a Bleacher Report instagram post come to life as you saw these characters from social media in real life.
The panoramic shot below really showcase the true scale of the activation with the full crowd visible and a number of the sponsored activations from State Farm, McDonalds, Straight Talk Wireless, Jumpman, Two Hats and JBL all visible from this viewpoint along with the main stage and full sized court. From this point of view the importance of the court in anchoring everything really shows, as it is bookended with the concert stage, really bringing home the motto that can be seen above.
What I love about this shot is just the sunny Los Angeles weather on a perfect idyllic day with the palm trees swaying in the background. For this being our first event of this type, we went big and really shot for the moon with how we went about activating, but it was a resounding success and set the stage for future events, not just during All Star weekend but for other tentpole events on the sports calendar as well.
The event generated over 120 million social impressions for Bleacher Report and 600+ social posts utilizing the #BRxLA hashtag, boosting interest ahead of the All-Star Game. Traditionally Bleacher Report had leaned more on our digital presence for All Star Weekend and had seen some of our largest engagement numbers come from the dunk contest and the all star game, however our physical presence in previous years had often been an afterthought. Those days we had a small party or lounge tacked on to Turner's activations, but LA allowed us to really explore our own brand and figure out how we could show up to engage with an audience much younger.
Whether that was a large scale basketball skills camp with McDonalds or a DJ contest judged by Jordyn Woods sponsored by JBL, the key was bringing the brands, the fans and Bleacher Report all to life in the same playing field. I also just want to briefly call out how massive of a dub it was to have Jordyn there to be a. part of the festivities, she is legitimately bae and it was awesome that her and Jaden are actually longtime childhood friends and their families are super close so it gave the whole affair an even more intimate and close vibe. This type of family atmosphere that still resonated with the culture and game on the court really was the crux of our vision.
Our design team worked with JVarta to help create a cohesive motion graphics package to work in conjunction with our design system and language with Dylan Lathrop working on branding and Dyna Mendoza helping provide structure to our deliverables to help bring the event to life. The event really was all hands on deck with Kate Strassman helping create the swag for us and Ryan Smith helping direct the direction for it. We worked in collaboration with internal teams and external vendors and sponsors to create a lively takeover, with all the bold sensibilities that are core to our brand showing up in various avenues. For the colors we wanted to draw from the sunshine inspired tones of the Santa Monica Piers and beach with glowing yellows and a lighter tone than our traditional colors.
Taking cues from the landscape, the colors blended together with the rides of the amusement park in the background and really made everything feel bright and welcoming. Clickspring design helped us fabricate and develop the physical installation on site the weekend of to make sure everything went off smoothly. Our teams came together to take the visual language and breathe life into the space. The pastel tones played with the sunlight and beach air while the positive and bright colors added to the friendly atmosphere.
Our events team was lead by Sivan Raya at the helm along with Isis Chanel helping move things along, and my old Media Lab colleague Will Lievenberg who became my touch point for helping from everything from staff t-shirts to various design elements, to capturing social content on the day of for brands like Straight Talk Wireless and JBL. Our events provide a unique opportunity for brands to work with Bleacher Report and build their experiential presence from ideation to execution. From custom activations to live programming, Bleacher Report experiences empower brand partners to bring their brands to life in an impactful, unforgettable way.
For BRxLA my role was as always, multi-hyphenate and sat between our social and design teams to help us create content to cover the event while helping bring it to life during and afterwards along with art direction on many portions. Whether this was a Straight Talk Wireless or Budweiser instagram story or it was an IRL overview of the Jaden Smith concert or a mural that activated on location for fans, there were multiple avenues for expression and conceptualization.
Prior to the festivities on Sunday morning with the fans, we actually had an opportunity to throw a far more intimate get together for our clients and athletes and top members of the sports landscape during our All Star Saturday night party at Jimmy Goldstein's house in the Hollywood Hills. Taking the initial design language we developed, I had a chance to design a staff t-shirt for all the employees working the event as can be seen below.
Getting a location like Jimmy's house since he is one of the biggest NBA superfans out there, and having that be a part of our cultural impact during the weekend really showcased how embedded the brand was in the culture and gave us a far more intimate touchpoint to build on top of that. It was a fun and quick design project to tackle within the wider framework of this event. And I think that is what was great about it, a chance to wear many hats and tackle a myriad of design and creative challenges.
