When Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James arrived in San Francisco last week for the NBA Finals, he stepped off the bus at the Four Seasons hotel on Market Street and made a beeline inside, headphones presumably drowning out the shouts of “LeBron!” coming from press and fans.
After a five-hour flight, he needed to get his body moving; he said he’d feel better about himself once he got a little sweat going. LeBron went straight to the hotel gym for some treadmill work and balance drills with team trainers.
I know this because I saw video of it. Not a video shot by ESPN or NBC or ABC, or one posted to Vine or Instagram or Facebook. James swears off social media during the NBA playoffs, but this year, he’s posting short behind-the-scenes videos like this to Bleacher Report as part of his latest media endeavor: “Uninterrupted.”
James is one of the most popular athletes on the planet, and he’s capitalizing on it off the court. He brings in more than $40 million in endorsement deals a year, and he started his own media company back in 2008, Spring Hill Productions, with childhood friend and business partner Maverick Carter.
This is where “Uninterrupted” comes into play. Launched on Christmas Day, “Uninterrupted” is essentially a reality show, a way for athletes to record short video diaries from their smartphones and say whatever they want without having to answer to a scrum of reporters dictating the conversation. The idea came to James last summer when he announced in a Sports Illustrated essay that he was returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers.
“We do the normal media bunch, but sometimes they only give you what they want people to hear,” James told Re/code on Friday after a shoot-around at Oracle Arena in Oakland. “I talked to Maverick, I told him, ‘I want to give [my fans] the uncut, unedited version right then and there of what my thoughts are.'”
Until now, videos have been recorded by players themselves on their own smartphones as a conscious effort to create content on mobile devices that will ultimately be consumed on mobile devices, Carter said. But Spring Hill has greater ambitions than selfie testimonials. Throughout the playoffs, Spring Hill-hired videographers have been trailing both James and Warriors forward Draymond Green, editing B-roll and other off-court footage on top of the interviews.
It’s the kind of behind-the-scenes access that sports fans gobble up like candy, and where Carter says he envisions the project going.
“This is not just about LeBron,” Carter told Re/code. “[We want] athletes who want to deliver unique insight, who want to take fans deeper. They want to show fans something that other news outlets don’t show.”
In just six months, Spring Hill has turned “Uninterrupted” into a nice little business. The company has about a dozen players using the platform, including outspoken Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and the New England Patriots’ resident party boy Rob Gronkowski. Verizon is sponsoring the entire project, in which Bleacher Report and Spring Hill are working off an advertising revenue split.
The partnership with Turner (which owns Bleacher Report) is exclusive, but strictly a content one — Turner hasn’t invested in Spring Hill at this point, according to people familiar with the relationship. The idea is that Bleacher Report has an established audience eager for video content, which James and Co. provide, explained Bleacher Report General Manager Dorth Raphaely.
Bleacher Report then provides the reach; the most popular videos from the project have garnered hundreds of thousands to low millions of views apiece.
But why hand the content over to Bleacher Report at all? Or why not post to an existing platform like Instagram or Facebook, where James has a combined 32 million fans and followers? It seems that an exclusive interview with LeBron James could drive traffic no matter where it lives online.
“I’m not focused on driving [fans] to a URL,” Carter explained. “We’re going to take the content to where people are.”
Carter’s idea is one shared by other successful Web properties including BuzzFeed and presumably others that are handing over content to platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat. It will likely be key to “Uninterrupted’s” future success.
Spring Hill isn’t the only company trying to give athletes their own voice. Longtime Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter recently launched The Players’ Tribune, a media platform for first-person stories from athletes. There’s no shortage of video content in the world, and even exclusive content from James and other star athletes will have to fight through the noise.
But fight it will. James says Spring Hill is recruiting other athletes for the platform, and Carter has plans to create more of the professionally produced content they’ve been making during the playoffs.
“‘Uninterrupted’ is going to do some original [shows] and build into a bigger network,” Carter said. “We’re going to do some other produced, original, snackable episodic shows on the network. … Now the athlete gets a chance to talk about what’s important to them also.”
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.