20200
P
1
20100
R  E
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2070
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2050
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2040
S   F   O   R   J
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2030
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2020
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7

Sports media enters the Bronny era

“It isn’t just about Bronny and the billions on the line in the battle between streaming platforms. High school basketball is designed for — and consumed by — the younger audience coveted by incumbent media companies and brands.”

Earlier this month, ESPN televised a high school basketball game between the alma mater of LeBron James and the current school of LeBron James Jr., otherwise known as “Bronny.” The game — and the hysteria around it, including the massive potential social media relevance for anyone shooting it into feeds everywhere — earned coverage from The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN itself, and a horde of credentialed media members.

Just a high school freshman, Bronny is already a one-name wonder in sports — on the same sports-celebrity trajectory as Serena, Tiger and, yes, LeBron.

Bronny also represents one of the biggest growth areas of sports media heading into 2020: high school basketball.

Bronny is his own beat:

  • He has 3.9 million followers on Instagram (not quite as many as his father’s 53.9 million, but a number that would make most NBA players — and media industry folks — envious). He has 300,000 followers on TikTok for now, but give it time.
  • ESPN’s live coverage of Bronny’s Sierra Canyon team is just the start; the network has more than a dozen of Bronny’s games on the schedule this year, everywhere from basic cable to its new ESPN+ over-the-top service.
  • And Bronny is the north star of an entire Gen Z-focused sports-media ecosystem of social platform dominance — by brands like Overtime (which in 2019 secured a $23 million Series B round from big-name VCs like Andreesen Horowitz and big-name NBA stars like Kevin Durant); B/R Hoops (owned by Warner Media’s Bleacher Report); Mars Reel (investors: LeBron, Drake, AT&T); LeBron’s own Uninterrupted; and a grassroots basketball “expanded universe” of unlimited smaller players whose legion of low-cost videographers assemble like paparazzi on the baseline of any high school basketball game featuring a buzzy player, everything captured and distributed on IG, Twitter, YouTube and Twitch.

What makes Bronny such an appealing investment for a media organization — beyond the attention he commands — is that as a freshman, he theoretically has more than 100 games remaining in his high school career, between his school team, his spring/summer appearances on Nike’s high-profile EYBL circuit, and other big events where he is sure to be the star. (Notably, most of the 2019 EYBL season was streamed on Twitch, accessible to all.)

It’s easy to imagine a world where sports media networks are shelling out tens of millions in rights fees to showcase Bronny’s games. In fact, I’d argue that it would make both editorial and business sense — for ESPN, DAZN (the most prominent sports media “direct-to-consumer” platform, which made huge strides in 2019), Amazon (either Prime Video or Twitch), WarnerMedia’s upcoming HBO Max, NBC’s Peacock OTT service, Verizon’s Yahoo Sports or even LeBron’s Uninterrupted — to tap into high school hoops star power and social relevance in a media landscape where NBA and college rights are both stratospheric and locked in for years with incumbent distributors.

(There’s a fascinating and important sidebar about what Bronny and other high school players should get from these content businesses built on their name, image, and social currency — particularly given that Bronny plays at a school in California, the epicenter of the burgeoning name/image/likeness compensation debate, taking place now at the college level. But we can save that topic for Nieman Lab Predictions for Journalism 2021.)

It isn’t just about Bronny and the billions on the line in the battle between streaming platforms. High school basketball is designed for — and consumed by — the younger audience coveted by incumbent media companies and brands. High school basketball (and other high school sports) offer opportunities at the regional and local level for media organizations to engage with a new audience, test social-native coverage plans, and even dabble in live games (or, at the very least, more in-depth high school coverage) as part of their own subscription packages. Every region has players to showcase and social currency to experiment with. There are tons of high school players that your audience — particularly your younger audience — wants to engage with, including a couple of superstars on the girls’ side like Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd. (And, coming soon, Kobe Bryant’s daughter Gigi who already draws breathless coverage of her own.)

If professional media operators don’t take advantage of the opportunity, high schools will take a cue from college and pro teams — and all those pro-am videographers on their baselines Friday nights — and create their own direct-to-consumer offerings, while well-funded youth-media startups stake wider claims on attention and relevance. It doesn’t need to be oppositional; there’s a huge range of opportunities for media orgs of every size and ambition. I recently volunteered some time to help a civic group organizing high school student journalists in the Chicago exurbs to cover the local teams — boys and girls, varsity and JV — in more depth, which both serves the community and bolsters the students’ journalism experience.

Heading into 2020, the DNA of intensive high school basketball coverage on Instagram, YouTube, and other non-traditional platforms is classic “shoe leather” observation, combined with modest cost requirements, new distribution platforms, and a seemingly limitless appetite from fans. 2020 won’t just be the year of Bronny — it’ll be the year when media organizations across the spectrum should invest further in the opportunity to experiment across the high school space.

