"I really f*ck with what you guys are doing at B/R Kicks." - Kyrie Irving
The biggest challenge for me in helping launch Bleacher Report Kicks was developing a consistent audience around a new portfolio brand. My role in building this audience was essentially at all levels from curating and posting content to the social channels, developing original content, doing the creative direction for our video series, and art direction for our editorial projects. The Kicks brand was essentially a startup within the larger Bleacher Report ecosystem and required on a small team working on it as a passion project outside of the day to day responsibilities to our primary titles. Over time I was able to help develop a consistent social voice for the account that was both informative yet inclusive of sneaker culture. Furthermore, we developed a stable group of artists with whom we created original content. This would end up being some of our highest performing content and played into our overall social strategy. I also helped launch and produce some of our video series featuring surprise sneaker giveaway show "Sneaker Shock" and our athletes "Unboxed" series (And evolution of our previous "Freshly Unboxed" series) which led to us capitalizing by going from $0 of revenue to over $20 Million annually in just under 3 years.
For many kids growing up, one of the biggest things that we all covet is the new signature shoes of our favorite athletes, and we place almost a mythical status on these items. We imbue upon them our hopes and dreams, hoping that these shoes will make us fly like our favorite athletes can. We grow up with these desires and when we finally have the money to acquire some of these holy grails us sneaker heads often go in. It is a shared rite of passage, almost a coming of age badge. BR Kicks distills that feeling into the content that fans want to see and taps into that shared coming of age story we associate with sneaker culture, especially in an era where the NBA pregame tunnel has become a bonefied fashion runway. BR Kicks was a progression for our brand both from an editorial and cultural perspective.
This spirit is a common thread among so many of us, an understanding of the accessibility of sneakers and a shared knowledge of the storytelling behind each silhouette or color way. A shared experience of waiting out in a line for sneakers or more recently taking an L on the Confirmed or SNKRS apps. Being a sneaker head is just about as much a bonding experience as being a fan, thus enter Bleacher Report. Having built out larger aspects of our social program I was motivated to push the appetite for sneaker content and found ways to make that a reality through various means. Eventually as these ideas became a reality and we had more and more data points accumulated I was able to pitch the concept with a group of co-workers similarly passionate about Kicks and we were able to get backing to make it a more serious pursuit.
People wear these kicks like badges of honor, and each pair you wear can tell a unique tale about who you are as a person and what you believe in. These shoes are a canvas for the soul, and translating that into a content business was a very interesting challenge that I have always wanted to tackle. Tapping into this raw emotion, I helped launch the BR Kicks sub -brand that would go on to drive significant revenue for the company and become a staple of our content offerings.
BR Kicks is one of Turner Sports fastest growing digital properties across the entire Warner Media portfolio with a unique point of view and a bootstrapped origin story where the department grew out of an organic passion and felt natural as an evolution for so much of what we were doing on social. I think disruption is a fundamental aspect of what we were able to do with our rapid response social moments playbook I was a part of developing, and applying and growing that through the kicks vertical was a game changer.
Bleacher Report Kicks is a passion project I started at Bleacher Report with a handful of colleagues as a meeting space for athletes, musicians, influencers and fans to come together around sneaker culture beyond the court and pitch to see how the stadium tunnel is becoming the new men’s runway. From a small side project that had potential, BR Kicks would continue to grow into an integral part of Bleacher Report's business portfolio and opened new pathways for monetization and content experimentation that left the overall brand social presence with a level of credibility that adds to customer affinity. And the instagram account is pretty damn lit too.
I was lucky enough to wear many hats as I helped grow the brand and raise the bar as far as the content offerings that not only Bleacher Report, but Turner and NBA digital from a larger perspective would offer going forward. BR Kicks fundamentally shifted our ability to appeal to a brand new younger cooler and more informed demographic. BR Kicks was able to grow to become one of the definite voices in the sneaker media space and will only continue to be a bigger part of Bleacher Report's future plans. With it's unique POV and an even more unique set of users who are highly engaged and ready to discuss and engage with content and giveaway at a much higher clip than most of our other fans or followers the brand is a strong place to try out new things and to learn more about them as well.
Creating original content, coordinating strategy with Christian Pierre and Oruny Choi who would work as social content programmers for Kicks my role was to create original content for the team, build out quote cards or video series, produce and art direct original illustrations and animations, while also assisting day to day curating and posting on our social accounts, particularly instagram where we saw much of our growth. This core team really saw the bulk of the growth of the brand together through the years and saw it mature into one of the most integral aspects of our overall sports and culture coverage for Bleacher Report.
I had the opportunity to build the BR Kicks sub brand from the ground up, from it's very first instagram post on social to over 2 Million followers on the platform. Along the way I got to work on a number of social projects, series and shoots, animations, illustrations, motion design projects, and unboxing videos. Seeing the brand grow from what it what it once was, a passion project started by myself and a group of other sneaker heads to a viable portfolio brand with multiple monetization opportunities on social, owned and operated platforms, and experimental activations was an extremely enriching experience.
It truly pushed me to the limit as far as utilizing every one of the skills in my design toolbar and taught me how to scale a brand from a small scrappy solo operation to a massive company defining brand that changes the trajectory of our mission statement. Growing the BR Kicks brand was a monumental achievement and I am proud to be a part of that effort. I truly believe it is an integral part of the Bleacher Report ecosystem and will continue to be a large part of BR's overall digital strategy for years to come.
While developing the Team Stream app the main model to create a community was to develop an individualized stream for content specific to a team or fandom. As we worked on expanding the topics that users could follow on the stream, we developed a Kicks stream. Initially we were curating content around Kicks from the internet and other publishers. Slowly we began aggregating more of this content and developing basic news coverage around releases and sneaker moments in sports. This Kicks stream in our app grew exponentially to become on of the most subscribed amongst even all of the team and sports streams.
Users from all around the globe and fans of different sports had a common interest in sneaker culture. This informed our decisions that there was a high amount of overlap amongst folks who wanted to see kicks not just on the court, field, and pitch, but also off of it. Subsequently we saw an opportunity to begin a new vertical where we could produce original content for an audience that was hungry for it without many other sources for this type of stuff on the market. This is what lead to the growth of one of the most important portfolio brands at Bleacher Report.
