Thrillist Looks To Build Presence On ESPN, HuffPo Sites

Men’s lifestyle and entertainment guide Thrillist is looking beyond its primary e-newsletter business by hooking up with the city-specific sites that Huffington Post and ESPN (NYSE: DIS) have launched over the past year. At the same time, it’s also continuing to expand its own footprint next week with the debut of its Portland, Oregon e-newsletter guide, as it looks to promotional relationships with brands and marketers such as New York Magazine, CBS Interactive (NYSE: CBS) and Urban Outfitters as opposed to straight advertising.

The rush to tap local online ad dollars is coming from large and small media companies, especially as mobile has appeared to offer geo-targeting. Thrillist isn’t averse to ads, but since it’s not really a destination site, it’s looking to promotional partners to help grow its audience, which is mainly young, urban guys who tend to have a little more cash to burn.

The five-year-old Thrillist is also getting some more competition. Last month, AOL (NYSE: AOL), which expects to “quintuple” the number of hyperlocal blogs in its Patch network, revived its City’s Best reviews network across 25 metro areas after two years in limbo.

Thrillist, which was started by CEO and co-founder Ben Lerer (son of VC and HuffPo co-founder Ken Lerer), believes that its niche approach to targeting young men of certain means, only helps to distinguish it from other companies that are just starting to drive a stake in local.

Working with Urban Outfitters, for example, helps it reach shoppers. In turn, Thrillist, which aims to provide a guide to “the best” places to eat, drink and shop, as opposed to more general reviews sites which lists everything in a given area, says it can drive store traffic in exchange for the promotion. The number of subscribers across its 18 editions has nearly doubled to 2.2 million since last December, says, John Wiseman, Thrillist’s VP, marketing and partnerships. “The idea of these promotional partnerships is that they’ll tell their audience about us and we’ll tell ours,” he says.

That’s the hope behind its new connection with dining discovery app Foodspotting. The app lets users take a photo of their food and upload it when they check in with Foursquare, which is another Thrillist partner.

With ESPN and HuffPo, it’s the same thing, but on a bigger scale. The ESPN alliance will be live on its Chicago, Boston, NewYork, Los Angeles and Dallas. Rather than ESPN directing users to, say, sports bars, they’ll rely on Thrillist. “With so many media companies ramping up their local and social media plays, it’s getting easier to find ways of complementing content offerings,” Wiseman said, saying a number of other content deals are still in works.