Pro Football Network chief content officer David Bearman.

Pro Football Network continues to grow. Last month, Absolute Sports acquired a majority stake in the company, and promised significant investment to boost PFN operations. PFN has now made another big move, adding ESPN veteran David Bearman as their first chief content officer. Bearman, who spent the last 18 years at ESPN (including 14 in various roles in ESPN Stats and Info, and the last four years as deputy editor, sports betting), had his hire officially announced Wednesday, with a start date of April 19. On Tuesday, Bearman spoke to AA about this new role, and said a chance to work with PFN founder/CEO Matt Cannata and Absolute Sports chief strategy officer Anirudh Kumar on building out PFN was key for him in taking this.

“I was excited about the opportunity with Matt and Ani and company. Obviously you know about the transaction that was just made with Absolute Sports buying in, and the opportunity to build on the foundation they had and take it to the next level. I’ve worked at ESPN for 18 years, and it’s been awesome.  But just the opportunity to go to something smaller and scale it up and put my own fingerprint on it is something I’m excited to do.”

Bearman said he learned a lot from his almost two decades at ESPN (which came after he worked in media relations with the Florida Marlins and then the Albuquerque Isotopes). He said the importance of passion around sports is something he really took away from his time at the Worldwide Leader.

“People love sports. They love producing content about sports. I can’t say enough good things about the 18 years I had there, working in multiple departments. I primarily started in the Stats and Info department, 14 years there, starting as an entry-level researcher and working all the way up to associate director, working with young people who love to produce content around sports, whether it’s getting stats to SportsCenter or being on the road and working golf remotes with Scott Van Pelt and Mike Tirico. I learned a lot along the way those years, and then four years ago I got a chance to go over to the digital side with sports betting, with the federal ban being overturned, and having the chance to grow sports betting at the company.”

He said another takeaway from his time at ESPN was the importance of original ideas.

“With ESPN, they’re always about content and ideas, from the top down. That’s one of [ESPN president] Jimmy Pitaro’s pillars, go out there and get ideas, and produce content. And that’s what I had a chance to do for 18 years. For all that time since coming over in 2005, I’ve gotten the chance to watch sports and analyze it and produce content off of it, whether it’s games or whether it’s sports betting material.”

The Stats and Info department at ESPN makes an impact in a lot of different areas, from supplying stats to studio shows (including SportsCenterNFL Live, and more) and game broadcasts to the stats they’ve relayed to the public on Twitter (where they have 1.7 million followers) since 2009. Bearman said all of that is focused on finding unique stats fans might appreciate, then finding the right way to relay them, whether on broadcast, in digital articles, or directly on Twitter.

“With ESPN Stats and Info, we were all about providing what the fan wants, what the consumer is looking for. I think we would do the same thing over at PFN. Our content, as we grow, I think it can be more stat-oriented, give the fan more education around some of the stats, numbers, and analytics, around sports, including with the sports betting aspect. So knowing that I have worked for 14 years with providing content in many different forms, whether it be stats, sports betting, graphics, working in that department with a bunch of hard-working people that work nights and weekends around sports, I’m hoping to bring that same fire to PFN.”

ESPN Stats and Info finds and relays some truly unusual things, often involving unique bits of game history. Bearman said they’ve gotten better at that by building out internal databases.

“First of all, everybody that works in that department is brilliant when it comes to statistics and content to begin with. There are lots of different levels to go through to even get into that department. So you start off by knowing that the brightest minds in the world are working there. For the first couple of years, the Elias Sports Bureau was one of our partners, and they still are, but that was at a much larger scale back then.”

“Over time, we created our own databases. We have a lot of internal databases, I personally brought in and built sports betting content databases, we have an all-games database for NFL, NBA and others. True Media is one of the partners for the Stats and Information group, and they helped build out the databases. In any given sport, the Stats and Information group has internal databases as well as the external ones from Elias, Stats Pass, et cetera. There’s different partnerships that ESPN will have, but the biggest thing over the last 10 to 15 years is internally building those databases. They have their own analytics department that’s built their own metrics, QBR, win probability, et cetera, so there’s a lot of resources at their disposal.”

The last four years saw Bearman working more specifically on sports betting coverage, including the ESPN Sports Betting vertical. He said his experience there will be useful at PFN as well.

“I was in on the ground floor of sports betting at ESPN, starting with producing content around sports betting, and then building a show like Daily Wager, and then building the website, which was ESPN Chalk, now it’s ESPN Sports Betting, growing it from a small website into a much larger website. I’m hoping to bring those kinds of resources to PFN and grow them to compete at a higher level. Some of what I’ve learned is what the audience is looking for, what the consumer wants, from top to bottom. And I want to make PFN a destination for the sports fan to get their NFL and sports betting and fantasy material.”

He said while betting content expansion will be a focus for him at PFN, it won’t be the only one.

“I think it’s one of the many areas that I can do. I have the experience specifically in sports betting over the last couple of years. But even before that, working on our NFL content at ESPN, I oversaw it for a couple of years, whether it be NFL Live or any of our Countdown and game-day stuff, I have the experience to be able to scale up NFL. And betting and fantasy is a large component of NFL content. We’ve seen how the NFL has done a 180 in terms of what they’re doing with sports betting. That is one of the pillars I would love to expand and grow on PFN.”

Bearman said the Absolute Sports investment may also let PFN build out more technology along the lines of their mock draft simulator.

“We have the mock draft simulator, which is awesome. And I’ve talked to, without giving away too much of what we’re looking at, I’ve talked to Absolute Sports about some of the ideas I’d like to implement down the road, and they have the resources and technology to do it. So I’m hoping we can scale up some of the tools we have. And that can lead to when people come to PFN, it isn’t just articles. The mock draft simulator is just an example of one big tool we have. We want to do other things; maybe it’s a playoff simulator, or a parlay calculator as a sports betting thing. None of these things have been decided yet, but I know that Ani and Absolute Sports are behind growing not only the editorial aspect of it, but the content strategy aspect. And that’s what I hope to bring to the table.”

[Photo supplied by David Bearman]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.