The initiative began as an editorial play where we wanted to bring value and storytelling to our core audience. One of the first projects we worked on as a part of launching BR Kicks, and the first social post on the freshly launched instagram account was a timeline on the "Rise of Adidas" which was a part of our Media Lab immersive articles project. In creating original content which featured unique storytelling, compelling artwork featuring paper crafted dioramas visualizing the key moments throughout the history of the brand, we were able to connect with the audience that we had built up in a new manner.
The story was one of our most read published editorials for that month and gave us the fuel needed to take this vertical more seriously. Similarly, another award winning Media Lab project, our tribute to Michael Jordan titled "MJ All Day" featured a sneaker evolution of his iconic Air Jordan line that I helped art direct and do background research for which saw immense success on youtube and acted as a pilot project for much of our future executions.
Realizing the power of original content in the sneaker space, I set out to take my learnings from the Media Lab initiative and my early work on our app and social media profiles to develop more projects for BR Kicks. Another story I had an opportunity to design and collaborate with my colleague C.J. Toledano a former Jimmy Fallon and Funny or Die writer on was a parallax article on the Nike "Air Mag" which similarly to the Adidas piece saw renewed interest in the Kicks topic and bolstered our confidence in further exploring avenues for growth and audience development.
Using the editorial CMS I had built out as a member of the Media Lab I was able to pair a quick turnaround editorial piece with original photography I had taken at a Nike Brand activation for the re-release of the auto-lacing version of the shoe and original video and illustration assets. I built out an interactive web experience by rendering out new assets and set a precedent for high end sneaker storytelling. This formula was followed many times in the future for things like our photography based Air Max Day celebration piece or our exclusive editorial scoop around Carmelo Anthony bringing back the Jordan Melo 1.5's or even our more in depth features on John Geiger or Dr. J.
Taking the role of producer, art director, and designer I was able to develop original concepts with the assistance of our small but nimble Kicks team. One of the first video series we developed was a Sneaker Unboxing show. The "Freshly Unboxed" concept was a production we had to create with a small budget and few resources. With the help of the talented Lance Fresh who was a host at the company and helped bring about the name and concept, I refined the look and feel of this unboxing series over the years. Early experiments such as the "Kyrie Wheaties" or this "Kobe Protro" unboxing were shot on cellphones and quickly turned around edit wise. I had the opportunity to be both behind the camera directing these features and editing the look and feel and in front of the camera from time to time such as was the case for the unveiling of the Chocolate Yeezy 750's live on location in our NYC studio.
Then as we got more equipment such as a DLSR our small but nimble team began to try more angles and edits such as in this "Paul George PS4" unboxing, or our "Off White Converse" unboxing, or even Over time we built up a visual style and elevated treatment that was unique to Bleacher Report. The key metric for us was to improve with every unboxing we did. As can be seen in this example with the Damian Lillard 4 below or our Nike Vapormax Branded Content unboxing, we added elements such as sound design and title graphics that differentiated our unboxing content from the rest of the stuff being done in the market.
The fact that we were able to create turnkey unboxing content and solutions actually lead to further interest in how we could amplify this recipe, and the idea to bring in the athletes themselves to talk through the storylines behind the sneakers felt like a great way to elevate this whole concept. In conjunction with our Marketing team, just like any late night show looking for stars on a press run, we were able to look at our calendars and reach out to sneaker brands to coordinate shoots ahead of upcoming sneaker releases and drops to help build hype and create vertical integration.
As the Kicks brand grew, we were able to develop our unboxings into more of a cohesive series featuring athletes unboxing new editions of their signatures shoes. The benefit of a series like this was that fans could get closer to the athletes they love and hear firsthand the details of the sneakers that were coming out. One of the first ones we did featured Donovan Mitchell and we subsequently got to shoot some great episodes with All Star players like Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Paul George, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Odell Beckham, John Geiger, Mookie Betts, and Anthony Davis.
The series was actually picked up by Facebook Watch as an exclusive streaming show after the first two episodes we launched. I had the opportunity to help develop the look and feel of this series and the overall question and answer feel of it from a creative direction and production standpoint along with art directing the motion graphics from the initial episodes with Kyrie and Donovan. The Kyrie episode ended up being our most impactful episode as the interest around the Spongebob collection, which was a collaboration between Nike and Nickelodeon, was through the roof. However we had plenty of chances to really shoot with top tier NBA talent from this project.
As can be seen in the behind the scenes video below, these shoots involved multiple cameras and were much bigger productions than our initial unboxing experiments. BR Kicks is a brand that I am proud to say I helped build from the ground up, and the ability for it to become a legitimate community in the sneaker space with engaged fans who interact with the content but also a feasible business model for monetization in a crowded market is a testament to the efficacy of the storytelling and the relatability of the content.
Going from shooting on cellphones to having a multi camera setup allowed for so much more freedom in the types of shots we wanted to get, and the level of detail we wanted to do, but at the same time it allowed for moments of levity and improvisation in the same manner as the smaller shoots we would do on our own in the office as can be seen in the behind the scenes clip below-
Working hand in hand with our in house talent team was of utmost important at this stage of growth for the brand as our ability to reach out and work with athletes themselves as a conduit between them and the sneakers as a product that consumers would be interacting with. Being able to leverage access to these athletes was key, but it was also a task that proved to be more complicated that we first assumed. Often times, the issue would be that these guys had such packed schedules, especially considering they would often be stopping by New York City to play the Knicks or Nets during the NBA season and we had a very narrow window of time to get time on set with them. Athletes would only be available for a very narrow sliver of time and we often had to make due with set locations at the convenience of their teams rather than a place that we scoped out beforehand. We were at the behest of these players but we were willing to do whatever in the name of content.
As you can see in the trailer above, our unboxed series was able to leverage our talent team's ability to book time with all-star talent and use that to feature them giving us a very unique up close and personal look at their signature sneakers in a super compelling way. So much so that the series was actually acquired in a content licensing deal with Facebook Watch as the exclusive home for new episodes. What this show proved is that we were capable of coordinating long distance video content shoots with high level talent both in person and remotely as a way to create compelling original content for our audiences despite time limitations. For the amount of access we had and the limited time to coordinate some of the shoots, the results really are great.
