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Sports sites offer marketers targeting the male demographic innovative promotions and opportunities.
Sports enthusiasts, whether they're armchair quarterbacks, couch potato baseball video fanatics or weekend half-court hoops warriors, are all targeted by advertisers. But how do advertisers reach potential sports junkies online? And what are media companies and TV networks doing to help advertisers find and develop this lucrative customer base?
Three organizations -- Sportsline.com, ESPN.com and FoxSports.com -- have instituted a number of innovative Web-based programs and promotions:
SportsLine.com was established in 1994 as an Internet sports service and renamed CBS Sportsline.com in March 1997 as part of an exclusive deal with CBS Sports. The company serves as the publisher of CBS SportsLine.com and the official Web sites of the NFL, PGA Tour and NCAA championships (all four are collectively referred to as the SportsLine.com Network). SportsLine.com generates revenue through multiple sources, primarily advertising, marketing services, and subscription and premium products. The demographic audience is affluent males, ages 18 to 54.
According to Bruce Jaret, vice president of sales operations, his company does everything from straight media to ownership of content via sponsorship. Participating advertisers read like a corporate 'Who's Who' -- Allstate, AOL, Best Buy, Coors, IBM, Marriott, Microsoft, Motorola, Nextel, Pepsi, Pontiac, Sony, Toyota, even the U.S. Army.
"Advertisers can utilize rich media to market to our users, e.g., Flash overlay products like Eyeblaster and Pointroll and the latest in video advertising products from Viewpoint and Unicast," Jaret says. "Advertisers can also communicate one-on-one with our users through a variety of direct marketing products."
Jaret says as an example, the company's Viewpoint technology within its Game Center products has been well received by advertisers. For Major League Baseball, for example, SportsLine.com provides detailed game stats, including full play-by-play per inning, box score, a detailed recap provided by the company's in-house wire service, and a game chart that provides pitch location and hit chart information.
"We have been able to take one of our most popular assets and create a real strong vehicle for advertisers to market their brands, all the while without disrupting the user experience, a big win for all," he says. "Advertisers, for instance, can sponsor Game Centers -- DHL was a principal sponsor during the 2004 baseball season."
Last March, SportsLine.com provided live Internet video and audio coverage of all 56 games of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championships on NCAAsports.com. Dubbed 'NCAA March Madness on Demand,' the program also marked the first time live streaming video coverage of a sports event by SportsLine.com featured commercials sold exclusively for online viewing. The commercials were inserted during normal broadcast breaks in the action. Sponsors included Cingular, Coca-Cola and Pontiac. The program also featured video highlights of games and press conferences during the tournament, as well as archived coverage of the Regional Finals and Final Four.
Jaret says that with the NFL season in full swing, traffic has also spiked considerably compared to last year.
"We had about 42 million total visits on the five-day opening weekend and two-day second weekend, an increase of 24 percent from 2003," he says. Unique visitors -- users who are counted only the first time they log on to any of the SportsLine.com Network sites, were up about 20 percent for each of the first two NFL Sundays over 2003.
Advertisers, notes Jaret, like the fact that SportsLine.com has more than 100,000 paid fantasy leagues, which represent more than 1.1 million 'team owners' -- all potential customers. The success of the site's fantasy sports leagues resulted in a 34 percent rise in subscription and premium services revenue last year.
Launched in April 1995 as ESPNET SportsZone, the site became ESPN.com in September 1998. The site averages about 16 million unique users each month and similar to SportsLine.com, targets the young affluent male sports fan (ESPN.com's median age is 29; 94 percent are men; 87 percent are college educated; 89 percent purchased products online within the past 12 months; 81 percent attended a sporting event within the past 12 months). ESPN.com provides up-to-the-minute sports news, statistics, analysis and scores, along with video and audio programming, and chats with players, sports experts and other personalities.
Media Relations Director Ashley Swadel says ESPN.com currently covers more than 50 sports, which makes it attractive for a diverse array of advertisers. Some of the more popular site features include:
"A large part of what ESPN.com does with email and viral marketing campaigns is to coordinate efforts that drive sign-up to contests and sweepstakes that are often integrated with ad sales and/or major sporting events," says Swadel. "Each experience is tailored to an advertising client's objectives or an internal marketing platform."
Swadel adds that if viral marketing is an important objective, ESPN.com employs 'send-a-friend' (user supplies an email address for a friend); promotions newsletters; message boards on www.espn.com/contests; and reminder emails to come back to play (users must sign up for these).
"Typically, our viral marketing programs are driven by a large prize or a once-in-a-lifetime experience that cannot be bought," says Swadel.
Some examples of how advertisers have teamed with ESPN.com to reach their customers have included:
FoxSports.com is a division of media magnate Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation Limited, which as of June 30, 2004 had assets of approximately $52 billion and total annual revenues of $20 billion. News Corporation is a diversified international media and entertainment company with operations in filmed entertainment; television; cable network programming; direct broadcast satellite television; magazines and inserts; newspapers; and book publishing.
FoxsSports.com currently averages about 10 million users each month and is ranked fourth among sports Web sites by Media Metrix. John Trimble, vice president of sales, says FoxSports.com integrates online products with its TV partners to promote various features and products. For example, during live NFL on Fox games the site features content in various forms, such as tickers (pre-game), squeeze backs (in-game), screen grabs, in-game polls and audio mentions. Sweepstakes and contests are also promoted on-air to encourage viewers to log on to FoxSports.com.
"We also develop products that span both offline and online media outlets," says Trimble. "Our 'Email the Booth' feature allows online users to ask questions which are answered on-air. We have also created and produced 15- and 30-second radio and TV spots that promote FoxSports.com on MSN, and specific products, such as our interactive games, Hit the Pros and Race the Pros -- we air these spots on Fox Sports Net TV and Sporting News Radio." (Sporting News is FoxSports.com's fantasy sports leagues partner.)
Trimble says that advertisers are cognizant that FoxSports.com's partnership with MSN represents another tool for them to reach their target audience -- young affluent males.
"It enables us to utilize the MSN instant messenger product to deliver sports information to our users whenever they are logged on to the Internet," he says.
Beyond the IM platform, FoxSports.com can also deliver that same content to users via mobile phone -- "This allows FoxSports.com to be the 'always on' channel with products and services that can be delivered via TV, Internet and mobile," says Trimble.
Trimble adds that FoxSports.com uses its email database/users to help create interest for advertisers' products.
"Most of our emails enable users to forward content to their friends from the body of the email," he says. "This viral technique is available on every story page we develop. Utilizing our local regional sports networks, with our Daily Wire, we can also provide our users with 'hometown' previews on what's on that night's regional programming."
Advertisers have utilized the FoxSports.com Web site for a wide variety of promotions and contests. Samsung initiated a 'Hope for Education' essay contest that encourages students to write a 100-word essay about how the latest technology can make a difference at their school. The winning essay will win the school $100,000 in Samsung products.
Lowe's launched the 'Team Lowe's Ultimate Fan Experience' -- a contest that enables entrants to win a VIP experience to ten NASCAR races in 2005.
All three companies expect their respective sites to gain in popularity, but as a caveat, Trimble says, "in order to keep viewers and advertisers coming back, you have to constantly create a better experience for them."
Neal Leavitt is president of Fallbrook, CA-based Leavitt Communications, an international marketing communications company with affiliates in Paris, France; Hamburg, Germany; Hong Kong; London, United Kingdom; Bangalore, India; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. He writes frequently on Internet and high technology topics.
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