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TNT uses Champions League to improve Bleacher Report's reach

Bleacher Report has been a part of Turner Sports since 2012 but the symbiotic relationship between the two truly started to show with the acquisition of the rights to the Champions League. The all-English final on Saturday between Liverpool and Tottenham on TNT concludes the first season of B/R Football, whose main property was the Champions League. While there were some growing pains at times, Bleacher Report has been pleased by the progress.

"B/R Football mirrors the success of Bleacher Report in its early days," Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman said. "We love the ability to be a challenger brand domestically. This gives us an opportunity to own the fan experience."

Turner has promoted Bleacher Report heavily during NBA and baseball broadcasts, but this is the first time B/R has been out front on one of its sports properties. The B/R Live streaming app carried all the games, including the ones on TNT, while the studio shows had a mix of analysis and personality profiles.

Kate Abdo and Stewart Holden are among the main voices on Fox's soccer coverage, but B/R showed some out of the box thinking by hiring former NBA MVP Steve Nash as an analyst. Nash played soccer while growing up in Canada and his father and brother were professional players. John Nash, Steve's father, grew up less than a mile from Spurs' home ground at White Hart Lane.

Nash was one of the first hires announced by Bleacher Report when it was putting together its studio lineup. "I think there are still times when we are trying to figure out and refine the format, but it has been fun bringing a different perspective and exploring ways to innovate coverage," Nash said.

Nash also produced a feature on Duke basketball player R.J. Barrett that ran during the NCAA Tournament and he is discussing other long-form projects with Bleacher Report. Nash shows that there has been a mutual respect between NBA and soccer players. Both groups also share fan bases. According to Bleacher Report, two of the top three soccer posts on their Instagram account have an NBA crossover component. There is also a 60% overlap between NBA and soccer fans on Bleacher Report's app.

During Saturday's final, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young will be part of the pregame show and Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic will be operating Bleacher Report's Instagram live from the match. The international feed commentary of Tony Jones and David Pleat will be used for the game.

During the season, Bleacher Report took one of its popular features — the animated "Game of Zones" — and made a new series called "The Champions," which imagines the top soccer stars in Europe living in the same house.

Beside its investment in soccer, Bleacher Report has made other content investments. It recently debuted a new interview show from Taylor Rooks called "Take It There" that features interviews with athletes from throughout the sports world.

"There has been the desire to produce and create high-quality content and we're doubling down in some areas," Mittman said. "This is not a full pivot to video though. That ship has sailed. We feel that we can be led by data and powered by creativity and it is rare that brands can do both."

Rooks said one of the advantages of her show is that people can view it on demand. "It is where good content is now," she said. "You are picking what you want to consume." Bleacher Report and Turner will figure out tweaks for next season over the next couple months but the investment in Champions League has paid off in the ratings. Each round has had better numbers compared to last year's coverage on Fox Sports 1.

The semifinal round averaged 577,000 viewers per match on TNT, according to Nielsen, up from 447,000 last year on Fox Sports 1 and FX. The final may be the one round where there is a decline in viewers. Fox televised Real Madrid's 3-1 win over Liverpool last year on its main broadcast network and averaged nearly 3 million viewers.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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