This very strict time requirement I mentioned earlier forced us to become absolute perfectionists when it came to choreographing a smooth shoot and maximizing the time we had with these athletes. It also meant developing a consistent ability to adapt to an evolving situation and finding ways to make the best of the cards you are dealt. You have to work quickly from a technical and production standpoint and make due with the lighting and space you have, but we did the best we could.
For instance, our shoot with Kyrie Irving came during a break from shooting promotional product photography at Nike Headquarters for his Spongebob collection, while our shoot with Donovan Mitchell came in the back room of the 5th avenue Adidas store in New York City where he was giving away pairs of shoes to young kids, and our shoot with KD was done on the spur of the moment at his Summer offseason vacation house in LA. This type of on the go production mentality would serve us well as we produced content during All Star Weekend or when talent would visit our offices during short windows of access.
These experiences that leveraged our talent team brought with it an important question - how could we continue to squeeze value out of unique small opportunities we could get with actors, rappers, athletes, and influencers that we could turn around into content? One solution that I came up with in our writers room was to leverage short visits to the office by these people with a menu of quick turnaround and low lift content executions that were easily repeatable and scalable. These 1-2 minute short form vehicles were intended to be primarily for social media as bite sized sneaker stories that we shot in studio while an athlete would visit our New York Headquarters. Calling it the BR Circuit, we were able to put the kicks content as a core part of this new content strategy.
One such example of a series that came out of these conversations was "Road Rotation" that asked these folks what the handful of shoes that would travel with on a regular basis would be. As the people we were interviewing were often already traveling for press tours, we were able to ask them relevant questions about why they picked those specific shoes to travel with. Episodes included conversations with Earthgang, Waka Flocka, Diana Taurasi, and Arike Ogunbowale as well.
In a similar vein, another show that I helped ideate around as a part of this talent driven quick turn content initiative was a series called "My First Pair" which is as simple as the title makes it sound. The beauty of a series like this was it's simplicity and it's universal appeal since pretty much any person coming into the office would have a story about the first meaningful shoe they purchased or received. We have had opportunities to shoot episodes with the likes of Taylor Bennett, Bol Bol, Nate Robinson, Bas, Tacko Fall, RJ Hampton, Qias Omar, Megan Rapinoe, and Aaron Gordon. The hope is to continue this series and explore more of these stories as we evolve the brand.
These types of talent driven directives would actually be something that I would later be tasked with ideating around as my time as a producer on our BR Entertainment team as I developed our BR Circuit offerings for talent coming into the office to do shoots. For BR Kicks, My First Pair also represented something that just about any athlete or rapper or celebrity or influencer could do, you always have a first sneaker no matter who you are and this was what was central to the idea and why it was such a fun and successful series.
Another aspect of coverage we would do on a yearly basis that was access driven was our NFL focused "Cleat Week" series I would collaborate on with Ryan O'leary and our studio production and video team as we leveraged access with big name NFL players to customize their cleats with some of the biggest sneaker customizers in the game, and filmed the whole process during the week that the NFL encourages players to wear custom cleats dedicated to charities or special causes. One of my favorite integrations is where we actually were able to pair Antonio Brown as NFL talent with our BR Kicks cleat week package and then included a special animated segment with our friends at Flicker Labs to make a custom Gridiron Heights reveal segment -
An important part of the growth of BR Kicks as a sub-brand within the overall Turner Sports ecosystem was the ability to monetize pilot content. In order for BR Kicks to become a part of the content engine that drove the company on a larger scale, finding ways to turn our content into a revenue stream as a way to sustain departmental growth and more ambitious content executions was an important stage in legitimizing the idea that had simply started as a side passion project. I had opportunities to be in multiple meetings with our sales and branded content teams as well went to market with brands for RFPs around some of the biggest product releases of the year.
One of the first large scale brand activations we landed was a sponsored opportunity around New Balance LAZR sneakers. I suggested we do an "extreme" unboxing using high intensity laser pointers that would literally cut through the box and with the help of our talent coordination team we paired up with Paul Rabil we were able to make this crazy idea a reality. Down the line this would lead to an even more insane sneaker unboxing we did while skydiving. These types of high production value experiments would lead to a number of monetization opportunities from a branded, sponsor, and partnership perspective.
This partnership with our brand marketing and sponsored content team lead to executions such as our animated "Fila Time Warp" video featuring Grant Hill telling a story about his old NBA kicks, as well as multiple sneaker related Playmaker brand executions with Google and Patrick Mahomes where his best friend created a pair of custom Adidas waverunners for him and his wife showed off his completed sneaker closet to him in another. BR Kicks was a natural avenue for us to integrate sponsors into existing IP like the Jayson Tatum Ruffles video below:
Sneakers became a staple of our content offering such as our live product unveiling of Nike's All Star collection for Footlocker, or our Webby Award nominated activation with Adidas and House of Highlights for the James Harden Adidas sneakers, and even a selected series of "Sneaker Showdowns" for Dicks Sporting Goods. These types of branded executions were impressive as they weren't just in the kicks realm but also partnerships that allowed us to create content around sneakers for a non endemic brand such as Google, and then distribute that content both on our national platforms but also to more niche communities such as our Kicks stream and BR Kicks social accounts.
Seeing BR Kicks success with a targeted audience that was heavily engaged, even for sponsored content, we were able to leverage our position in the industry with an in house creative team as well as multiple distribution channels to drive unique revenue generation opportunities for our brand. One such example was the "Discover Your Air" campaign that I played a role of art director and creative strategist on in the development stages once again working with Evan Silver and Rich Lopez from our playmaker team. For this commercial featuring PJ Tucker, Pia Mia, and JD McCrary we were approached by Footlocker to act essentially as a white glove agency in producing a commercial for the launch of their new Air Max seasonal campaign.
We handled everything from the ideation to the script writing, to the production and talent outreach and even post production and sfx. Instead of going with a traditional advertising agency, they chose to come to use due to our unique ability to both create and distribute the content. This is a value proposition that we always strove to highlight, and keeping our audience engaged with fresh content that could be sponsored but would still be informative or entertaining was most important goal whenever we went into any new project.
