How sports comedy site The Kicker plans to get brands involved
By Sahil Patel
Sports and brands are intertwined. It’s impossible to watch a game or sports show without being inundated with sponsored messages during the actual program.
But while sponsorship opportunities are ubiquitous, there is still a lot more brands can do in sports. It’s an area that The Kicker, a new sports-focused comedy site from “SNL” co-head writer Bryan Tucker, hopes to take advantage of.
“There are a lot of brands that want to be involved in sports but don’t exactly know the best way in,” said Grant Jones, gm of The Kicker, which officially launched on Wednesday. “Live sports is its own animal; we want to offer them an opportunity to get involved in a different way.”
That way is through original comedy, starring popular athletes and celebrities. The Kicker is part of the Above Average network, which is owned by “SNL” boss Lorne Michaels’ production company Broadway Video. This means access to a large community of famous comedy faces and even emerging writers and performers. (Above Average is also handling sales, marketing and business development for The Kicker.)
Prior to launch, The Kicker has already released videos starring Kenan Thompson, Andy Samberg and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
It wants to offer the same opportunity to brands. Take, for instance, its first project, a video series called “Fantasy Online College.” Written by Tucker and developed in partnership with Lenovo and Vox Media, the series stars comedian JB Smoove as the dean of a fictional fantasy-sports college and features NFLers like Eric Decker, Matt Forte, Odell Beckham Jr. and DeMarco Murray as professors.
Athletes enjoy these kinds of opportunities for the same reason they would want to appear on “SNL”: it makes them look funny.
“If you [as an athlete] want to write something, you have Twitter or The Players’ Tribune,” said Jones. “But if you want to show a different side of your personality, we can help bring that out.”
Brands, of course, have no qualms about working with sports stars — though if they want to work with a site like The Kicker, they have to be willing to be made fun of.
For instance, one of the first videos made by The Kicker is about a fictional college player who sells the rights to his name to brands much in the same way a high-school player chooses which college to attend. The parody video, called “Leon Home Depot,” is done in the style of an ESPN news report, which is important, according to Tucker.
“A lot of sports media has a specific language. People already know the tropes, which really helps in making fun of them,” he said. And the familiarity makes it more likely that people will watch and share the video.
Unlike Lenovo’s video series, Home Depot was not involved in “Leon Home Depot,” according to Grant. It was just a funny idea that the editorial team had and they made the video. But it won’t be the last time The Kicker does a video that pokes fun at brands in some way.
“One of the things I loved doing at The Onion was making fun of brands in a way that was lighthearted and fun,” said Grant. “In sports, brands are such a big part of everything. That will continue to be a part of our comedy [content].”
Of course, that could pose its own set of problems as The Onion itself recently learned when it restructured its Onion Labs unit. One limitation facing humor publishers selling native ads is finding brands willing to be lampooned.
“It’s difficult for many brands to get comfortable with the idea of being the butt of the joke opposed to the hero in the story,” Raymonde Brillantes-Green, vp, media director at Digitas LBi, said earlier, speaking specifically about The Onion situation.
With its “Fantasy Online College” series, Lenovo didn’t mind made fun of. Its products are featured throughout the series, often in an intrusive way that calls attention to the fact that it’s the sponsor. For The Kicker’s branded content efforts to work, it has to find more brands with such a sense of humor.
Images via The Kicker on YouTube
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