The Saturday night party was far more intimate and limited to business clients and VIP guests of Bleacher Report, this allowed us to interface and connect with them at a high level while offering a more bespoke and high end event. Guests were escorted by a private bus up into the Hollywood Hills to Jimmy's house where a BR branded step and repeat sponsored by Honda was awaiting. We also had a Ciroc integration at the bar and a few installations from HyperX gaming where folks could play NBA 2K at console stations. This was a difference from the Sunday morning event which was open to the public and all about scale, sunshine and sounds flowing through the air.
76 NBA players appeared in front of over 3,000 people throughout the course of the weekend. The BR/LA event also included a variety of sponsor-driven fan interaction events, including hands-on activations for companies such as Straight Talk Wireless, McCafé, State Farm, and JBL. The major activation that really anchored it all was a massive James Harden foam and metal carnival style head that weighed in at over 1800 pounds and had to be rolled in overnight at 3AM to position properly. This type of activation from state farm shows vertical integration and the longevity of the campaign going into the playoffs.
Inside fans could engage with a unique one of a kind photo booth experience showing them the inside of Harden's mind. Harden tweeted about how the moment really was something that brought his career full circle as a kid from LA growing up here to now have a larger than life presence at the amusement park he would visit in his youth. In a lot of ways it reminded me of an NBA version of the old carnival Zoltar machines they had in movies like BIG with Tom Hanks where he gets turned into an adult. (Much better than 13 going on 30 by the way) Bleacher Report and State Farm hit a step-back three with nothing but net on this one.
Created to showcase what it’s like to have a State Farm agent that really gets you, fans can go inside the installation and play an interactive game to help clear Harden’s head of distractions before the big game. The installation was a proof of concept for Bleacher Report that we could do these type of things at scale and that there was a sense of longevity there in the partnerships that we were creating like I said, this would travel to new locations thus getting more of a return on that initial investment.
Not only could State Farm be a sponsor on Game of Zones and on NBA on TNT, they could also activate and reach those same NBA fans at events at things like All Star. This allowed us to expand our revenue streams and build a new way for Bleacher Report to engage with its fans more deeply. Plus a bonus of this was our ability to offer more diverse integrated advertising packages with a variety of touch points and ways to activate. The build would actually later be used again on the road and at games during the playoffs and in Houston at the Toyota Center as well, eventually paying for itself in terms of production cost many times over.
Another opportunity to activate in the food and beverage space came with a partnership with Anheuser-Busch to do a French Montana concert after All-Star Saturday night, the reason these types of partnerships became key to growing the brand and finding new revenue streams was that due to Bleacher Report being a younger company and a startup, many of it's partners in the advertising game were smaller more endemic and digitally native brands.
You would often see the likes of other tech and internet companies like Twitter or Youtube sponsor their content on our website, we often got partnerships from sneaker brands like NIke or Adidas and even Champs and Footlocker, but breaking into the drinks and spirits category was really a game changer for us in developing new partnerships that coincided with our experiential activations. Partnering with Budweiser would open the doors to future partnerships with Remy Martin and Hennessy.
One of the main undertaking in bringing the digital playbook to life IRL was to take what we would normally do on social and would always do numbers and to create a physical version of this. Working with Will, and our Social Moments teammates Brian Chen and Ryan Hurst we were able to tap into one of our most often collaborators in BamBamBam99 a super talented illustrator from China to make a wonderful easter egg packed mural that we would run as a multi image slider on social.
This type of easter egg filled illustration is something we would often do for tentpole moments like Christmas day, and it felt right to do it for social as well. The physical version actually left Clipper Darell feeling extremely honored and touched on some iconic LA moments from Yeezy to Jack to the Big Baller Brand and more. Fans lined up to take photos and enjoy the mural as if they gravitated towards the bright colors and pop art style commentary. It was really like a B/R comment section come alive.