Another video series that I helped creative direct, produce, shoot, edit and develop was our 72 Hours concept that was kicked off with our initial experiment on ground at All Star Los Angeles in 2018. I came up with this concept as a way to tie together disparate content experiences on the ground at events like All Star. This way, we would be able to cover a full weekend of events and turn it into a series that could be repeated at future experiential executions. The evolution of this concept led to my putting together a video with Jaylen Brown with the Boston Celtics attending Paris Fashion week while attending some of the biggest shows from Rick Owens to Valentino.
At its core these type of videos were an effort to humanize the "sneaker world" that many insiders get to experience during these exclusive launches. These types of videos were a sneak peek behind the curtain for our core audience and provided a perfect middle ground between talent access and our core demographic voice. It allowed BR Kicks to create content that was specifically built for its target demographic by leveraging unique talent access. When we got access with a guy like Dame we would make sure they felt comfortable and just let the content flow from there and I think you can see that in the final result.
As we carved out more of a lane for fashion coverage and BR Kicks became known in the space for having a distinct voice outside of just athletes and had a foot firmly planted in the style media industry outside of it's influence in the sports space, we were able to expand to do series such as the simple yet compelling "What are you Wearing" featuring appearances from rappers like DaBaby, Smokepurpp, Serge Ibaka and Roddy Ricch. The show breaks down the style and fashion choices of the talent featured on screen from head to toe starting with things like hats, glasses, jewelry and accessories all the way down to the sneakers on their feet. The fact that we were able to produce a series like this while expanding our purview as a brand in terms of what we cover in a way that felt natural to our audience was a big achievement. It lead to a partnership with brands such as GAP to produce a "Drip Director"series featuring Iman Shumpert
I similarly had a chance to shape another one of our talent based Sneaker Series which had more of a technical and artistic influence in our "Behind the Design" series that dove deeper into the storytelling behind an athlete and their connection to their shoes. I helped come up with the idea on a shoot with Eric Avar who designed much of the Nike Kobe line. The Kicks team was on location learning about the new Converse basketball shoe and while we were capturing footage with Eric, I pitched the idea of a series that took these insightful interviews with designers and athletes as its own content vehicle. By combining these two perspectives we could offer a holistic overview of the production process and design vision behind the sneaker.
We did episodes with players such as Bucks Superstar and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo around the release of his first signature sneaker on location in Greece and how his origin story inspired colorways of his first shoe. These in depth sneaker profiles also spoke with members of the sneaker design team who worked on the backend development process of these shoes. This idea married the technical and design aspects of the shoe with the brand storytelling and marketing of the product. Future episodes included a look at the Olympic Logo Design with Bobby Hundreds, an inside look at Adidas Parley renewable technology with Chad Ochocinco, and and exclusive breakdown of the Air Jordan 34 with Blake Griffin at Nike headquarters.
However - knowing that leveraging talent wouldn't always be an option that was feasible from a time perspective and from an efficiency perspective, me and the team knew that we would need video franchises that could stand on their own and be done on a repeatable basis without any external factors like access or getting our hands on a shoe to unbox. Along with producer Shakir Standley and talent Lance Fresh I helped develop and refine a "Kicks on the Street" show concept that would interact with everyday people as a way to see genuine reactions around new releases and test people's trivia knowledge around the kicks world in almost in a cash cab style quick question challenge for free pairs. This gave us something in our show portfolio that contrasted from our more premium access based concepts and could be used to fill the content calendar during times that there were no new shoes coming out.
Another aspect of BR Kicks original content that I was tasked with developing was taking the learning that I had developed as a content strategist and producer as well as an art director in launching our Social Moments team and applying those to the Kicks vertical. This meant coming up with social strategy around content that we could produce quickly in response to conversations happening within the space, such as the photoshops of athletes wearing Supreme sleeves I worked on to engage our audience in a real time manner. It was really taking and translating the playbook and giving it an authentic voice while personalizing and giving the unique style and attitude that really only theKicks vertical had to all content.
Finding visuals that would key in on relatable cultural touchstones that our audience would resonate with and engage with was the main guiding light as far as content strategy was concerned. This intersection between sports and culture allowed for a great amount of room to conceptualize new ways to excite our fans. While video franchises and our integration into our app were important, our social media channels were our primary touchpoint for our audience. Having original content and a unique voice was a lofty goal that ultimately paid off with millions of fans across multiple social platforms in the manner of a few short months.
Spearheading a social playbook with my creative direction and vision, I worked to develop a regular rotation of talented artists across the world, tapping into similar experiences from my time launching Posterizes, so that we would have a varied rolodex of illustrators, animators, designers, and even performers to help us create content in a nimble manner. These projects were some of our highest performing pieces of content whether they were released for holidays like Father's Day, Birthdays, Thanksgiving, or Black Friday or around individual Sneaker drops or releases and tentpole events such as Air Max Day the Draft Lottery or NBA playoffs and even Movie and Album releases.
Working as the creative director on many of these projects, my role was to ideate with the team around these key moments and work on concepts that were cohesive and engaging that could be turned around in collaboration with illustrators or animators to produce content optimized to post at the perfectly timed moment.
The process to produce this type of social first content would involve coming up with creative concepts and pairing that with a creator who could bring that idea to life with solid art direction and feedback. Personally one of my major directives was finding a diverse range of creators and mediums from everything from watercolors, rotoscoping, and even comic book artists. Just like my art direction philosophy that I implemented for our social team, the selection and curation of art styles and new perspectives was key to telling new and compelling stories that would engage with people in away different than other publishers. In my eye, this art direction was meant to elevate the work with new styles that other people weren't willing to try and explore.
The majority of the time I would also provide graphic design support from a typography or formatting standpoint or take assets delivered from artists and elevate it for our platforms by adding motion or integrating it together into larger executions. The experience I had from launching an artist collective like Posterizes translated extremely well in this context as I was able to leverage my own existing relationships and network to parlay new collaborations for BR Kicks.
