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Twitter last month made a significant announcement at the end of Internet Week in New York, unveiling a long list of new content partners for its new in-stream advertising program, newly dubbed Twitter Amplify.
What initially had been tested with ESPN and Turner Sports has now been expanded to more than a dozen additional sports and media entities, including MLB Advanced Media, the PGA Tour and Time Inc. In Twitter Amplify, content owners have a platform to post short video clips, such as near real-time highlights, and connect them with sponsors.
Insurance carrier Esurance sponsors Social Media Night with the Golden State Warriors.
Photo by:Golden State Warriors
Revenue from Twitter Amplify is split between the content owner, distributor and Twitter. The initiative, marking perhaps Twitter’s boldest push yet toward becoming a moneymaking force, is fueling independent projections of the company reaching $1 billion in annual ad revenue by next year.
“Brand advertisers get, for the first time, an integrated cross-platform tool for reaching the social conversation wherever it happens,” said Glenn Brown, Twitter director of promoted content and sponsorships.
But beyond just a straightforward corporate announcement, the advent of Twitter Amplify delivered something else, something potentially much bigger and more important: another major road map toward generating meaningful revenue through social media.
Much has been said, done and written around the power and utility of social media in sports to boost fan affinity and indirectly aid traditional revenue lines such as ticket and merchandise sales, TV viewership and concessions. And those gains continue to be made across the sports industry and grow more meaningful.
As social media continues to build and mature, though, efforts such as Twitter Amplify now give further evidence that the medium itself can be a powerful destination for corporate sponsorship and scalable advertising revenue, and one far beyond just a throw-in to a larger media buy on traditional platforms or an isolated, oft-ignored execution such as a promoted tweet.
“There is a lot that can be done around the visualization of social,” said Christina Miller, NBA Digital senior vice president and general manager. NBA Digital, a partnership between the league and Turner Sports, recently started #NBARapidReplay on Twitter with short video clips of playoff highlights, with initial sponsors Sony, Taco Bell and Sprint running both pre-roll video ads and branded border ads below the in-stream video player. Those borders additionally contain links to follow the sponsors’ own Twitter feeds.
Turner Sports, which also manages March Madness Live and the NCAA’s digital operations, in March aided Coke Zero on a similar, social media-oriented ad campaign.
“These are highly engaged, target audiences that we have aggregated on social, and sponsors in fast-increasing numbers are now asking to be part of that,” Miller said.
Built around fan affinities
The acceleration of social media sponsorship stems from two primary factors: mass recognition of the sizable audience scale now possible through the medium, and a focus on sports brands as a key point of entry as opposed to social media by itself.
Most industry executives would agree that simple follower and fan counts on social media do not tell the whole story of the depth of one’s impact in the space, and that engagement metrics are also critical. But for many leagues and teams, social media reach is now beginning to rival that of traditional platforms.
The NBA now boasts more than 300 million combined fans and followers around the world on social media. European soccer power FC Barcelona by itself has more than 59 million combined Twitter followers and Facebook fans. The list goes on and on as dozens of teams are well into seven figures on their own social media counts — figures far higher than the annual attendance or a TV audience figure for most individual teams.
And those audiences are highly engaged, as research firm BI Intelligence estimates that the average American spends 12 hours a month on social media, with those in the coveted age 18-24 demographic averaging 20 hours per month.
Television, of course, remains by far the dominant form of ad spending, in terms of gross revenue. But many industry estimates point to a continued mushrooming in digital ad revenue, including an eMarketer projection of nearly $48 billion in total annual U.S. digital ad spending by 2014, more than 50 percent above the figure of just two years ago, with social media claiming a meaningful slice of that money.
“What was before a nicety, a luxury, is now a necessity,” said Chip Bowers, Golden State Warriors chief marketing officer. “A lot of categories are now very focused on social media, big categories like airlines, banking and financial services, and they’re now going where the audience is and where that audience is spending fast-increasing amounts of time.”
Added Jayne Bussman-Wise, digital director for the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center, “Partners are now asking for this, because very often they’re active now in social media in their own business. It’s as simple as that. So it’s our job to help them activate.”
And those activations have run the gamut from branded social destinations, newly created inventory such as the Twitter Amplify videos, event-based marketing efforts and themed giveaways such as the Warriors’ Social Media Night, and more traditional athlete endorsements that carry a specific social media focus.
But both Facebook and Twitter have found that placing advertising on the platform itself is still a tricky situation, and fans frequently balk if the marketing becomes too overt or too frequent on what they consider a very personal space.
As a result, efforts such as Twitter Amplify represent a recognition that fans rally foremost around their teams and leagues, and those passions in turn can be the main avenue toward more delicately inserting short pre-roll and post-roll video ads.