The background not only provided a location for amusing picture opportunities, but it also encompassed the primary performance platform, establishing a physical link between the performers and the audience. The way experiences have developed with this initial BRxLA event with our audience, sponsors and the content itself, it allows us what we think is a unique way to marry up the power of our social distribution with our physical ability to create events in a repeatable way. This mural is one of the most concrete examples of this coming to life at the actual event. The amount of people who had memorable reactions or would seek out the mural to take a photo opportunity was amazing to witness, and it shows the ability for our digital content to become tangible elements that our highly passionate fanbase can feel and interact with.
Starting from the left hand side some of the recognizable easter eggs and nods to Los Angeles culture you may notice is Candace Parker staying in her own lane as she crosses over and breaks the ankles of none other than Lavar Ball himself. Next to that you have the indomitable Clipper Darell wearing an undefeated hat with a White Men can't jump mural in the distance as a smiling former Clipper Blake Griffin can be seen in the sky flying to Detroit over the Hollywood sign. Next up you have the iconic Jack Nicholson in a supreme T-Shirt with a box of Roscoe's chicken and waffles underneath his seat next to two of the most iconic sports colleges in the city with their famous NBA player alumni in UCLA's Russell Westbrook and USC's DeMar DeRozan.
Finally in the center of the composition you find the iconic 3 peat image of Shaq and Kobe in the Jeff Hamilton jacket with the trophies below them. Of course we had to include Kim with her KKW case taking a selfie Next to Ye in his I Love Kobe shirt with LA born and bred player and Drew League regular James Harden stirring the pot next to him. Lavar's son Lonzo can be seen next to Kuzma with his pregame fur jacket fit that got clowned with legendary west coast rappers Kendrick and Ice Cube right there reppin.
We had to include Jaden as he was performing and behind him you can see the Forum Club, Pinks Hot Dogs and the classic Laugh Factory building. We close out the mural with uncle snoop with his joint and 420 jersey in classic California Love fashion with the Beverly Hills hotel and a Straight outta LA sign behind, a labor of love and exactly what BR does best, the way that people interacted with the art it was more like a conversation and less of a one way experience.
All Star weekend in LA really ended up being a blur, but it was a ton of fun and we really made an impact. To take a peak at all the fun I had, check out the vlog from our BR Kicks 72 hours in LA experience showing everything from being on court to the crazy concerts and activations everyone else did. BR LA was at the heart of it and I was glad to get to have a hand in bringing to to life. The first iteration of what a Bleacher Report experiential activation could look like in Los Angeles was massively successful with over 3000 attendees and millions of dollars of new revenue generated.
With Bleacher Report we’ve always tried to redefine sports for the next generation of fans and events is no different. The way we think about all these activations is not just about having a physical activation on the ground, but about creating a social setting that allows us to capture content and push that out to our 100 million or so followers. With our young-skewing audience of millennials and Gen Zers, All Star weekend generates more video views than any other week of the year, and 37% more than the average NBA playoff week. Taking this digital momentum and transmuting it towards experiential goals and revenue drivers is the key switch that events like BRxNC flipped.
Bleacher Report also garners more video views than competitors including Complex, Sports Illustrated, SB Nations, Whistle Sports, ESPN and Players Tribune combined over the weekend, especially with the assist from Turner's integration into our ability to turn content around quickly. This nimble nature to amplify and respond turned the event into a major turnkey operation that felt like something we needed to really build upon both from a brand and revenue standpoint. Charlotte North Carolina was the next location for us to be able to further develop and innovate around this concept.
#BRxNC was the next chance to really develop a new meaning behind the Hoops x Sounds motto that we had formed the backbone of our first All-Star event, and after establishing various smaller events on our yearly calendar during the Super Bowl, Summer League, and a Kicks inspired Lifestyle and Sneaker event in the winter called the Drop Up, the follow up at next year's all star had to not only go bigger but it also had to take into account all of the learnings from those new at bats. The design system we developed was inspired by the fun Charlotte Hornet's teams and squads of the 90's with Mugsy Bogues going up against MJ.
In Charlotte on Sunday Feb. 17, 2018 Bleacher Report took over the Music Factory in North Carolina. Among the exhibits are two basketball courts, concert stages and interactive exhibits featuring sponsored booths from Caesar’s Entertainment, Mountain Dew, Ruffles, Intel, McDonald’s, State Farm, Wilson, Foot Locker and Adidas. There was definitely a good amount of new sponsorship opportunities unlocked from the previous iteration.Multi-platinum, chart-topping Def Jam recording artist and former college basketball star, 2 Chainz, closed out the event with a ridiculously hyped headline performance on the Caesars Sports Music Stage as a cap to the event.
