Awful Announcing has learned that Bleacher Report is planning on enacting a significant round of layoffs in their London-based UK office later this month. The pending move will affect around 20 employees, which is almost the entirety of the UK office. A skeleton crew of around five employees will continue in their roles, but many of the affected employees will continue to work at Bleacher Report for a transitional period.
The Bleacher Report London office was opened in 2013 and has operated the past handful of years with about 30 employees, all of which were manning the B/R Football brand (Bleacher Report’s soccer brand). While no layoffs have been formally announced, employees attended a mandatory meeting yesterday where drastic upcoming staffing changes were outlined. Those changes trace back to Turner exiting their UEFA rights deal earlier this summer. The news comes on the heels of Travis Rettke, GM, B/R Football, leaving the company a few weeks back.
Like all moves of this nature, there are a few narratives floating around out there. One is pretty straightforward: Turner made an investment in UEFA Champions League rights, and once they decided to move on from that commitment, it made it harder to justify the ongoing commitment of having that amount of employees at the London office. Bleacher Report recently made a similar justification in closing down B/R Mag, their longform feature brand. However, others have pushed back, saying that B/R Football was a popular growing asset that had a very large social footprint of nearly 8 million followers between Instagram and Twitter, with another 1.4 million subscribers on Youtube.
While there isn’t a consensus alternative theory, this is my third Bleacher Report story in the last two months, and reporting on these stories always has me circling back to the same questions and feelings of uncertainty about the future of the company.
AT&T bought Time Warner (Bleacher Report’s parent company) two years ago. Since then, it’s been a revolving door of leadership changes at Turner and Bleacher Report, with many high–profile exits and shifting corporate strategies. And Bleacher Report specifically was once a prized and growing asset for Turner and Time Warner, and it now registers for many as feeling like an afterthought or hassle for Turner and AT&T.
This seemed to open up the door for the rumor that DraftKings was making a play to buy Bleacher Report from Turner, a rumor that Turner adamantly threw cold water on. AT&T is facing pressure to sell off some assets to reduce its debt load, and has been reported to be looking at selling DirecTV, so a possible future sale of Bleacher Report can’t be entirely dismissed. And many think that possibility is very much in play.
When Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman left the company earlier this summer, no successor was named. Oversight of the site was folded up to Turner Sports President Lenny Daniels, who works out of Atlanta and whose experience is entirely in television. With the lack of a successor to Mittman as well as various Bleacher Report sub-brands being targeted for layoffs, there is a growing sense of trepidation among employees. One long-term employee told me “I don’t think anyone is out to get us, but it certainly feels like there really isn’t much of a plan. Or at least one I’ve heard anything about.”
Many raise questions beyond just Bleacher Report’s status. Could Turner get out of sports entirely over the next decade? Could AT&T one day sell Turner entirely? Both possibilities wound have sounded crazy not too long ago, as would have selling Bleacher Report. But whether we’re at the beginning or the end of a period of significant changes, the reality is that internally and externally many are beginning to question Bleacher Report’s standing and fit within the larger and messier AT&T corporate structure.