“It has to be done through fan affinities,” said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive. MLBAM is among the newly signed partners of Twitter Amplify, and soon plans to begin running sponsored video clips through the platform. “You have to have real content be the anchor. This seems to be the right solution. Time will tell if we’re right, because this is all fresh snow. But it looks like it has all the right ingredients.”
While there is now little debate about the power of social media advertising, finding effective, widely accepted means of measuring advertising effectiveness and showing return on investment is anything but settled. And the lack of any sort of standardized measuring tools will likely be something of an inhibiting factor on the acceleration of social media spending, at least in the short run.
The newly launched Twitter Amplify platform inserts banners and brief pre-roll and post-roll video ads.
Audience measurement tools in other media, such as Nielsen TV ratings, comScore digital metrics or Arbitron totals in radio, all have their flaws and their own critics. But in those mediums, they have widespread acceptance as a baseline tool to help set advertising rates.
No such commonly used metric exists for social media.
“The only thing that most brands ask about is the number of followers, and that’s so misleading,” said Jeff Weiner, president of ESBL Social Media, which has struck numerous deals connecting brands and athletes in social media. “There’s still not enough differentiation between quantity and quality, and recognition of things like retweets and who gets their social media content picked up in traditional media.”
Insurance carrier Esurance, which sponsors Social Media Night for the Warriors (see related story), and estimates that 50 percent of all its sports spending is activated through social media, acknowledges that the ROI metrics of its deals are still a bit fuzzy. But the company, aided by its own status as an online commerce outfit and active presence in social media, is accepting the ambiguity.
“We don’t have it down to a science. It’s certainly a little more subjective,” said Darren Howard, Esurance vice president of marketing. “It’s a different approach, but we are definitely seeing more customer leads and stronger engagement in our customer acquisition efforts.”
But as each of the major social media portals, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, further embrace the notion of large-scale partnership, the development of richer social media analytics is likely soon to follow. Also likely to the help is the creation of better measurement of mobile traffic in general, something still in its formative stages but for many destinations such as Twitter has approached or even surpassed half of its total audience.
“There are going to be different solutions for different platforms,” Bowman said. “The thing for us to get the user experience in all these areas right first, get fan adoption where we want it to be. We do that and the revenue will follow.”
Most popular teams on social media
TOP 10 OVERALL Rank Team Overall 1 Los Angeles Lakers 16,341,062 3,134,017 19,475,079 2 Chicago Bulls 8,661,902 822,658 9,484,560 3 Miami Heat 8,101,454 1,319,424 9,420,878 4 Boston Celtics 6,926,428 1,106,161 8,032,589 5 New York Yankees 6,345,314 903,516 7,248,830 6 Dallas Cowboys 5,388,264 565,232 5,953,496 7 Pittsburgh Steelers 4,859,038 543,164 5,402,202 8 New England Patriots 4,022,135 598,757 4,620,892 9 New York Knicks 3,725,566 631,581 4,357,147 10 Boston Red Sox 3,814,001 471,603 4,285,604 TOP 5 MLB Rank Team Overall 1 New York Yankees 6,345,314 903,516 7,248,830 2 Boston Red Sox 3,814,001 471,603 4,285,604 3 San Francisco Giants 1,691,037 430,257 2,121,294 4 Philadelphia Phillies 1,303,345 761,298 2,064,643 5 Chicago Cubs 1,766,044 241,694 2,007,738 TOP 5 NBA Rank Team Overall 1 Los Angeles Lakers 16,341,062 3,134,017 19,475,079 2 Chicago Bulls 8,661,902 822,658 9,484,560 3 Miami Heat 8,101,454 1,319,424 9,420,878 4 Boston Celtics 6,926,428 1,106,161 8,032,589 5 New York Knicks 3,725,566 631,581 4,357,147 TOP 5 NFL Rank Team Overall 1 Dallas Cowboys 5,388,264 565,232 5,953,496 2 Pittsburgh Steelers 4,859,038 543,164 5,402,202 3 New England Patriots 4,022,135 598,757 4,620,892 4 Green Bay Packers 3,467,521 461,898 3,929,419 5 New Orleans Saints 2,938,403 320,591 3,258,994 TOP 5 NHL Rank Team Overall 1 Boston Bruins 1,354,437 360,362 1,714,799 2 Pittsburgh Penguins 1,290,056 385,702 1,650,418 3 Detroit Red Wings 1,377,301 301,339 1,678,640 4 Chicago Blackhawks 1,282,458 332,007 1,614,465 5 New York Rangers 1,029,470 236,947 1,266,417
Source: SportsBusiness Journal research
Here's a look at several recent social media-oriented sponsorships in the sports world.
Brooklyn Nets Instagram: The Nets’ official Instagram destination is sponsored by local firm B&H Photo. An endemic
The Nets’ social media efforts stay true to the black and white color scheme the team adopted.