These illustrations and pieces of original content were often tied to big moments on our content calendars and helped amplify sneaker and sports storylines relevant on social. This lead to a number of content buckets that were filled using these art directed pieces of content. One example is our "Roster Illustrations" like Team 3 Stripes or Jordan Squad which featured a cast of athletes who are signed to a specific brand lined up wearing different outfits and sneakers.
Similarly, much of the success of these pieces of content was finding the intersection between sports culture, sneaker culture, and pop culture which included instances such as our TV show inspired Kyrie pack, or our "What If" Kyrie Cereal pack illustrations. One of our most successful projects was one featuring Kobe Bryant sitting at the head of a table in a "Last Supper" inspired multi slide illustration featuring his different sneaker disciples. This piece had such high engagement that we actually had the head of Body Armour request a framed version of it to be hung up in their headquarters.
Similar to the Kobe Last Supper Project, we have had athletes reach out to get framed prints of our original artwork and commissions for their homes or other places as well. One notable instance of this was in our extremely unique execution that was originally explored as a part of our Art of Kobe project that I had the pleasure to art direct and contribute to while a part of our Media Lab department. In collaboration with a Greek artist, Charis Tsevis, we created portraits of Kobe Bryant and PJ Tucker out of sneakers.
This time consuming process required an insane amount of research on my end, as I essentially had to build a full color palette out of sneakers before selecting the right images to create the sneaker portraits out of. Both images are some of our highest performing pieces of original content, and PJ even requested a framed copy to hang up in his new Sneaker store opening in Houston, Texas. These types of projects are indicative of the time and effort it often took to create compelling original content for BR Kicks.
Outside of standard sneaker unboxings, one of the things I really wanted to focus on was quickly consumable social video content in the Kicks space that we could program cross platform. These type of videos would be inherently meant for social consumption and usually be 60 seconds long or shorter. As far as the overall sneaker content space and industry, this was a major white space that I felt BR Kicks could really own. Many of the other accounts in the space were focused on two main types of content, actual unboxing and first looks, and curated sneaker imagery from the pitch or on court and I wanted our video content to set us apart.
In its early years the Kicks brand was known for great curation of news and on court content, with a focus on photography and illustrations. Expanding into video content was a key part of growing the brand and finding ways to really monetize the entire experience that we had built. Prior to building out our video presence, BR Kicks was largely known for its static content offerings like the photoshops or quote cards we were doing along with our tentpole original illustrated content and on court photography.
This included taking our social moments playbook like I mentioned earlier and working with the actual creators on our social moments design team like our video editors PJ Selzer or Jerry Wang to integrate sneakers into animated shows like Spongebob or movies like Space Jam or even Television show clips like Friends. Finding opportunities to bring pop culture into the equation, whether that was creating motion graphics like this Stranger Things crossover or our Pokemon "Name that Sneaker" IG story game or was a big part of it as well along with sneaker hype tapes. It was this continually collaborative process that mixed great talented creative folks with people who were good at writing and telling stories with an eye for narrative and let them create content.
You can imagine the way that we could stop your average sneaker content consumer who is used to polished and high end PR releases from brands and commercials or the standard lower quality user generated photography you see from sneakerheads, and you contrast that with the amazingly vibrant animated headswap motion tracked cartoon edits that we would create with PJ Selzer from our moments team. BR Kicks was really able to stand out from the crowd in this way and make itself feel like no other sneaker brand out there. This type of content was all about really standing alone as the people who could pull off this type of content.
However there were also other concepts that our audience really enjoyed including ways to creatively present sneaker releases, or to give our fans a peak into Antonio Brown or Kelly Oubre or even Kendall Jenner's closets. This type of accessible content led to partnerships such as "What's in my Bag" featuring Russell Westbrook. These content experiments really made our slate of offerings broader and more accessible to a wider audience.
Perhaps more important was the effect that this type of content had on the overall voice of the brand. Sneaker culture is often viewed as traditionally more of an insider thing where knowledge of brands and color ways and makes and models are what gives you credibility. However, one of the main goals of BR Kicks and the content that I both created and produced for the brand was to lean into more of an irreverent voice that was far more relatable in so many ways. This made the actual base of fans that were able to engage and interact with the content much wider, and with a larger pool to pull from more fans were able to feel like they were a part of the conversation.
In an industry that is often defined by exclusivity, the voice was catering towards universal experiences and embracing the idea of not always being the cool kid, but sometimes just being the folks who can laugh at a joke or share in the pain of losing out to some bots or hype beasts on a sneaker release. Balancing this more comedic angle of the brand with the intrinsic informational aspect that older sneaker heads crave was a difficult thing to balance, but also ultimately what allowed for BR Kicks to thrive in the long run.
Animation was another aspect that I was deeply involved in during my time at Bleacher Report whether it was my experience behind Game of Zones or consulting on projects such as Gridiron Heights, and bringing BR Kicks into the fold to produce content like that was important to me. I felt that there were many ways you could show the intricacies of sneaker design through a medium like animation. Having seen success with concepts such as our Michael Jordan Sneaker History video, I was emboldened to try a project called "Love Child" which took a creative eye towards an idea often considered blasphemous in sneaker circles - exploring the idea of what it would look like to fuse two iconic sneaker silhouettes as a singular combined shoe.
Although the video didn't perform as well as previous animated experiments it did illicit a heavy amount of fan engagement and feedback, and therefore was a piece of content we truly saw value in. One of my strict beliefs while leading the BR Kicks team was that you have to look deeper than your basic engagement numbers to truly understand the impact of a piece of content. This "Lovechild" project was something that sparked debate, and that was integral to developing a community around sneakers and not just chasing fads or following fickle social media trends. In the end it all comes down to authenticity.
Some of our most impactful content was based around sneaker histories. Some of the ones I had the pleasure to work on included the Evolution of the Ultraboost, A History of Flight, Mamba Moments, and my personal favorite Kobe's Nike Sneaker history where I got to play the role of creative director, sound designer, motion graphics designer, and producer. These projects required a heavy amount of research and planning along with high level execution and our audience noticed as much. In terms of watch time and viewer retention, these videos ranked atop all of our content, often getting multiple rewatches and being evergreen enough to repost again on anniversaries or other key dates, to this day they stand as some of BR Kicks best work.
