In recent years, a visit by LeBron James to Toronto generally signified the demise of local NBA playoff hopes. But happily for Toronto fans, this year is different: A championship has come at long last to Canada, and Mr. James is here this week to launch a media business, not to eject the Raptors unceremoniously from contention.
The basketball star will be at a launch party on Friday for the first international expansion of Uninterrupted, his multimedia brand. Scott Moore, who retired as president of Rogers Sportsnet last year, will be the chief executive officer of Uninterrupted Canada and has partnered with Canadian film producer Vinay Virmani, who will be head of content.
Uninterrupted, launched in 2015, creates videos produced with athletes to give them direct communication with fans. It is similar to The Players’ Tribune, the website launched by baseball star Derek Jeter, but Uninterrupted focuses primarily on videos and podcasts instead of written articles.
“It’s where the business is going,” Mr. Moore said in an interview. “This is just another great disruption.”
The site is not a rejection of sports journalism, but is complementary to it, said Maverick Carter, Mr. James’s childhood friend and business partner and the CEO of Uninterrupted. “What we try to do is keep the focus on athletes,” he said. “… Fans love to connect directly.”
The financials of the deal have not been disclosed, but the Canadian partners together will own a majority stake in the business here, which Mr. Moore compares to a franchisee deal. Canadian rapper Drake is also a part owner, and has agreed to promote the platform as well as to be executive producer on a handful of projects. The team hopes to turn a profit in its third year of operations.
The site is free to users. The brand draws revenue from advertising, live events and merchandise, plus licensing deals and sponsorships. For example, its documentary, The Shop, which was produced by Uninterrupted and licensed to HBO, featured Mr. James and a host of other athletes and cultural figures meeting in a barbershop for a series of frank conversations. One episode featured Drake opening up about tensions with the mother of his infant son, a rift between him and fellow rapper Kanye West and knowing when to retire.
“Athletes all over the world want to connect with fans and continue to share all the ways we are more than athletes,” Mr. James said in an e-mailed statement. “We’re excited to work alongside our long-time friend and collaborator, Drake, to bring our vision for this to Canada.”
One of the goals is to build the site’s Canadian audiences, which are “significant, but not huge,” Mr. Moore said. The Canadian team will be distributing content from Uninterrupted in the United States as well as developing original content for the site, and for possible television licensing deals.
The Canadian site will look similar at first and will continue to show content from the U.S. site; Canadian-produced material will begin to appear in the fall.
Uninterrupted Canada has a deal with Toronto Raptors star Serge Ibaka to produce fashion and lifestyle video content, and is finalizing details of a sponsorship with retailer Holt Renfrew. The Canadian team will also produce a series with baseball pitcher Marcus Stroman, who was just traded to the New York Mets from the Toronto Blue Jays. His series is to focus on smaller athletes and is titled Height Doesn’t Measure Heart.
The Canadian team will work with their Uninterrupted counterparts in Los Angeles on a daily basis, and the U.S. site may also use some of the Canadian projects.
“A good story will translate anywhere,” Mr. Virmani said.
SUSAN KRASHINSKY ROBERTSON
MEDIA AND MARKETING REPORTER
The Globe and Mail, July 30, 2019