Golden State Warriors Social Media Night: Online insurance company Esurance sponsored the club’s Social Media Night, which included the giveaway of branded texting gloves, a postgame question-and-answer session with Warriors guard Jarrett Jack, in-arena social scavenger hunts and other activities.
Los Angeles Galaxy Social Hub: Chevrolet has signed on as the official sponsor of the MLS club’s social media aggregation, a second-screen experience tying together stats, highlights, Twitter-based voting, Instagram galleries and other content.
New Jersey Devils Mission Control: The Devils were one of the first sports teams to create a centralized destination for all of their social media, and many of the team’s corporate partners have aligned with the product, including the New Jersey Lottery and the state Division of Travel and Tourism.
Twitter Amplify: This new platform for Twitter features near-real-time video clips, such as game highlights, accompanied by short commercials. ESPN and Turner Sports were among the initial partners, followed by more than a dozen other major entities, including MLB Advanced Media, WWE and the PGA Tour. Participating brands have included Coca-Cola, Sony, Sprint and Taco Bell, among others.
The NFL’s McCourty brothers aligned with Palmer’s Cocoa Butter after tweeting on their own about the product.
Palmer’s Cocoa Butter: NFL cornerbacks and twin brothers Jason and Devin McCourty are endorsers of skin product Palmer’s Cocoa Butter, with the deal signed after the two tweeted on their own about the product. The pair now have a joint Twitter and Facebook account, and have posted several Palmer’s clips on YouTube.
■ Who: Merritt Paulson, Portland Timbers owner and president
■ Followers: 10,374
■ Recent tweets: “Have my two girls requesting Van Halen’s “dance the night away” instead of “call me maybe” in my car. Victory. (I am down w T Swift though)” (May 23)
“Looks like I am over the 10K twitter follower hurdle. In other words, a stealthy creep to hitting almost 1% of @alexmorgan13 ‘s legion.” (May 13)
“I think our PA guy likes saying “Big Ass Sandwich” a little too much. Great PDX foodcart partner but best day of his yr when they serve here” (May 12)
■ Who: Peter Guber, Golden State Warriors co-owner; Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner
■ Followers: 31,723
■ Recent tweets: “what a way to close the @billboard awards with #prince live! http://twitpic.com/crue16 #bbma” (May 20)
“couldn’t eat before the game last night who says curry isn’t good on an empty stomach - congrats @warriors @StephenCurry30 #letsgowarriors” (May 3)
Mark Cuban tweeted a photo of the NBA championship trophy.
■ Who: Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner
■ Followers: 1,710,146
■ Recent tweets: “In case Mavs fans are wondering where my focus is this summer. #MFFL pic.twitter.com/WRQTpMDdca” (May 17)
“Loving jazz fest ! New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival http://direc.tv/210IsHGzL @DIRECTV” (May 6)
“if you have to miss a free throw to get the rebound, step all the way back to the circle to shoot. Longer shot, longer, angled rebound” (May 5)
■ Who: Jed York, San Francisco 49ers CEO
■ Followers: 47,761
■ Recent tweets: “Thank you @nfl for awarding #SB50 to the Bay Area. Thx for all support @DanielLurie @mayoredlee & Mayor Matthews... @SFSuperbowl baby!!!” (May 21)
“Vegan banana bread is a great way to fuel up for today’s #BringTheBowlToTheBay quest. Think @gideonyu will eat a vegan cookie I bought him?” (May 20)
“Lots of folks from the 80s getting love for #NinersMtRushmore. Hard to argue, but there were some All-time greats before that” (May 13)
“Can’t hold the big announcement any longer...... Jax is getting his 1st tooth!” (May 8)
■ Who: Dan Gilbert, Cleveland Cavaliers owner
■ Followers: 84,822
■ Recent tweets: “Wheels Down, Cleveland, Ohio. Got the # 1 pick buckled in the seat behind me....” (May 21)
“Thought ‘Elmer’s Glue’ was the whitest substance on the planet. Just watched interview of Joe Biden. His teeth are right up there with Elmer” (May 11)
“I am now officially on Instagram as “cavsdan”. Am I crazy? My kids made me do it…” (March 2)
■ Who: Adam Aron, Philadelphia 76ers CEO and co-owner
■ Followers: 31,040
■ Recent tweets: “By the way, teams do not actually pick the “ping pong balls.” League’s computer does. Team reps there to serve as witnesses to the process.” (May 20)
“Make no mistake with lighting, mascot, uni et al questions. Our absolute highest priority is new GM Sam Hinkie building a winner for Philly.” (May 18)
■ Who: Jim Irsay, Indianapolis Colts owner
■ Followers: 224,667
■ Recent tweets: “Happy Monday! Pacers,keep it rollin’! My buddy Roy showing The Big Guy in the middle is still THE rare commodity in NBA Playoff basketball” (May 13)
“I loved last night! Buncha Dudes talkin’ smack/pre-during-post Big Fight!...the way it’s always been and the way it always should be!!” (May 5)
“For $1000/#12 jersey tell me 1)What meat,fish or chicken? 2)What Starch? 3)What vegetable? 4)What drink? 5)What dessert?..I’m having tonight” (May 2)
WORTH AN OCCASIONAL LOOK
Paul Allen shared an experience he had while traveling in Botswana.
