Allen Iverson Pitches Bleacher Report as Sports Culture, Not Just Scores in First National Spot

B/R urges fans to 'Up Your Game'

Bleacher Report says it's the home to all things sports culture.
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

Sports media has reached a turning point. Today, Bleacher Report celebrated its 10th anniversary as ESPN announced a round of layoffs that will affect an estimated 100 staffers.

What sets B/R apart as so many of its competitors falter? According to founder and CEO Dave Finocchio, it’s all about the culture.

“We built up a big audience over the past 10 years,” Finocchio said, “And we made a strategic decision that our brand is really our most important asset. It’s a commitment to our manifest destiny: we’re in the business of disrupting sports culture.”

Earlier this year, Bleacher Report turned to creative agency of record Johannes Leonardo in an effort to take that message to the masses with its first national ad campaign. The site describes its anthem spot “Up Your Game” as “a direct challenge to one-dimensional fandom,” re-emphasizing that culture is the key to reaching young devotees who want more than just the scores.

Allen Iverson and other stars help make that point in an ad overflowing with blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Easter eggs.

“We peppered in lots of different references,” said Johannes Leonardo associate creative director Omid Amidi, who calls the opening scene’s burning newspaper a reference to “dying media coverage of sports.” The headline on that paper reads “Maybe the Earth Is Flat After All,” poking light fun at Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving’s recent statements on that and other alleged conspiracy theories.

One of the first characters to appear in the spot is Jaylon Sewell, a high school student who was recently suspended for wearing a “distracting” hairstyle inspired by that of New York Giants star Odell Beckham, Jr.

And the eggs keep coming: Most basketball fans will know that “cupcake” alludes to a highly publicized beef between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who referenced a former Thunder teammate’s use of the word to describe players he thought were “acting a little soft.” And the Iverson press conference scene recreates the star’s highly spoofed “rant” at the end of the 2001-2002 season.

“Sports fandom these days is a much broader thing in the sense that kids are so aware of these guys—they follow their heroes online and know what they wear, what they listen to and what they did last night,” said Johannes Leonardo co-founder Jan Jacobs in explaining the key insight behind the campaign. Amidi added, “[Bleacher Report] is not only sports coverage; it’s coverage of everything around sports.”

The campaign accompanies a site redesign and new logo created by Bleacher Report’s in-house marketing team, which will collaborate with Johannes Leonardo moving forward.

“A lot of us grew up in a generation where [Allen Iverson] mattered so much,” said Finocchio in explaining why the former star made an ideal brand advocate. “It’s fitting that he could represent an important part of what sports culture can be and what it can mean to people.”

Finocchio said that the campaign is primarily a celebration of his company’s success over the past decade, adding that Bleacher Report no longer sees “traditional sports media brands” as its chief competitors. Regarding the decision to go with Johannes Leonardo, he explained, “They just really got us … we’re here to push culture forward.”

While the specifics of future campaigns have yet to be determined, Finocchio hinted that they will focus on individual sports cultures, calling today’s launch “the beginning of a sustained marketing effort.”


Client: Bleacher Report
Agency: Johannes Leonardo
Campaign: “Up Your Game”

Bleacher Report
VP, Marketing: Lisel Welden
Sr. Manager, Brand Marketing: Will Leivenberg
Sr. Manager, Partnerships: Max Rausch
Sr. Director of Business Development: Michelene Loomer
President: Rory Brown
VP of Programming: Bennett Spector
Creative Director: Ryan Smith
Sr. Director, Branded Content: Beckley Mason
Head of B/R Entertainment: Neil Punsalan

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