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Digital Audiences Become The MVP Of TV Sports Sponsorships


PitchWith the NCAA men’s basketball tournament well underway, digital publishers and broadcasters are clamoring to package “cross-platform” sponsorship deals for big advertisers.

The economic implications of sports sponsorships are massive. In the US, global sponsorship revenue reached an estimated $45 billion in 2015, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. That may ebb and flow if the calendar year coincides with, for example, the Olympics.

Generally speaking, cord cutting at the cable network level didn’t impact live sports programming as much as it did TV dramas and series.

But marketer demand for social and mobile tie-ins to channels such as Snapchat Live Stories and Facebook Live are reworking the way publishers and networks secure advertising – and content licensing agreements – with leagues and brands.

“We’re creating full, 360-degree multiplatform programs,” said Seth Ladestsky, SVP of ad sales for Turner Sports. “It’s not about slapping a logo or commercial up. We don’t walk in saying, ‘Here’s the boilerplate template.’ We have to understand client goals and objectives, and the more we know about them, the better the program becomes.”

TV And Social Team Up

Turner Broadcasting and CBS both own the rights to air live coverage of the NCAA tournament. Turner will broadcast the national championship game for the first time on Monday.

It will also produce individual telecasts for competing teams during the Final Four semifinal games as part of “Team Stream by Bleacher Report,” a series airing on TNT and truTV.

Although on-air remains a big focus for Turner Sports’ ad sales team, digital activations increasingly are scoring with advertisers.  

Insurance company Allstate was the first advertiser to integrate vertical video ads in March Madness Live Stories via Turner’s new multiyear partnership with Snapchat. Turner Sports also has signed LG on as a Snapchat advertiser, AdExchanger has learned.

“Having a telecast, people watch us live on all four networks for coverage of the game itself, soup to nuts,” Ladetsky said. “Our Snapchat deal was additive because it was about the fan experience at the venue and the location. We cover the storyline of the game, but Snapchat was about real fans capturing other fans in their element. That’s incremental to what we’re doing.”


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March Madness is just the start of Turner Sports’ Snapchat Live Story integrations. Turner is in the process of planning a similar Snapchat integration for the PGA Championship/Ryder Cup matches, since Turner-owned network TNT holds the cable rights to the golf tentpole.

Ladetsky sees additional opportunity to capture more of a millennial audience base as a result of the Snapchat deal and Turner’s own e-sports pursuits. In May, TBS’ 10-week “ELeague” video game tournament series will blend traditional TV with the e-sports craze.

“E-sports are digital, but this will culminate in a Friday night, TV-esque championship of the week,” he added. “The ELeague participants are super excited about this. Getting on TV is like they’ve ‘arrived,’ and the sponsor community has been extremely receptive to it.”

Digital Meets Livestream

Digital publishers are going all in on the livestream, too. 

Yahoo Sports, which commands 50 million monthly unique viewers, according to comScore, revealed it would begin streaming four NHL “Game of the Day” spots live on its properties four days a week, as well as condensed versions of the game in on-demand and post-game highlights.

Yahoo Sports’ NHL deals follow Yahoo’s reported $20 million bid to host the first full livestream of an NFL game last fall, which garnered 15 million viewers.

“The [NFL deal] was sort of a one-off game to see how we could test out an opportunity like that, but we wanted to work and build something bigger and better,” said Phil Lynch, VP of media sponsorships for Yahoo.

Over the past six to seven months, Yahoo has built a live 60-frames-per-second sporting product it hopes fans will visit daily. Other programming, due in part to Yahoo’s relationship with NBC Sports Group, includes a live game of the day with Major League Baseball, as well as access to live PGA tournaments.

In some ways, Yahoo approaches its sports programming like a mini TV network.

Yahoo would typically license the content from a league, giving it sales rights to monetize that content with its own player, as opposed to an “ongoing, open-ended rev share,” Lynch said. “In that case, we act like a historic television network and frankly compete against some of these networks for this content.”

Although Yahoo Sports does inject video ads between commercial breaks within its sports live streams, Lynch said the publisher is providing much more than a standard ad serve.

Yahoo oversees digital rights management and content protection for leagues’ licensed content, so it frequently creates custom programs for advertisers.

“In addition to sponsoring live content around streams, advertisers also use our retargeting capabilities to engage with Yahoo viewers after a live game concludes,” Lisa Utzschneider, CRO of Yahoo, told AdExchanger. “It’s a ripple effect of viewership of a live sports game and connecting with those users after they’ve watched a live game.”

Revving The Cross-Platform Engine

Sports media company Whistle Sports, which is backed by NBC Sports, Sky and other private investors, such as former New York Yankee Derek Jeter, sees value in the social influencer. It distributes sports content from 400 video creators across its network of 170 million subscribers and followers.

Although star athletes remain important mouthpieces for brands, brands increasingly are reimagining the way celebrity spokespeople speak to their consumer base.

NASCAR, for instance, is working with Whistle Sports to promote 15 video shoots across three race weekends for a campaign called NASCAR Goes West. Airline Allegiant Air is the video sponsor for Whistle Sports-produced content on a NASCAR Goes West hub on NASCAR.com.

The campaign, however, goes well beyond sponsored videos. NASCAR gave Whistle Sports’ most popular creators access to all 15 race stops, where it filmed interviews and stunts with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other race luminaries.

In the days leading up to and throughout the 2016 Daytona 500 in February, NASCAR also created a fan race on Twitter using custom hashtags on the social platform and via the race broadcast on FOX. The 500th person to tweet a custom hashtag and #DAYTONA500 won Dale Earnhardt Jr. race swag.

“NASCAR has evolved its marketing approach to lead with social and digital media as a means to reach new and younger fans,” said Jill Gregory, SVP of marketing and industry services for NASCAR. “We’re creating entry points for new audiences [through compelling content] that may be interested in learning about NASCAR.”

Between the collaboration with Whistle Sports and NASCAR driver and celebrity content on social, #NASCARGoesWest saw “massive” growth in engagement over 2015, with hashtag use up 71%, according to Gregory.

Pulling off a cross-platform campaign requires careful coordination between leagues, athletes and the end advertiser to ensure fans find it authentic and true to the league’s voice.

“There’s a fine balance between what’s too commercial versus what’s sharable in branded content,” said Deirdre Lester, EVP of ads and sponsorship for Whistle Sports, formerly an exec at MLB Advanced Media. “Our biggest role is going out in market and educating people on how you use social platforms in conjunction with your larger sports investments.”

Although it can be hard to quantify a video for Facebook vs. Snapchat vs. Twitter, Lester said brands demand hard metrics from the outset.

In addition to measuring views, engagement and watch time (specifically for long-form) cross-platform, Whistle Sports conducts brand lift studies to ensure KPIs are met, such as purchase intent or whether someone is more likely to recommend a product or see a film.

But given measurement is still nascent, there’s still a lot of legwork to be done to meet advertiser guarantees, Lester said.

“On Snapchat, we still measure campaigns manually,” she said. “We have a partner management and analytics team with access to all 400 creators’ social platforms, so we can holistically measure across network, as well as influencer by influencer and channel by channel, to see what [resonates] and what doesn’t.”

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