Bleacher Report Raises $10.5M; Now Fifth Largest Sports Site

Bleacher Report is going to announce a new $10.5 million round of venture capital this morning and a lot of people reading this will probably say, “Bleacher-who?”

Somehow Bleacher Report has pulled off two things you’re not supposed to be able to pull off in Silicon Valley’s Web scene. The first is keeping a low-profile while growing steadily in users and revenues. The second is building a serious sports challenger to the big portals and legacy news companies. Finally.

Bleacher Report claims it has 17 million uniques (roughly 70% more than TechCrunch, for perspective) and is ranked by comScore as the fifth largest sports site, after Yahoo, ESPN, Fox Sports, AOL Fanhouse. Quiet Bleacher Report recently passed Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports. It’s the first pure startup to come close since the days when the Web was born. (Some players, like Fantasy Sports Ventures, dispute this because they operate networks of many independent sites, that added together, may rank higher. I am referring to a single destination site, not a collection of sites under one brand or a blog network. You can split hairs, but what matters is how advertisers view it, and advertisers are purchasing from Bleacher Report as if it is one site.)

Let’s face it, a big reason the portals are still so relevant is they lead in mass-appeal content verticals like finance, entertainment and sports. The reliance on that last category is going to change if Bleacher Report keeps blocking-and-tackling (sorry). With the number one player, Yahoo, in damage-control, it’s not exactly investing in the product. (That’s right! More bad news for Yahoo!)

In the last year, Bleacher Report has started getting big sports six-figure ad buys on par with the other big players, by mainstream advertisers like Gilette and Axe. The biggest challenge now is getting in more of those deals and taking down AOL Fanhouse first, and the rest of the top four later. “This company is growing astronomically and it’s just an execution play right now,” says Eric Chin, general partner at Crosslink Capital which lead the round.

That’s a big reason the founders aggressively recruited Brian Grey to be their CEO in July. He was previously the head of Fox Sports Interactive and the first GM of Yahoo! Sports before that. He knows the secrets of two of the top four. Bleacher Report also recently added Associated Content CEO Patrick Keane to its board of directors.

So how has Bleacher Report pulled this kind of growth off when almost no other sports-related startup has? Tons and tons of content for nearly any sports team anyone could care about. They produce more than 500 pieces of content a day, and have more than 1 million aggregate subscribers to their online newsletters tracking some 300 teams. Bleacher Report is different than a portal like Yahoo that aggregates and creates content, fan sites that parrot the message ownership or the league wants fans to hear or ESPN that focuses heavily on big market teams. It’s also different from younger companies that act like blog networks or the Digg-like Yardbarker.

Bleacher Report has 3,000 contributors and 700 featured┬ácontributors. Most are everyday sports fans who want a megaphone and people to argue with, but have day jobs and don’t have the time to build a large enough blog to get an audience on their own. Bleacher Report gives them some light editing tips, stats and analysis to provide story ideas and research, and of course┬ádistribution. In exchange these writers aren’t running their own blogs, they are writing on Bleacher Report’s blog platform and that gives Bleacher Report one big site to sell — rather than a network of sites– and total flexibility to sell creative the way they want, not in a set designated banner or box.

This round was lead by Crosslink and comes on top of $7.3 million from angels and friends and family and a firm called Hillsvn Ventures. The terms of this deal weren’t disclosed, but we’ve heard that the founders took some money off the table. That’s not a surprise. These three friends started this company back in 2008, paying themselves founders salaries and resisting temptations to sell or take money at an earlier stage. They’ve earned it in a tough category.