Media Buying Briefing: Secondary sports like soccer get into the game for marketers, agencies

This Media Buying Briefing covers the latest in agency news and media buying for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Monday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Football season is upon us, which makes every sports media buyer — and fans across the U.S. — jump for joy, given the relative paucity of other sports to watch in the summer (sorry, baseball, you’re still too slow). 

But this summer, a few developments in secondary sports (notably, the other football) have given marketers and their media agencies some alternatives to consider investing in — ones that are more cost-effective, draw more passionate and engaged audiences and are rising in popularity. 

Primarily, we’re talking about soccer — the rest of the world knows it as football, futbol or the beautiful game. (But even sports such as tennis or Formula One racing are taking hold with niche audiences whose passionate fandom can be attractive to advertisers and agencies.) 

“It can be tough at times for certain advertisers to secure spots, whether it be inventory sponsorships, from a cost perspective or another brand has exclusivity so they can’t get in,” said Catherine Kruel, global director of partnerships with Stagwell’s Brand Performance Network. “For sports like soccer, where the fan base is so loyal and so strong, there’s definitely a strong halo effect … you’re getting more bang for your buck. The results can be at times just as strong as in something more expensive from an investment standpoint.” 

The recent arrival on American shores of perhaps the world’s greatest soccer player in Lionel Messi to Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami team has injected a thrill and excitement into the sport not seen since Pelé joined the NASL’s Cosmos in 1975. Even British soccer star David Beckham joining MLS’ L.A. Galaxy from 2007-12 didn’t bring the same level of anticipation — although he’s now owner of Inter Miami so his hand in raising soccer’s interest level domestically is irrefutable. 

MLS games are seen on TV through a variety of channels: On Univision, on Fox, on regional sports networks and through a unique arrangement with Apple TV (which is said to be seeking full-on sponsorships for up to $4 million rather than selling individual ad units). Ratings for Apple’s coverage are unavailable but Messi’s first game against Mexico’s Cruz Azul team drew 1.75 million viewers on Univision, the highest number since 2004. 

“Messi’s entry into the league can almost be seen as a ‘rebirth’ moment, generating renewed interest and increased consumption, albeit in a different era,” Will Misselbrook, chief creative and content officer for the L.A. Galaxy told Digiday en Espanol. “This event presents a unique opportunity for all MLS clubs and soccer in general to adopt a new era in marketing and audience engagement … Messi joining MLS will take the league to an entirely different level and further accelerate the growth of our league and sport in North America, providing even further global exposure for MLS and its clubs.”

Kruel said soccer TV spots can run at less than 50 percent the cost of other top-tier sports league inventory, making it quite affordable for advertisers who can’t muscle their way into NFL or NBA coverage.

Soccer on the women’s side is also enjoying a surge of interest. Despite their failed bid to win a third World Cup in a row, the U.S. Women’s National Team attracted serious TV ratings (6.26 million viewers watched their first game on July 22). 

“Women’s sports fans are just as loyal if not more loyal in some cases in some sports,” added Kruel. “Going off of that thinking and that strategy, if we’re in a space where the fan base is so tuned in and really paying attention, then that’s a win for us, depending on the client and their goals and the audience they’re looking to reach.”

Because soccer can be a difficult sport for advertisers to embrace because it doesn’t have natural breaks in the game conducive to TV spots, TV providers like Univision have relied on novel forms of signage. That includes scrolling animated ads at the bottom of the screen, dynamic ad insertion and even digital out-of-home signage. 

That reality has led to video ratings firm VideoAmp partnering with AI-powered sponsorship analytics platform Relo Metrics (formerly GumGum Sports) to generate a deeper level of understanding around engagement and influence of these types of ad exposure. 

During game play, sponsor logos are visible on players, across field-level signage, digital signage, in the stands and elsewhere. Relo detects and tracks those logos and signage visible to audiences—during broadcast, streaming video and in content shared via social media—to determine sponsor ROI. It’s working with MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL and MLS. Married to VideoAmp’s ratings information helps the leagues, media companies and advertisers a better understanding of who was reached and how, said Bryan Goski, vp of sell-side engagement at VideoAmp. 

“Sports is a big pillar of ours that we’re focused on as we come into the fall,” said Goski. “We were looking for partners that could expand our sports capabilities. And what Relo does is it values digital signage and sponsorships within programs and puts a dollar value on it. And what we do is we provide them content ratings that they’ll use in their calculation to value those sponsorships.” 

Goski agreed that Messi — who he referred to as the GOAT — will be a huge ratings draw to MLS and its TV partners. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw much higher ratings, not only on linear, but obviously digital cross-platform ratings spikes as a result of these stars that David Beckham has brought over and architected this pretty amazing MLS League,” he added. 

Color by numbers

Connected TV is still attracting ad spending, but growth is three times slower than that of retail media in the last two years. As WARC Media noted in its latest global advertising report, the problem is it’s not attracting new dollars to the platform, and media owners are competing for the same TV budgets instead of winning spending from digital channels. — Antoinette Siu

More findings:

  • CTV ad spending is expected to reach $25.9 billion globally in 2023, up a still-impressive 13.2% compared to 2022.
  • For comparison, retail media took 10 years to grow tenfold, while the same size of the CTV ad market grew threefold in the same timeframe.
  • CTV ad investment forecasts in 2023 remain a small part of the $526.8 billion in the global pure-play internet ad market or the estimated $115.2 billion ad revenue of Meta.

Takeoff & landing

  • Dentsu underwent a major reorganization under new Americas CEO Michael Komasinski, resulting in the departure of Doug Rozen as CEO of Dentsu Media Americas as well as several promotions. Dentsu is putting Merkle’s media capabilities under iProspect to be led by Liz Rutgersson; performance creative capabilities under Dentsu Creative to be co-led by Amy Thorne and Octavio Maron; and Dentsu’s media analytics capabilities under Merkle, led by Shirli Zelcer. Finally, Komasinski tapped Danielle Gonzalez, iProspect’s CEO, to be Dentsu’s chief growth officer.
  • IPG’s UM launched Shoptimizer, a retail budget allocation and optimization tool that aims to simplify commerce planning. UM said testing of the new tool led to 12-15% increases in sales for clients using it. 
  • Stagwell’s Assembly landed paid media AOR duties for Brooks running shoes for North America; and the parent company added Qintess, a Brazilian tech company, to its global affiliate network of agencies. 
  • Independent media agency Camelot and video ratings firm iSpot.TV struck a multi-year agreement that makes iSpot the preferred video measurement platform for Camelot’s clients. Services include second-by-second attention measurement for creative, real-time competitive intelligence, business outcomes and conversion tracking.

Direct quote

”Digital out-of-home has evolved from simply showing ads to providing content and other valuable services to consumers. These screens offer platforms such as TikTok, and the brands on those platforms, new ways to reach, engage and interact with users. They want to place their content on these highly valuable media properties because that’s where their audience is spending time.”

— Leslie Lee, svp of marketing, Vistar Media, on DOOH’s appeal to other platforms using it for exposure.

Speed reading

  • As Antoinette Siu’s Color by numbers stats above indicate, connected TV has lost some of its allure relative to other media channels. Senior ad tech reporter Ronan Shields assesses Wall Street’s cooled reaction to CTV growth through the prism of programmatic firms. 
  • Antoinette used a Razorfish study to assess the differences between Gen Z and Gen Alpha, which are too often seen as one cohort when they’re not. 
  • Need to know what “digital twinning” is in the mushrooming world of generative AI? Senior marketing reporter Kimeko McCoy tells you all you need to know.

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