This type of content was integral in creating a content calendar that produced key moments throughout the week between all the different offerings that we had available. Kicks on court was something we could always count on during the season, and the quote cards would come from time to time, original animations and memes and the more comedic content would be dictated by bigger releases and this allowed us to fill some of the remaining white space on the calendars.
One of the biggest days on the NBA calendar and on the Sneaker calendar is Christmas day, and it would go on to become one of BR Kicks highest engaged moments of the year. As such, one of the main directives was the create a dearth of highly engaging content experiments for our audience to interact with while they sat at home watching NBA action all day long. In different years we did different executions such as a sneaker unboxing of iconic animated show moments, or a more social news style video going through iconic kicks on court worn on Christmas day. We even ran back our sneaker mashups formula with a holiday color way twist.
However, one of the main videos I was able to produce and art direct was a historical look back at the Kobe 6 Grinch, perhaps the most iconic sneaker to drop on Christmas day. From writing the script to working on the motion graphics with Kasper Nyman to coordinating the music and voice over and doing the sound design, the project was completed just prior to Christmas morning and was one of our highest engaged and most "saved" instagram posts of all time. Things like this were what made creating content for the Kicks team fun as it let me combine my instinct for sports content around a big social trigger with nostalgic influences from a childhood cartoon.
One of the initiatives that was developed to integrate BR Kicks into Turner's live sports coverage was the concept of the BR Kicks cam. These segments featured shoes that players were wearing to games and on court as a way to highlight unique stories around sneaker culture. It was a distinct example of incorporating the BR Kicks brand and voice into the larger Turner Sports ecosystem, as it gives the digital brand an extension to a broader NBA audience while simultaneously giving the TNT broadcast credibility in the sneaker culture space through it's association with BR Kicks.
Much like our social media accounts and Game of Zones promotions on linear these promotions saw an increase of thousands of new eyeballs to our social accounts. My role in these was around coming up with overall aesthetics and art direction around these features before it was handed off to our design team and Turner for execution.
The BR Kicks brand voice evolved over time to fall in a unique space that cradled the worlds of lifestyle, sports, and pop culture while appealing to a broad range of people. Differentiating the brand voice while being able to appeal to our target demographic was key. From a social engagement perspective, this positioning allows for flexibility, taking the clothes and sneakers that surround the game on the floor and in the tunnel, and the players that play the game and pairing it with the culture of the stars and rappers that they hang out with after the game. Balancing this juxtaposition of the field or court and the red carpet was a key aspect of growing the brand. From a programming standpoint running the social accounts, while posting this was a key aspect in every single decision to publish content.
Brand positioning was of tantamount importance to me as I helped lead our team in defining the ethos behind BR Kicks because the opportunity to provide a unique viewpoint in the space could really set BR Kicks apart. In late 2018 we embarked on a journey to rebrand BR Kicks and make it more of a standalone brand. After doing a needs analysis and a gap assessment on the current market, I helped lead brainstorms with the best and brightest sneakerheads at the company.
After numerous rounds of back and forth we settled on a bright and energetic color palette with a simplified and visually bold logo that took the focus off of the "B/R" aspect and leaned into sneaker culture and kicks. Akin to the moment when Facebook dropped the "the" one of the primary aspects of refreshing the brand was leaning on the "Kicks" moniker as more of a standalone brand. The refresh included things such as an emoji sticker pack that would add a brash and invigorating burst of personality to our content and could become a touchpoint for consumers to use on Instagram or Snapchat stories.
Working with the talented David Garcia and Dylan Lathrop on our content design team we developed a new visual system with playful elements such as a set of interactive emoji characters and a set of unique halftone pattern inspired textures. This refresh was a great way to breathe new life into the brand and set it apart in a crowded space. As a part of the BR Kicks braintrust, I was a part of the creative iteration process in getting the design work across the line by providing feedback as we made revisions to help fit our brand even better.
With a strong new defined set of brand guidelines we were able to come across more professionally and cohesively across all platforms. This packaging and branding exercise took place over the course of many months as I provided creative feedback along with the rest of our core kicks team as we collaborated with our content designers. Whether it was forming a robust set of templates for sneaker news and updates or finding ways to give away sneakers in a creative manner on our social platforms, this refresh allowed us to take a step back and think about the Kicks brand holistically.
Another prime example of integrating BR Kicks into the broader Turner's Sports ecosystem was the NBA Awards where our team was responsible for the "Sneaker King Award" at the 2019 Award show in Los Angeles. For a project as unique as this I had the opportunity to design and art direct the actual trophy that we presented to PJ Tucker at the award show. Collaborating with a ceramic artist based out of LA named Brock DeBoer. The process involved art directing and concepting what the award would look like and then creating molds of the sneakers. We went with the Air Jordan 1 silhouette as it is one of the most iconic ones in kicks history but was also actually the first shoe that PJ received as a kid. The sculpture was then dipped in gold and placed on a reflective base before being presented to PJ at the Red Carpet in Los Angeles.
One other aspect that I spearheaded for our NBA Awards show was the animated promotional video featuring mixed media of PJ on the court, images of him arriving kicks in hand, and an illustrated breakdown of the most iconic sneakers he wore that season. This type of content was a staple of BR Kicks as well and an evolution of the sneaker history projects done earlier. It brought together many of the successful elements of other recipes. This type of content was a natural next iteration from the initial sneaker evolution videos that I had a chance to spearhead.
The concept of the Sneaker King award was an interesting moment as it led to a deeper appetite internally for more Kicks content where there was no script and we could create moments around more organic conversations around sneaker culture as a way to humanize the members of the community. This allowed us to reinforce that ethos of everyone being a sneaker head by bringing athletes and icons in the speaker space down to the level of the consumer and allow them to be imminently accessible.
Our unique relationship with PJ Tucker actually led to another exclusive opportunity for BR Kicks andour audience as we explored a new franchise called "Pick My Kicks" which leveraged our access to athletes and our massive social following to give fans a chance to help players "pick" what shoe to wear during nationally televised games on TNT (Shoutout to that Turner connection) through Instagram Story polls on the BR Kicks profile on game days.