With Rap or Go to the League freshly stocked on shelves and on streaming platforms, the weekend was a bit of a coming out party for 2Chainz who had LeBron James executive produce the album as well with a nod to his hoop past. This fact really made him the perfect personification for the intersection of music and sports. This is exactly what the brands we worked with wanted to be associated with and the target audience they craved.
The ethos behind Bleacher Report's activations at all star really was to showcase the intersection between sports and culture, to showcase how the worlds of fashion and hip-hop intertwine with basketball through art and experience. My role was to provide creative direction and social guidance in packaging and amplifying the content we were creating, along with finding unique on the ground activations to build on our sponsored sections and give us more diversity. As can be seen in our promo featuring Adam Lefkoe for the one of a kind hoops, culture and musical weekend in the Queen City with their favorite basketball icons.
We packed the schedule full of experiences and adventure for our fans while giving sponsors multiple vehicles for them to be a part of the action as well. Sponsors were integrated throughout the weekend in an authentic way, like how Tissot Style Watch had guests like Bradley Beal and Kemba Walker on in the Tissot Style Lounge space and we filmed our Drip in the Wild segment there, you can actually see me stand in as a "fake" contestant in the contest in the video if you look closely enough.
From a design standpoint, there was far more of an underground vibe with the location that we had picked for this year. Unlike Santa Monica which is such a known and historic landmark, the Music Factory was more of a blank canvas for us to find venues for expression and this gave us the freedom and creative runway to try out new patterns and executions. There was an undercurrent of grunge 90s spray paint urban aesthetic with the rough edges and hand drawn quality of the patterns. The teal really gave it a Hornets spin as well and made it feel retro. It was fun to take this design language and bring it to life on merch and at the event space.
Unlike BRxLA which had a far more chill vibe with pastel tones and brigher sunnier colors that evoke a beach or fun summer day, the vibe for BRxNC was a bit more retro and nostalgic and felt like the Larry Johnson era grandmama commercial time NBA I love this game time period that it really drew inspiration from. There was a more rugged grunge spray paint look to this that also meshed well with the 2Chainz art direction so it all felt like it made sense. The 3D boombox and basketball on the invite representing the intersection of the things we live for. Finding unique ways to bring this to life was key in differentiating our activation.
One of the areas where that came to life was in the realm of our BR Kicks sub brand integration with merch that we created in collaboration with Charlotte based sneaker and streetwear shop Social Status to celebrate all star weekend. Knowing that we were in Michael Jordan's stomping grounds I wanted to create a t-shirt that was a nod to his airness with a vision for the future of flight laid out on the back in diagram format. The design was really meant to invoke both the future and it's possibilities but also have a nostalgia and reverence for the game and where it evolved from. Using a combination of ITC Garamond and Druk Wide Bold I was actually able to find a photo of Michael Jordan from his games in Italy that appeared in the Public domain that we were able to utilize.
A particular thing we began doing at events, especially when we had a headlining act, since we wanted to bring our digital presence to life at these places we felt like taking the artwork that blows up and goes viral on platforms like instagram and twitter and gifting it to the performers as larger than life pieces they could take home with them and put in their homes or in the studio to give them some inspiration. It became a tangible part of the gifting suite we developed for All Star Weekend VIPs and the first one we really did was for 2Chainz before Sheck Wes at the Drop Up and ABoogie at the Jump Off in Vegas.
Since he was an Atlanta native we had our very own Ryan Hurst cook up a portrait inspired by his upcoming Rap or Go to the League album in the style of one of our iconic jersey swaps and we gifted it to him pre-show. Ryan absolutely killed the graphic and 2Chainz was effusive with praise, turning this into something we knew we would have to repeat and did so with Sheck Wes at our Drop up event and once again the next year at all-star with Quavo. These type of moments were a fun collision of the digital and experiential.