Dan Shanoff is longtime sports-media content strategy and development executive.

Earlier this month, ESPN televised a high school basketball game between the alma mater of LeBron James and the current school of LeBron James Jr., otherwise known as “Bronny.” The game — and the hysteria around it, including the massive potential social media relevance for anyone shooting it into feeds everywhere — earned coverage from The New York Times, The Washington Post, ESPN itself, and a horde of credentialed media members.

Just a high school freshman, Bronny is already a one-name wonder in sports — on the same sports-celebrity trajectory as Serena, Tiger and, yes, LeBron.

Bronny also represents one of the biggest growth areas of sports media heading into 2020: high school basketball.

Bronny is his own beat:

  • He has 3.9 million followers on Instagram (not quite as many as his father’s 53.9 million, but a number that would make most NBA players — and media industry folks — envious). He has 300,000 followers on TikTok for now, but give it time.
  • ESPN’s live coverage of Bronny’s Sierra Canyon team is just the start; the network has more than a dozen of Bronny’s games on the schedule this year, everywhere from basic cable to its new ESPN+ over-the-top service.
  • And Bronny is the north star of an entire Gen Z-focused sports-media ecosystem of social platform dominance — by brands like Overtime (which in 2019 secured a $23 million Series B round from big-name VCs like Andreesen Horowitz and big-name NBA stars like Kevin Durant); B/R Hoops (owned by Warner Media’s Bleacher Report); Mars Reel (investors: LeBron, Drake, AT&T); LeBron’s own Uninterrupted; and a grassroots basketball “expanded universe” of unlimited smaller players whose legion of low-cost videographers assemble like paparazzi on the baseline of any high school basketball game featuring a buzzy player, everything captured and distributed on IG, Twitter, YouTube and Twitch.

What makes Bronny such an appealing investment for a media organization — beyond the attention he commands — is that as a freshman, he theoretically has more than 100 games remaining in his high school career, between his school team, his spring/summer appearances on Nike’s high-profile EYBL circuit, and other big events where he is sure to be the star. (Notably, most of the 2019 EYBL season was streamed on Twitch, accessible to all.)

It’s easy to imagine a world where sports media networks are shelling out tens of millions in rights fees to showcase Bronny’s games. In fact, I’d argue that it would make both editorial and business sense — for ESPN, DAZN (the most prominent sports media “direct-to-consumer” platform, which made huge strides in 2019), Amazon (either Prime Video or Twitch), WarnerMedia’s upcoming HBO Max, NBC’s Peacock OTT service, Verizon’s Yahoo Sports or even LeBron’s Uninterrupted — to tap into high school hoops star power and social relevance in a media landscape where NBA and college rights are both stratospheric and locked in for years with incumbent distributors.

(There’s a fascinating and important sidebar about what Bronny and other high school players should get from these content businesses built on their name, image, and social currency — particularly given that Bronny plays at a school in California, the epicenter of the burgeoning name/image/likeness compensation debate, taking place now at the college level. But we can save that topic for Nieman Lab Predictions for Journalism 2021.)

It isn’t just about Bronny and the billions on the line in the battle between streaming platforms. High school basketball is designed for — and consumed by — the younger audience coveted by incumbent media companies and brands. High school basketball (and other high school sports) offer opportunities at the regional and local level for media organizations to engage with a new audience, test social-native coverage plans, and even dabble in live games (or, at the very least, more in-depth high school coverage) as part of their own subscription packages. Every region has players to showcase and social currency to experiment with. There are tons of high school players that your audience — particularly your younger audience — wants to engage with, including a couple of superstars on the girls’ side like Paige Bueckers and Azzi Fudd. (And, coming soon, Kobe Bryant’s daughter Gigi who already draws breathless coverage of her own.)

If professional media operators don’t take advantage of the opportunity, high schools will take a cue from college and pro teams — and all those pro-am videographers on their baselines Friday nights — and create their own direct-to-consumer offerings, while well-funded youth-media startups stake wider claims on attention and relevance. It doesn’t need to be oppositional; there’s a huge range of opportunities for media orgs of every size and ambition. I recently volunteered some time to help a civic group organizing high school student journalists in the Chicago exurbs to cover the local teams — boys and girls, varsity and JV — in more depth, which both serves the community and bolsters the students’ journalism experience.

Heading into 2020, the DNA of intensive high school basketball coverage on Instagram, YouTube, and other non-traditional platforms is classic “shoe leather” observation, combined with modest cost requirements, new distribution platforms, and a seemingly limitless appetite from fans. 2020 won’t just be the year of Bronny — it’ll be the year when media organizations across the spectrum should invest further in the opportunity to experiment across the high school space.

Dan Shanoff is longtime sports-media content strategy and development executive.

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