■ Who: Paul Allen, Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers owner
■ Followers: 77,924
■ Recent tweets: “Passionate about music & songwriting, excited my new album Everywhere at Once comes out 8/6 under @SonyLegacyRecs” (May 22)
“Feeling for Seattle basketball fans today, would have been great to have a #NBA team once again” (May 15)
“Giving a snack to young Elephant Warona in Abu Camp, Botswana. pic.twitter.com/Odpq6B1HS2” (May 12)
■ Who: Vivek Ranadivé, Sacramento Kings owner
■ Followers: 7,293
■ Recent tweets: “Thanks to entire NBA for approving sale of Kings to our organization. It is an honor & a privilege to be part of such an amazing community.” (May 28)
“My lucky number 7, day I was born 7, Curry picked at 7, Barnes at 7, seven is heaven” (May 21)
“Sac fans u rock - #HereWeStay” (May 15)
“The older I get the smaller I become pic.twitter.com/f7ozQoFaKt” (May 6)
■ Who: Greg Miller, Utah Jazz CEO
■ Followers: 13,089
■ Recent tweets: “I have a new granddaughter! Ruby Jane Hawks was born this afternoon. 6 lbs 2 ozs, 18.5” long. Woohoo!” (May 14)
“Sources very close to the Utah Jazz (me) verify that Kevin O’Connor is not stepping down as EVP of Basketball Operations.” (May 1)
■ Who: Ted Leonsis, Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals owner
■ Followers: 33,486
■ Recent tweets: (Note: Tweets primarily accompanied with a link to his blog, “Ted’s Take”)
“Less Than A Five Percent Chance: http://bit.ly/10TKV0Y” (May 22, referencing a story on his blog about the team’s odds of moving up in the NBA Lottery)
■ Who: Woody Johnson, New York Jets owner
■ Followers: 23,080
■ Note: Tweets are primarily “retweets” from official Jets pages or promoting fundraising for Lupus research.
■ Who: Jerry Jones, Dallas Cowboys owner
■ Followers: 96,054
■ Note: Last tweet was April 29, 2011.
■ Who: Micky Arison, Miami Heat managing general partner
■ Followers: 101,317
■ Note: Several team plugs, but tweets primarily reference Carnival Cruises, as he is CEO.
■ Who: Geoff Molson, Montreal Canadiens owner
■ Followers: 54,062
■ Note: Tweets are primarily “retweets” and are in French.
Note: Followers as of May 28.
Behind virtually every social media integration attempted by a sports team, league, university or network, there is a filtering component designed to keep the open, free-flowing fan discourse appropriate for mass audiences.
Beyond just looking for profanity, though, social media filtering has quickly grown into a sophisticated effort requiring constant vigilance to identify and screen out unsuitable words and phrases. When fans see social media feeds embedded into a live game video, arena or stadium scoreboard, or in other second-screen experiences, the filtering behind it is typically a combination of automated tools and human monitoring.
Properties must balance filters with the need to keep social media feeds valuable to fans.
“The lists are constantly updating. We’re adding strings of letters every day. More strings of letters, really, than specific words,” said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive. “It’s sort of like vanity license plates. There is no limit to the creativity people have putting things together, and you have to stay a step ahead.”
And as social media and sports at large grow more global, the filtering also means having a better handle on foreign language slang.
“We don’t know every German swear word, but we’re getting there,” said Matt Corey, chief marketing officer for Mass Relevance, which aids numerous sports entities on curating their social media experiences. The firm screens social media in more than 60 different languages. “It’s all very sophisticated and has a lot of customizing.”
Computerized filters screen out posts with flagged words or phrases as they happen, but those automated tools are
Photo sharing on social media, meanwhile, continues to explode in popularity. For now, filtering there is essentially all done on a manual basis, as tools do not yet exist to reliably identify and screen out objectionable elements in images on a fully automated basis.
Any filtering, of course, raises the issue of keeping social media feeds authentic and valuable to fans and not overly watering them down with heavy-handed controls. Both properties and vendors of filtering tools acknowledge it is a fine line to walk.
“You never, ever want to lose that voice of the fan,” Bowman said. “We have the filters, and you have to have them, but fans I think understand you’re not going to see a bad word in this type of setting.”