We did a series of games with PJ Tucker and Lance Stephenson where fans decided what kicks they would wear via our polls and then we would cover them during the broadcast using our BRKicks cam as a way to promote synergy across the brands. The endeavor proved that the kicks platform could be a part of a larger Turner Sports initiative that streamlined operations vertically across different siter organizations in a synergistic way that enhanced coverage and resulted in more overall eyeballs and deeper fan connection. Being able to vote for the shoes on our IG story and then to see the direct result on the players feet in game on the broadcast was a very unique benefit for us.
Leveraging features such as Instagram Live we were able to showcase different closets, sneaker color ways, and have conversations with athletes like Kevin Durant or designers like Sean Wotherspoon where the six degrees of separation between the influencer and the audience was minimal. Like I have said before in terms of my philosophy on the team stream app or our social moments team, the more barriers you can remove between the content and the audience the better.
Outside of unboxing sneakers, one of the major things that BR Kicks was lacking was talent centric video series that actually looked into the sneaker industry and spoke with the creators who were making their mark in the Kicks space. One of the major directives as BR Kicks grew to more than just a social presence the team and I wanted to develop more formalized episodic series that could focus on individuals within the community.
The initial experiment which kicked this type of content off was our Preheat series which I helped produce with the rest of our Kicks team and focused on the come up of artist Joshua Vides who we had apply his signature style to a pair of Off White Jordan 1's. These type of intimate profiles allowed us to distill the backgrounds of these sneaker influencers into bite size pieces of content that could be consumed in an informative manner and thereby making our audience smarter sneaker customers. The show would go on to be a staple in our decks we would take out to market to work with sneaker brands and was exemplary in showing what BR Kicks really stood for.
One of the important aspects that allowed the Bleacher Report Kicks brand to flourish under my guidance was a strong partnership with our talent team and our BR entertainment team that helped to produce our original serialized concepts. By dipping our toe in original programming, I had a chance to test out my skills as a creative executive and producer who helped coordinate the overall look and feel of different sneaker show franchises while also helping on the production side in terms of camera angles, shot blocking, set design, and sound and even appearing on a couple episodes as a host. These type of content experiments really helped me develop a taste for how to create successful web series and how to best work within the schedules and needs of our talent department.
Working with our BR Entertainment team under the BR Kicks banner was first truly brought into the fold through a summer league opportunity with Lakers young stars Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma where we had two members of our front facing talent, Adam Lefkoe and Shakir Standley prank people inside of a Las Vegas sneaker store a la Impractical Jokers. I got to act as a creative consultant on this project and helped ideate the concept and come up with bits for them to do, however what was more important was experience and partnership with a team that would give us the tools to expand the ways in which we could connect with our audience.
Another show I helped develop and conceptualize for the BR Kicks team was Sneaker Shock, which was a Shorty Award nominated series where we surprised unsuspecting fans with sneakers and gave them away. The show included branded content opportunities with the likes of Under Armour in San Francisco, Showtime in Chicago, and Brand Jordan in Paris. This type of show was indicative of the entire brand voice of BR Kicks which looked to make sneaker culture accessible to everyday kids and allowed everyone to be a part of the conversation. It was a series that allowed us to give back to the community in a unique manner by making exclusive shoes available to underserved communities and unsuspecting fans or strangers.
By making random fans who were simply buying some ice cream, practicing with their team, taking a stroll down the park, or buying some new shoes for their kids and surprising them with the top shelf kicks that are normally reserved for the who's who of the industry really flipped the conversation. Working with our BR Entertainment team who dealt with our larger serialized show productions we developed a production schedule and show pilot with me taking the duties of leading the art direction for the show (For instance in our first episode we converted an entire Mister Softee Ice cream truck into a sneaker inspired frozen treat experience - So I had a chance to redesign an entire menu with custom illustrations and logo work.) After launching that initial pilot episode we saw heavy interest from brands who would let us leverage their athletes to add a new layer to the show. As we evolved to do more partnerships with players like Derrick Rose, Jayson Tatum, Jabari Parker, and Steph Curry.
One of the other ways that I helped develop a strategy for BR Kicks was a social + app integration for original content and releases. This meant building a full ecosystem that housed our content whether it was aggregated news and imagery of on court Kicks, or original video and illustration, and even branded content projects and developing a cohesive programming strategy around key moments in the sneaker industry.
Using our app and notification system as a pipeline and our social channels as an amplifying force, we were effectively about to build hype around sneaker releases and develop deep engagement across multiple channels. This way we were able to provide a constantly updated calendar of releases and compelling content at every touchpoint that we were interacting with our consumers. I helped build the connective tissue between our creative assets, and our programming and app teams to smoothly be able to drive eyeballs to our best content. This give and take allowed us to have multiple touchpoint with our audience and build a deeper connection with them through the entire consumer journey and overall integrated app and social storytelling experience. It is always about the big picture and the long term game plan.
The power of a push notification is truly an underrated aspect when it comes to the sneaker release world. This is a distinct thing that me and the team realized as we were developing one of the tentpole functions of BR Kicks as a publisher in the industry - the ability to turn the sneaker landscape on it's head by treating the culture the same way you would breaking news or the latest scores for games that recently ended.
By giving consumers with a sneaker affinity the ability to subscribe for push notifications that would inform them about the industry ranging the spectrum from alerts about players signing with new shoe brands, rumors about free agents, new color ways, release date reminders, and even e-commerce product promotions. Our ability to uniquely update fans quicker than any other platform behind the widespread social network coverage we had along with the team stream app as a direct pipeline to consumers with amazing cross platform engagement.
A series that is a great example of encouraging our audience to engage deeper with our content is in the realm of our What If Series which was a take off on the Nike LeBron Watch series where they would drop new color ways of the LeBron 15 sneakers that were inspired by previous sneakers. This series was some of our highest engaged content and we were able to spin it off repeatedly in different formats. Initially igan with LeBron's playoff run and capitalizing on some of his big game winners and moments including his Raptors playoff sweep and even him signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, and then evolved to include other sneakers, and inspired some sneaker customizers to create some of these creations as well. These type of social executions were the perfect intersection between moving quickly to produce engaging social content and capitalizing on the conversation happening organically within our target audience.