Once again, the main part of our activation was two fold, on one side you had the stage for 2Chainz to perform on but on the other side we wanted to make sure we could fit a full basketball court to showcase the sport and play our celebrity basketball game, played by Lil Durk, Sada Baby, TJ Porter, Fabolous, and Jadakiss and a ton more big names in the space. We also had a House of Highlights dunk contest judge by John Collins of the Atlanta Hawks and reigning dunk contest champion along with former Laker player and one of my personal favorite dunkers Shannon Brown (Who remembers 'Let Shannon Dunk' campaign from that champion Lakers team?). We thankfully had our anchor sponsor State Farm once again agree to go big after last season's foam Harden head and they not only sponsored the rims with their signature red stanchions but also created a gaming lounge with custom PB&J sandwiches, a favorite pregame snack of many NBA players.
The basketball court was a central feature for the activation and we worked once again with title sponsors McDonald's with their All American heritage to create jerseys for our influencer game. For the actual court we worked with Ruffles and Mountain Dew to create special markings that allowed for interactive mini games we could bring to life with our social highlight treatments. The ruffles ridge rider uniforms and the new 4 point lines and power ups were cool new features to add a fresh spin to the games.
With events like BRxNC the aim is to create an engaging experience on the ground for our fans in Charlotte, as we simultaneously harness the power of our social and digital distribution to bring fans, not able to attend the event to the same engaging experience, the type of exclusive content they’ve come to expect from Bleacher Report both in real life and in the virtual world. The celebrity and influencer games become a perfect microcosm of this type of thing because unlike the athletes that play on Sunday night, with these stars it is more about the banter and all the fun that happens outside the lines as well as in between.
The Baller's Ball influencer event featured people who were a part of our BR squad, influencers like Shiggy, Famous Los, Dylan and Dakota Gonzalez, Cream Biggums, Tristan Jass, Austin Mills, Bone Collector, Jesse The Lazer, Cashnasty, Sada Baby and TJ Porter. This type of event was a proof of concept that would go on to become its own standalone event that we would livestream on our App, setting the stage for our influencer games and Open Run events.
Bleacher Report really sits at the intersection between sports and culture, and this is something that the BRxNC event personified, whether it was the photo spots we had on the ground for folks to take photos of their fire sneaker game, the way we brought in local Charlotte High School and College drumlines to help us kick off the opening of the event, having Hugo the Hornet the Mascot of the Charlotte Hornets to come down to be a part of the festivities, or even the shenanigans of the likes of Filayyy or BDotADot that ended up on the gram. The BRxNC event had a little bit of everything and that was what we wanted to showcase to the fans, to bring our social media voice and our design language to a vibrant tangible culmination. Bleacher Report was becoming an integral part of the All Star circuit and it was just year two.
It wouldn't be All-Star in Charlotte without an appearance from its very own hometown hero from Fayetteville, North Carolina Jermaine Cole also known as JCole who rounded out an insane weekend of hoops and music and dunks and sneakers out with an epic memorable overtime performance at the Filmore after the Sunday night All-Star game. The chance to be a part of this insane weekend was really amazing, and it was a chance for Bleacher Report to prove it could swing with the big dogs and do events in a meaningful but also memorable and trendy way that could be scaled for future activations on our sports calendar.
Year two at all star for Bleacher Report was a big dub and we had a chance to learn how to take that to yet another level higher the next time we would do it. The secret to success was expanding to our individual sub brands to further make authentic experiences with our brands while serving our fans simultaneously. Also shoutout to Mikey Navarro from our social innovation team who took the sounds portion of the motto literally and brought his mixing deck down to North Carolina just to remix a custom track of the sounds of the arena as seen above, just an absolute perfect way to encapsulate the weekend, and a worthy successor of the 72 hours vlog.
Bleacher Report's signature NBA All-Star event returned in 2020, as the basketball world gathered in Chicago, larger and better than ever. B/R gave fans with a one-of-a-kind experience in Chicago, with action-packed basketball programming and a headline musical performance by Quavo on the first-of-its-kind dual-level crystal court. I had a chance to partake in various activations and overall art direction and consulting production duties for the event.
