ESPN Enters Incomprehensible Partnership With Incomprehensible Media Company

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Big news in the world of digital media today, as Ad Age has a scoop about ESPN partnering with Cycle, a “media network” that “evolved from an internal influencer management division at Laundry Service to a sibling content company last year.”

Right, sorry, that is sort of hard to parse. Allow me to excerpt more liberally from the Ad Age article, in order to clear things up for you:

Through the partnership, Cycle will work to create “highly distributable and engaging content that’s tied to conversations of interest and what’s going on today” for brands that already advertise with ESPN, says Jason Kelly, Cycle’s chief strategy officer. While the content will take a variety of forms, Kelly says the majority will be video. Earlier this year, Cycle created the “Come Out of Nowhere” branded content series for Nike.


Yeah, that doesn’t exactly do it. Maybe we can at least figure out what Cycle is. Back to Ad Age:

Cycle, which has 3,000 influencers and athletes in its network, 250 million views per month across its distribution channels, with extended network channels seeing upwards of three billion monthly views, Kelly says.


Okay, here we go. Three billion monthly views is no joke, especially considering there are only 7.5 billion people on earth, so this is clearly a legit media company. Let’s head over to Cycle’s website real quick to get a taste of the content that 40 percent of the world’s population is consuming every month.

Okay, this just appears to be a website with some tweets embedded on it. Here are some of the tweets:

Okay, hold on, there are also some well-produced YouTube videos linked on this site. People seem to be eating them up:


In lieu of goofing on the Ugly God Doesn’t Care If You Hate His Music story, I’m going to level with you: the reason this post exists is because I am kind of freaked out. As someone who has worked in digital media for a few years now, I feel like I should have a pretty decent grasp on how things generally work. I can tell you what a unique visitor is; I know that getting more traffic is good; I can both understand and when necessary even use phrases like “let’s push this out through our social channels.”

But then this morning I am confronted with the news that ESPN—ESPN! A very large and important media company!—has entered what we might logically assume to be a very lucrative partnership with a digital media company whose purpose is completely incomprehensible to me. I assume that many high-ranking, well-paid people at ESPN had a number of meetings about potentially giving Cycle a lot of money to create “highly distributable and engaging content.” Somehow, those meetings ended with the high-ranking, well-paid people saying to themselves, “Yes, we should pay the company that made a YouTube video called ‘Steve Kerr: Consistent Winner,’ which has been viewed 343 times, lots and lots of money.”


If I had to guess, I’d say the thing ESPN is really interested in here is Cycle’s network of 3,000 influencers. There are a lot of people in the world who are convinced that the best way to sell something is to get Hassan Whiteside to shout it out in a Snapchat video. But shouldn’t a company as big and all powerful as ESPN already be able to get Hassan Whiteside to do things for it?

I’m not trying to be as snide as you think I am here, I just truly do not understand what is happening anymore. Every day I come to work and it feels like the world of sports media, and digital media in general, is being discussed in a language I don’t speak. All of this has to make sense to somebody, right? ESPN knows what it’s doing, right? Millions of dollars aren’t just getting tossed around for no reason, are they? Someone please explain all of this to me so that I can still have a job in a year, or at least understand the reasoning behind why I won’t.