SBJ/January 29 - February 4, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

The new era of stadium signs is coming (finally)

As readers of this column might recall, the weak impact of stadium signs has been a topic of several previous diatribes. My basic criticisms involve the static nature of signs and their lack of capacity to communicate anything beyond a large logo. And for these dubious benefits, advertisers willingly spend hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Whatever negligible impact in-stadium signs may have is solely a result of presence, not persuasiveness. There's no denying that a dasherboard ad or a scoreboard sign gets noticed during the course of a game. The strategic placement of these signs ensures that.

However, it can certainly be debated whether these signs do anything to increase sales for a brand. In-arena promotions might be just one-night stands and, therefore, lack the permanency of signs, but at least a well-designed event can provide a measurable boost in store traffic.

Technology is starting to emerge that can give signs more impact, whether the sign is in a sports arena or on top of a taxicab. That's the case for a new format introduced this month in Boston. Developed by Vert Inc., the signs on top of taxicabs actually change depending on the location of the cab. If the cab were near Fenway Park, for example, the sign could carry an ad from the Red Sox promoting a sale in the team's merchandise shop. In a different area of town, the cab-top sign could advertise another product or service. The ad messages can change by time of day and location since the ads are fed directly to the cab via a GPS link.

So far, people seem to notice. A Boston resident called the signs "eye-catching" in an Associated Press story. When is the last time anyone used that word to describe concourse signage?

There could be multiple ways to use such technology in a stadium or arena. Signs could change depending on the demographics of event spectators. A Kenny G concert draws a crowd much different than an NHL game. (At least I hope so, for the sake of the league.) A more targeted message would make the sign more relevant to consumers and, therefore, make it more likely to have an impact on potential customers.

Using the technology that allows for immediate changes in information, an in-arena restaurant could advertise one message during the first half of a game, then promote a postgame special during the second half. Concourse signs could be made more effective by promoting one ad while fans arrive and a different message as fans leave.

It's remarkable that the explosion in new technology hasn't yet affected in-stadium signs. The introduction of rotational signs in the early 1990s is the only significant enhancement in recent years, and in many venues, a wall-hung banner still is acceptable. So, it's inevitable that products like those offered by Vert Inc. will be viewed as gimmicks, much as rotational signs were in their early stages. But it's clear that a custom-designed approach to signs will work better than today's one-size-fits-all standard.

Signs that have some immediacy and perhaps even news value stand a better chance of making an impact. And that, after all, is the ultimate purpose of advertising.

Alan Friedman (alanf100@excite.com) is the founder of Team Marketing Report.

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