Bleacher Report Football has ambitions to create content that sits at the intersection of football and culture, whether that’s fashion, film or, most recently, music.

As part of an ongoing partnership with Puma, on Monday Bleacher Report is releasing a hip-hop track with one of Puma’s most well-known players, Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku. The striker has worked with Belgian urban artist and childhood friend TheColorGrey on the song where the duo recalls their tough upbringings.

The track, called “New Levels,” will be distributed through Bleacher Report Football’s social accounts and app, along with accompanying behind-the-scenes footage of the content. It will be released on Spotify and Apple Music, appearing on TheColorGrey’s profiles. This marks the first time Bleacher Report Football has created a song in full, the publisher has been behind some editorial raps, like a post-World Cup track from freestyle rapper Gemini. For the behind-the-scenes video, the Puma and B/R logos appear at the end. Turner Music, whose parent company Turner acquired Bleacher Report in 2012, will own the licensing.

“This is a good barometer of where we want to be: content first which features a brand that shines beyond the feed,” said Lee Walker, international managing editor at Bleacher Report. “More so [now] than ever, there’s an attention deficit for content.”

Bleacher Report Football, based in London and formerly Bleacher Report UK, has been working with Puma for a year, and the sports brand is the publisher’s biggest global football partner outside the U.S. Historically, Puma has toggled between third or fourth, behind competitors like Adidas and Nike in the football world, which arguably have bigger ad budgets, according to the publisher. Puma knew it needed a shot of creativity to start leveling the field.

In the past year, Bleacher Report Football has created a number of content campaigns for the brand over a number of different events like kit launches, new player announcements and reactive moments within the game. According to CrowdTangle data, via Bleacher Report Football, this content has had 24 million video views, excluding Instagram Stories. Typically, Bleacher Report Football content performs on a par with editorial. CrowdTangle puts Bleacher Report Football’s Facebook interaction rate at around 0.2 percent for the last year, while the interaction rate on its Instagram account is around 4.5 percent.

Like a lot of publishers hoping to thrive in a crowded branded content landscape, Bleacher Report Football wants more longer-term partnerships like this that build trust, allowing publishers the freedom to try out more creative executions, hopefully leading to more money. Walker said the relationship with Puma is “ongoing” but the publisher isn’t on a retainer.

“The essence of a consultancy is creating bespoke options for each brand,” he said. “Higher-intensity campaigns have higher yield in revenue; they’re more effective for a global audience.”

According to Walker between eight and 10 people across various capabilities have worked on the Puma partnership over the last year in one way or another. With 37 staffers in total, Walker said Bleacher Report Football is not near max capacity for longer-term more intensive partnerships but will scale up its contractors when needed.

Branded content makes up the majority of the international arm’s revenue, ahead of sponsorship — where the brand has no editorial input — and programmatic display.

Next year, Walker said it plans to nearly double the commercial team, adding an additional five people to its current team of six.

He added there’s no limit on how many branded content campaigns run in Bleacher Report Football’s feeds, which work because other brand clients including Adidas, Nike, Heineken, Samsung and Coors are a good fit for its audience. “Working with endemic brands makes sense to us,” he said. “If you’re producing good content, it doesn’t matter if it’s sponsored or not. If it’s advertorial, then that’s a dilemma.”

Image: courtesy of Bleacher Report Football.

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