At NBA All-Star, fans got a taste of the humorous, inclusive and relatable content our brand and all of it's various vertical specific sub brands are known for through a physical representation of the platform IRL. Not only did I get to deliver artwork to Quavo once again in the style of previous events, we also had budget and purview to try some experimental new types of content fresh for our All Star audiences. This helped make our Chicago All-Star activation one of the most exciting yet. Not only did we get to hear Quavo rock out to hits from a totally new perspective from below in our Crystal court buildout with Victor Solomon and State Farm but also so much more.
A special moment for myself and Ryan Hurst, an Atlanta native, was when we had a chance to give Quavo a collaborative photo collage we had worked on together, harkening back to our old Posterizes glory days. The piece featured countless memorable moments from his career with a number of small hidden easter eggs including a fresh jersey swap in a new Hawks uniform with Quavo holding a Larry Obrien trophy right in the center. When he had a chance to hold it in his hands, he had to take a moment to take in all of the little details and then finally exclaimed that it was like looking at an iSpy book from his childhood in a wholesome ass moment.
Going for the three-peat is always the hardest, Kobe and MJ will both tell you that, and it was true with our All Star activations as well, as we wanted to make sure to do something innovative and groundbreaking but knew it would be harder than ever to stand out. We had a larger footprint and far more sponsors, including new verticals like the Remy Martin photobooth as seen below. We needed to show up in interesting and fresh ways to elevate what we did this year. This is where I came in and had a chance to try out a new experimental AR filter at BR Chicago with our Kicks team. The idea was to design QR code triggered posters that would be put in the event area as a call to action for consumers that interacted with the brand or social media in an innovative way.
Just ahead of the Remy Martin photobooth was a large poster wall completely covered in QR codes. Collaborating with 3D designer Tak Wong, I helped model and creative lead the experience as I moved it into Spark AR and Lens Studio for cross-platform launch to expand our user base. On the day of the event, people flocked to the digitally activated posters, which became a focal point of the room. People would notice people with their phones out in the area with the posters and walk over to see what was going on.
With the augmented reality experience, we had something fresh for consumers to experience at the activation, and we got over 500,000 uses of the filter from merely the event and the word of mouth generated from it alone, which is extremely impressive when you really think about it. The event had around 3500 attendees and this was enough to spark over 500,000 people to engage with and use the filter merely from the amplification of their content and people wanting to try it out. Over 1.23M views and impressions generated from ASW-related content across all of Bleacher Report’s social channels was a 33% increase from the previous year thanks to innovations like these. 20+ influencers, including Austin Mills, Jenna Bandy and Bionic Brooks, both attended and participated in on-court event programming.
This type of social push led to over 4 million reach and engagement from the 100 social posts they collectively produced. Augmented Reality filters are a great low-cost method for interacting with our target demographic. As a creative, you are no longer constrained by physical construction constraints or the economic challenges associated with filling a place. Taking this innovation and pairing it with the amplification capabilities of our squad and their social network was a big success. It was important to tap into the six degrees of separation between sports and culture to make waves with our executions. See a demo of the AR above.
B/R CHI was held at Saffron Rails, one of the city's most fascinating venues. The event, which included constant basketball action as well as art and style activations, acted as a platform for strategic brand partners to help offer a large, interactive fan experience honoring all facets of basketball culture. Bleacher Report left its imprint on Chicago and continues to host an annual event during NBA All-Star Weekend. With Turner owning so much of All-Star we wanted to turn BR into an integral part of that portfolio, and it felt like we found a good recipe between the concert and the hoops activations. The ability to reinvent, whether that be new rules and formats for the game or BR becoming a part of the events circuit, it all plays together. While the players took it up a notch on the court, Bleacher Report matched that energy with our experiential activations. This gave Turner not just a one two punch with their own activations, but now with BR on the ground bringing in a whole new audience.
Free to the public, the event was non stop hoops action, exclusive merchandise, art and style activations and the standout Crystal court which was a dual level concept made in partnership and dreamed up with Victor Solomon whose studio recently reimagined all of the NBA awards and trophies. The crystal court gives fans a new kind of unique experience and the court which has always been the centerpiece of all of our all-star activations once again took center stage. Thousands of super fans turned up at B/R CHI, making it Bleacher Report's biggest NBA live event to date, while also driving an organic social media conversation that tapped into Chicago’s rich basketball heritage.
