After A Slow Start, Programmatic Is Picking Up Speed At Motorsport Network

Until recently, “programmatic” meant “remnant” at Motorsport Network, a digital media and broadcast company geared toward motorsport enthusiasts.

“One of the main concerns our salespeople had was that, when inventory becomes available to buy programmatically, it immediately has the stigma that it’s remnant or somehow lower in quality,” said Mark Fragoulias, global director of ad operations and programmatic at Motorsport Network.

But that notion is running out of gas, even with the more old-school, traditional brands that populate Motorsport Network’s advertiser roster.

“When we sell programmatic, we make sure advertisers know they can still get a premium placement, a high share of voice,” Fragoulias said. “It’s just a different way of accessing the inventory.”

Although custom editorial content packages and splashy sponsorships aligned with racing events like NASCAR and Formula One are still the biggest draw – and the biggest moneymakers – programmatic native and display are increasingly used to sweeten the deal, especially during the off season when there aren’t any races on the calendar.

“We’ve been offering programmatic almost as an upsell,” said Fragoulias, noting that there’s been growing advertiser interest in buying high-impact units programmatically.

Motorsport Network is in the process of evaluating how to make site takeovers and wallpaper skins available in private marketplaces. Video inventory will soon be available programmatically in response to requests from existing advertisers.

“When we first started working with Verizon a year or two ago, they were far more sponsorship-oriented, and we did a lot of custom work for them,” Fragoulias said. “This year, we’re in conversations to shift more to programmatic and to do more programmatically.”

These days, most of the deals that Motorsport cuts are what Fragoulias called “hybrid deals,” which are custom activations rounded out with programmatic for brands like Verizon and Geico. But a handful are straight-up programmatic deals, including one ongoing campaign that Motorsport is running through a PMP for Nissan-owned luxury carmaker Infiniti in Italy.

In addition to opening up more inventory to programmatic, Motorsport Network is planning to roll out audience-based targeting capabilities. For the moment, most of the targeting that Motorsport offers is pegged to content categories and site sections. Fragoulias and his team are slowly kicking the tires on a number of different data management platforms.

The audience that Motorsport Network attracts is an enthusiastic one mainly between the ages of 15 and 55, with about 30% females – more than one might imagine. It’s also a geographically diverse audience spread across multiple markets, including the US, UK, Italy, Germany and France.

“This is generally an affluent audience, and they’re loyal to our sponsors,” said Zak Brown, chairman of Motorsport Network. “That makes them attractive for advertisers to engage with – advertisers that are getting more sophisticated with their targeting.”

And with that growing sophistication comes a widening embrace of programmatic.

When Motorsport Network salespeople hit the proverbial pavement, they draw a clear distinction between inventory types in their pitches, Fragoulias said.

Showing a banner ad to someone who’s already seen 15 different ads while browsing across 10 different pages is admittedly remnant.

“But there’s a difference between that and a high-impact unit,” he said. “Just because something is being bought programmatically doesn’t change the fact that it can provide 100% share of voice for first look.”

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