This obsession with timely original content that resonated deeply with our target audience in an authentic voice from people who are apart of our audience was the secret sauce in being able to get so many successful ideas and experiments done on such a large scale in such short timelines. My ability to act as a producer and a designer and a video editor on top of that paired with our social programming prowess and infrastructure, we were able to repeatedly try out these content series and saw great success with them.
One of the biggest value propositions for BR Kicks as a brand was an ethos of inclusivity, we wanted to set ourselves apart from other publishers by encouraging our audience to engage in conversations around sneaker culture rather than it just being a one way relationship where we tell them the news or the dates that things are dropping. As such, I wanted to make sure we build a robust plan for content that would encourage comments and deep engagement. For instance, taking a page from our slideshow era, one of our most engaged pieces of content were our NFL and NBA power rankings.
I spearheaded a Kicks on Court weekly power rankings initiative that drew comments from top players such as LeBron, Kyrie, and Montrezz Harell as they debated with fans which shoe deserved to be on the list. One of the best ways to do this was through consistent quote card coverage that looked at sneakers from a more holistic and cultural impact perspective. Furthermore, one of the things that was unique that BR Kicks was providing was stats and information related to the sneaker industry. Being able to take things that worked well in one sector of our business and translate them to the kicks space was a powerful tool that I would use to my advantage in both directions, using our national account to inform the growth of our kicks account but then using kicks as an incubator for the national account.
Sneaker content, no mater how much it was visually driven and about the actual product and it's physical wearability or the aesthetics and storytelling around the sneaker, it was was also important to establish a journalistic backbone of news coverage where we informed our audience and kept them up to date with the sneaker industry. Quote cards were an important tool that I helped streamline into regular production as a tool to amplify interviews, PR blurbs, product information, or even just song lyrics and get them in front of our audience if there was a tie to sneaker culture.
From an editorial standpoint, I also had the chance to be involved in a number of longform and tentpole features around the sneaker space from our yearly sneaker of the year roundups to more specific stories on individual releases. This included articles such as an Illustrated guide to Kobe Bryant's sneaker journey which I had a chance to write, research, and art direct for Mamba day. Or things like our Air Max Day photography feature, and even smaller projects around the NFL. From an art direction standpoint I worked on our Carmelo Anthony feature, another Kobe deep dive and many other editorial articles throughout my time contributing to the Kicks team. On our sneaker of the year projects, I was able to art direct the imagery we used for the different sneakers, and even got to do a limited edition 100 print run of giant posters that we giveaway to our fans as well.
From an experiential side, I had a part in planning some of BR Kicks first and most impactful events to directly interact with our customers. Our first instance of this was our BR99 Pop Up Shop experience in SoHo New York as a partnership with streetwear Brand Kith. I helped curate some of the look and feel, build up the promotional content, and was in charge of developing a one of it's kind "Lab" experience where folks could get their photos taken on a green screen and be placed into one of our iconic basketball memes released through social. Furthermore I also worked on developing Bleacher Report Kicks presence at multiple sneakercons where we had showcases of different sneakers as well as interactive 3D photo booths and march such as sneaker pins or hoodies that I designed and helped produce.
As this evolved and the Kicks brand grew, our flagship winter sneaker culture event was developed under the banner of "The Drop Up" where I worked in conjunction with our marketing team to develop the look and feel and the branding of the event along with the promotional videos and invites as well as the art direction for various exhibits and things like the background visuals for our musical guest Sheck Wes. Setting up events like these were the culmination of the journey that I had been on starting BR Kicks and giving it a voice and developing a distinct look and feel for the brand through the years. Our Kicks team worked with various brands such as Adidas, Levi's, Twitter, StockX, 1800 Tequila, Jason Mark, Honorroller, Chinatown Market, and Showtime to create experiential moments throughout the space.
The BR Kicks team worked closely with members of our event marketing team to bring the ethos of the brand to life. Hosting panel events with influencers from the city, working with endemic brands like Chinatown market to create merchandise and branded content series, having music performances by the likes of Sheck Wes, or having multiple artistic Sneaker installations throughout the sere a major part of thee endeavors.
I had the opportunity to work on the first 3 experiential BR Kicks projects from our initial pop up shop with Kith in 2016 to our annual Drop Up event that began in 2018. I was a part of a team that launched a new 3 episode miniseries during the launch of our Drop Up event as a branded content and ecommerce activation with Chinatown Market called "Friends and Family" that shot with the likes of Suns star Kelly Oubre, viral music video director Cole Bennett of Lyrical Lemonade, and international rap superstar Lil Yachty. The clothing that was shown on the episodes was available for purchase onsite at the Drop up and online on our Bleacher Report shop ecommerce platform.
My overall role as a part of the BR Kicks team was to find ways to bring new content to our fans in innovative ways, whether it was through original social executions, or novels shows and series that found ways to tell sneaker stories both with and without access to talent, and even things such as original animation and live shows. Taking a passion project that was a blip in the overall ecosystem of Bleacher Report to an important part of the future of the company and a monetization vertical that is driving over $20 Million dollars of projected revenue year over year is an immense accomplishment that I am truly proud of.
I had a chance to wear many hats, primarily as a creative and art director, but also as a writer, producer, director and more with plenty of opportunities to get down in the trenches and get my hands dirty creating content myself. The brand itself is truly a labor of love from a small group of highly passionate individuals who turned a passion into a legitimate business arm of the organization.
Having a chance to shape the voice and editorial attitude of BR Kicks while developing multiple creative projects and really setting up the brand to be a game changer in the space was one of the most fulfilling things I had the pleasure to work on at my time at Bleacher Report. Not only did we plant a steak in the ground and create a lasting brand, but I helped build a community that genuinely engages in informed sneaker conversations.
Ultimately the success and growth of the brand came down to two main things; a strong and resilient nimble team of eager sneakerheads who turned a passion into a viable business model, and an attention to detail for creating content whose voice resonated across a broad swath of consumers. As the brand continues to grow and leave it's mark on the industry, I am proud to say I was a part of the team that started it and one of the loudest voices in the room when it came to producing authentic and groundbreaking visual content that would stop people scrolling through their feeds to indulge in the machinations of a crazy sneaker head.