Compared to previous years, the design system was far more customized to the personality of the city beyond what we had done in previous iterations, with a more flat midcentury abstract style for the artwork with imagery of hot dogs and Dennis Rodman to add some Chicago grit and grind to the mix. The colors drew from inspiration like the Chicago flag with its baby blue shades that add a nice backdrop pop on top of the beautiful vibrant yellow tones that help bring the crystal court installation to life. As soon as you walked into the space you were immersed in color and brightness and a very unique sports experience.
The Crystal Court was a one of it's kind innovation in basketball, where the game has pretty much always been played in the same way with no modification, outside of putting a hole in the basket the NBA has stayed largely the same structurally outside of minor changes in the rule book since invented by James Naismith in 1891. Bleacher Report developed a novel spatial interaction by presenting a see-through, raised plane between stars and fans, and a slam dunk was immediately felt with visceral power; B/R CHI brought the first-of-its-kind, dual-level "crystal basketball court" to life, the colors and photos turned out insane.
The idea is that we can welcome consumers in and around the court -- and also underneath it -- to watch game play that takes place all day. We went out to create something never seen before that was both visually stunning and technically sound. Below the court were partner lounges, allowing customers to roam and explore beneath the court while looking up and viewing the basketball action. The completed structure functioned as a stage for Quavo's performance, allowing attendees to witness the show from an unprecedented vantage point as sponsors were integrated below as a natural way to encourage interaction.
Quavo was a staple on the court whenever a big game was happening you would see him in his seats court side chirping at players and getting in on the action. He felt like a great fit for who we would want performing at the show and representing Bleacher Report as he resonates with a hip hop audience but also has a high level of familiarity when it comes to NBA fans as well. This being the third year that we were activating at All Star weekend we wanted to build on the success of Jaden and 2Chainz and Quavo felt like he fit right in that same mold while adding something fresh to the mix. Having a chance to help shape these concepts and art direct portions to make sure it all fit within our brand guidelines and ethos was key. I also helped define some of our social activations and how we could thoughtfully tell stories around the IRL content online.
B/R CHI offers a one-of-a-kind chance for brand partners to connect out to customers in the most engaging way possible. Bleacher Report created a setting that partners understood would improve their brand exposure with Chicago basketball fans, as well as the broader community seeking to join in on the All-Star excitement. When it comes to sponsor integration, is that it’s not just about publicizing sports media brands, but also finding ways to connect sponsors with their audience.
We had 13 national sponsors for the main B/R CHI 2020 event ranging from various categories including Mountain Dew, Ruffles, Adidas, State Farm, Metro by T-Mobile, Wilson, Tissot, Perry Ellis, Gatorade, Intel, Remy Martin, and Coors), the most for any of our events so far, and this expansion really shows the viability of these events and our teams ability to monetize and create various content vehicles for our fans to engage with in a myriad of ways on a diverse array of formats.
A perfect example of just how integrated these partnerships became by the third year we were doing this, our activation with Adidas had multiple iterations and prongs from social to experiential and owned and operated platforms. The Derrick Rose Son of Chi Sneaker release became a drop that Bleacher Report really took over and owned to help them move product and connect fans with the youngest MVP in league history and his rich backstory they resonated with.
Derrick Rose has been an adidas athlete for nearly a decade since his breakthrough MVP season, and the special partnership fostered a chance to honor the Chi-town native. DRose has had a unique and extraordinary connection to Chicago and the fans have a closer connection to him that many other individuals. I think a lot of people really resonate with his story, where he came from and the adversity he has had to go through, and the collection personified that relationship.
Adidas wanted to do something special, even though injuries have derailed DRose, the shoes still move off shelves and the partnership has been solid for both, to honor this not only did they restore a park in his old neighborhood, they released a collab merch line at our event and a special episode of our Sneaker Shock series. This completely vertically integrated advertising partnership saw both physical and digital activations across web, social, retail, pop ups as well as partnerships with social influencers. The city raised him, the staff of the park, the fans, he is the son of Chicago, thats love.
