SBJ/20090629/SBJ In-Depth

Venue-based AMN TV dials in consumers

Scott Grizzle, the co-founder and chief marketing officer of upstart computer search engine NeXplore, subscribes to the theory that consumers retain more information when they feel good, whether it’s buying a car, getting married or attending a sports event.

“It’s all emotional,” Grizzle said. “When people are upbeat and see things that interest them, that sticks in their mind. That’s one of the great things about sports venues.”

That’s why NeXplore is one of two Dallas-area tech firms drawn to Arena Media Networks, which partners with teams to sell and display advertising at their sports facilities. The firms have expanded their business through in-game broadcast feeds at select venues.

“Some companies see AMN as a branding play, but for us, it’s about exposure,” Grizzle said.

“People see our ad six to seven times within a given venue and it makes them aware, and drives traffic to our site. It’s been a perfect fit for us.”

NeXplore and wireless phone-service provider MetroPCS made the switch with AMN as the company changed its business model for 2009, moving from offering free-standing digital displays to inserting commercials and screen wraps on televisions throughout arenas and stadiums.

Seven-year-old MetroPCS, whose pitch to prospective customers is to pay a flat fee in advance for unlimited wireless service, has 6 million customers in 15 markets, and cracked the New York market in February, said Chief Operating Officer Tom Keys.

Arena Media Networks sells commercials and
screen wraps that are shown on televisions
throughout arenas and stadiums.

“You don’t find us on a billion dollars worth of TV [ads] like some other people that have 80 million customers, so just by the sheer scope and size of what we have and who we work with, we’ve got to be a bit more judicious in how we utilize our advertising spend,” Keys said.

MetroPCS first connected with AMN three years ago in its hometown of Dallas, when the two parties signed a deal for MetroPCS to advertise its product in the hallways of American Airlines Center, where the Mavericks and Stars play.

The agreement led to a separate deal between MetroPCS and Center Operating Co., the facility’s manager, where the company became a building sponsor with concourse branding exposure. MetroPCS is also a founding partner at Barclays Center, the Nets’ proposed Brooklyn arena project.

The firm’s target audience skews young, 24 to 35 years of age, with a 50-50 mix of male-female, according to Keys, so it made sense to promote its services at NBA and NHL games and concerts, events that tend to attract that demo in greater numbers, according to Keys.

“It was a concise way to get our message to a demographic that is interested in our products … individual consumers who pay their own phone bills,” he said. “We’re not looking for a subset of corporate customers.”

MetroPCS also runs ads through AMN TV in MLB facilities such as Rangers Ballpark, Dodger Stadium, Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Tropicana Field.

Compared with higher ticket prices in basketball and hockey, baseball’s relative affordability allows MetroPCS to expand its reach to more families, where there’s a greater chance that mom, dad and the kids will be exposed to its brand, Keys said.

The commercials that fans view on AMN TV, whether they are hanging out in a premium club or waiting to buy food at a general concession stand, are flexible enough that MetroPCS can easily customize the content to fit the profile of fans in a particular market, Keys said.

“We can do a traditional 20- to 30-second spot, but then put the last seconds on call to action … with tags that are easily changeable,” Keys said. “It could be a brand-new handset introduction or a promotion you’re doing on a particular rate plan or feature. We’re not locked into anything.”

NeXplore, a three-year-old firm whose search engine has been active for about a year, advertises in most facilities where AMN has deals, and just recently signed a two-year extension that expands its reach to big league ballparks. It is NeXplore’s only form of advertising.

The company has seen tremendous growth during the past 12 months, compiling 7 million unique users in that time, with close to 2 million searches per day using NeXplore, Grizzle said.

“We are not competing with Google or Yahoo, we are just trying to get market share,” he said. “Our objective, out of the 50 to 60 billion Web pages out there, is to help them find what they are looking for more effectively.”

AMN’s creative department helped NeXplore produce its in-venue commercials. Through its own research analytics, NeXplore has seen 20 percent retention in terms of consumers recognizing the brand, a number three times what officials initially projected when signing with AMN, Grizzle said.

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