The B/R x Adidas "Son of Chi" collab honoring Derrick Rose was on display and available for purchase at the exclusive pop-up shop right at the front of our activation and Items included the artistic collaboration themed tees, sweaters, caps and beanies designed in partnership with D-Rose and Adidas. The capsule collection was also released on our website and Bleacher Report Ecomm shop and paid homage to the longstanding connection Rose has with his hometown. DRose has been a personal favorite player of mine for the longest time so to get to work and collaborate with him on a project like this was super exciting to come to fruition.
What made the partnership even more special was actually how we were able to tie it into our ongoing sneaker giveaway series we had ideated and produced for our BR Kicks vertical. As a consulting producer on the show and one of the main forces behind the BR Kicks team I had an extremely hands on approach to building the show and we often had opportunities to work with athletes to amplify what we were doing.
Even though DRose wasn't playing during the weekend he made the trip down to Chicago to an Adidas store where we surprised a team he played back in his high school days at Simeon, Currie High's basketball teams all free pairs of the newly released "Son of Chi" color way of the shoe. So not only did we take the shoe release and create a capsule collection around it, we had a pop up shop at our event and then produced an episode of our kicks show where we surprised kids with free shoes. All in all the partnership made a positive impact and added to the culture, what more could you want.
State farm really did allow us to bring the hype by sponsoring our dunk contest as well and making full use of the hardcourt as well. We even had our old friend Jake from State farm stop by as seen below to judge and to hand out the trophy to the winner. The thing that the third year showed was that the momentum was self sustaining from a sponsorship standpoint where it would allow us to spread to more vertical and test out new more innovative activations in spaces like fragrance and beverages and things not only in the NBA culture space but also far beyond.
All content providers and media companies now are tasked with being a solution center for people who invest in them both digitally and IRL. Whether it is through media agencies or through client direct buys and being a 360-degree solution for partners helped us win business that we probably wouldn’t have been able to win. With the innovative activations at All Star weekend in Chicago, North Carolina and in Los Angeles Bleacher Report redefined the sports culture landscape in a new way and it was a blessing to just be a small part of the massive team that had to come together to really bring this all to life. It really took a village to show what the brand was capable of but it set the stage for far more events such as the Drop Up and Jump off for our sneaker verticals and summer league. Proving viability for new revenue sources was an important part of how we grew Bleacher Report into a household name.
By the time 2021 rolled around, unfortunately the worldwide pandemic had caused a disrupton in All-Star festivities and out of an abundance of caution and in respect of the safety of others Bleacher Report did not have a formal event the next year and I left the company after that. B/R finally did return to All Star in 2022 in Cleveland with a bang, but it was still a measured approach. However with Turner hosting it in Atlanta in 2021 in limited socially distanced fashion, to make the logistics easy, we did get access to some amazing courtside angles which we flipped into the recap video above. The 2021 NBA All-Star night had everything from Domantas Sabonis winning the Skills competition to Stephen Curry putting on a show during the 3-point contest and ultimately Team LeBron defeating Team Durant in an epic battle. In lieau of an event that year enjoy the mixtape. I was glad I got to be a part of what I was a part of when it happened!
Key Collaborators: Sivan Nadler, Isis Chanel, Beckley Mason, Mikey Navarro, Ryan Smith, Dylan Lathrop, JVarta Design, Varoon Bose, Chris Perez, Zach McCan, Priscilla Cheng, Aneudy Caba, Steve Pellegrino, Vincent Samperio, Greta Carvolth, Lauren Porter, Sally Aisner, Tiauna Smith, Martell Pegues, Joey Rotunno, Ryan Hurst, Will Lievenberg, Tyler Stewart, Tyger Danger, Jermaine Spradley, Efi Da Silva, Jack Perkins, W.B. Meech, Sunil Murti, Kate Strassman, Omar Raja, Taylor Rooks, Matt Sanoian, Jake Cohen, Rachel Roderman, Oruny Choi, Duane Jackson, Bryan Graham, Brian Chen, Adam Lefkoe, Jozen Pedro Cummings, Lance Fresh, 10Fold Entertainment, Clickspring Design
Tools: Photoshop, After Effects, Final Cut Pro, Photoshop
Deliverables: Event Activations, Video Features, Immersive AR, Social Packaging, Merch Design
Category: Creative Direction, Motion Graphics, Producing, Directing, Design, Writing, Experiential Production