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Volume 20 No. 41

In Depth

The way ESPN’s Ed Erhardt recalls it, his marketing and sales team had been trying for years to convince manufacturers of men’s grooming products that their products needed to be featured on the all-sports network. With few exceptions, there was general reluctance. The prevailing thought was that women bought health and beauty aids for their significant others, and those women were better targeted elsewhere.

Four to five years later, nearly every ESPN media platform has ad buys from the likes of Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Dial. P&G went strong into sports with brands such as Head & Shoulders, as did Dial’s Right Guard, Unilever’s Dove Men + Care and Axe brands.

ESPN tracks consumer behavior across the growing list of media platforms.
Photo by: ESPN
While it may not exactly have been cause/effect, before the migration started, ESPN research was able to demonstrate to advertisers that not only did men buy more of their own grooming products than was generally acknowledged, they ranked price “low” and brand name “high” when considering grooming purchases.

Through qualitative and quantitative measures, which included following shoppers into stores, “We were able to show that the kind of men ESPN attracts are high-margin customers that any brand wants,” said Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales. “These are high-margin consumers that shop quickly, are more brand loyal, and tended to not shop for price.”

Those are the types of customers whose shopping habits are best reinforced through advertising, and an ideal story to tell anyone reticent to add ESPN media to their marketing mix.

Such is the power of research at the all-sports media giant.

Evidence of ESPN’s influence in media research can be seen in its leadership position within the Media Behavior Institute’s USA TouchPoints, a cross-platform initiative designed to enhance marketing and media return on investment. ESPN also has leading involvement within the Coalition for Innovative Media Measurement, an organization founded by 14 national TV content providers, agencies and advertisers to promote measurement innovation. The two organizations use their research to support the media advertising market.

“Our research is a difference-maker and we believe we have to have points of view from network, client and agency represented on our side to formulate good answers, so we have invested,” Erhardt said.

“They really are the master of integrating research in their pitches,” said Darren Marshall, executive vice president of

consulting and research at rEvolution, currently involved in the company’s first project with ESPN research. “They are just more sophisticated about using new research to show what sports can do for brands, versus dumbing down media metrics for sports sponsors, which is what usually happens.”

In recent years, sports properties have pushed cross-platform, as they also have become media companies. ESPN was establishing the basics early, perhaps the most important of which is that cross-media usage is additive, not dilutive.

“You go back 20 years and all media was measured pretty adequately, whether it was television, radio, outdoor or print,” said Artie Bulgrin, ESPN’s senior vice president of research and analytics. “Today that is not the case. Now, the big question is, how can you make everything work together and measure it cohesively in a cross-platform world?”

Bulgrin presides over a department that has grown from two people when he arrived 15 years ago, to 60 today, with satellite offices in Europe and Central and South America.

Just as questions about sponsorship’s efficacy multiplied as pricing increased and the recession squeezed marketing budgets, so too did sports advertisers see new accountability from sports media. Thus, ESPN has produced more campaign-specific research in recent years.

“It used to be just about high ratings and reach, and that was enough,” said Julie Propper, director of advertising analytics at ESPN. “Now, there’s a lot more accountability, so we have gotten much more granular. Across different dayparts we can tell clients what the most effective use is within a cross-platform buy. In an overall sense, awareness is easier to move. [Purchase] consideration is where you actually see that the diversity of a media mix really impacts results.”

ESPN called on 15 research houses to study media consumption of World Cup coverage.
Photo by: Zute Lightfoot / ESPN
In early 2010, ESPN launched the first of a series of large cross-platform research projects, the first of which was on an unprecedented scale, using 15 research houses to measure media consumption of the FIFA World Cup across all media platforms.

Considering the global nature of the World Cup, along with time shifting and the fact that soccer is easily followed and digested in highlights, perhaps the amount of mobile consumption might have been expected. However, the degree to which soccer fans employed mobile to follow the tournament surprised even those within ESPN.

“The degree of [mobile] usage was so astonishing that we actually had a moment where we wondered if we should report the numbers,” said Glenn Enoch, vice president of integrated media research at ESPN.

Additionally, the cross-platform research showed that in some cases, advertising on mobile alone performed as well as advertising on TV alone.

Outside of the World Cup research, Bulgrin said mobile research has been able to isolate even more qualities about the growing mobile advertising world.

“Generally, we are seeing that mobile is so powerful,” he said, “because not only is the orientation very personal, but when using mobile, users are often with other people, so it throws off an immediate and influential word-of-mouth factor.’’

Looking across the multiplatform universe during the 2010 World Cup, the research indicated that out-of-home TV viewing, along with other cross-platform media consumption, added 1.5 million viewers per minute to the World Cup TV average audience. Non-TV platforms, such as mobile and the Web, added a million people to ESPN’s average audience.

Other large cross-platform projects include a 2010 NFL and NCAA football audience study. The study demonstrated that radio listening and out-of-home TV viewing increased ESPN’s reach by 15.5 million people, or 23 percent, over in-home TV viewing. The increase in time spent with the content was even greater, a lift of 9.1 billion minutes, or 40 percent, over the average in-home TV audience.

To illustrate the power of advertising within NFL programming, ESPN had an agency design a campaign for a fictitious candy bar. Favorable ratings for that faux product rocketed 40 percent within NFL programming versus non-NFL shows.

A recent revelation, of great interest for those looking to tap into the millions of smartphones in use, is that while those screens are considerably smaller than those in a living room or even on a tablet, ESPN research shows that because the ads encompass more real estate on mobile devices than television, they can be just as effective, and in some cases are more so. The findings on this were boiled down to “eyes resize.”

Research also affects programming, since it can tell advertisers whether using talent, billboards, features or any combination therein within certain dayparts on specific media is working.

A few years back, advertisers insisted that ESPN’s “Bottom Line” graphical news feed at the bottom of most telecasts was harmful to ads, since they believed it would detract. Through viewer studies, ESPN showed that commercials with the “Bottom Line” retained their audience as well or better than ads without. The “Bottom Line” now is more widespread than ever.

Much of that investment centers on cross-platform research, and not only because ESPN is probably the leading purveyor of cross-platform sales. It’s the nature of a sports fan to crave information: “Best available screen” is the term ESPN coined to characterize this fan obsession.

“Sports fans are the biggest consumers of media via cross-platform devices, because of this urgent need to stay connected to sports all day,” Enoch said. “Whether it is game-casting or managing fantasy leagues, or just keeping up with headlines, that’s what makes sports fans different.”

For all the emphasis on sports, there is a school of thought within “the Worldwide Leader” that likes to play down games and emphasize numbers. Enoch referenced a 50-slide deck under his arm that he was about to show Unilever execs. Of the 50 slides, only five or six were sports specific, and none were specific to ESPN.

“People think we’re exclusive to sports, but that’s not it at all,” insisted Bulgrin. “We measure media behavior and where ESPN fits into that world. One of our goals is to move cross-platform research from a custom project for [ESPN] advertisers to a standard practice, and to get there we really need to be agnostic. Some advertisers have moved our data into their own modeling reports, which is a big step forward, because one of the big issues in this business is that many of the standard media models are broken.”

ESPN’s 7 cross-media principles

1. New media create new strata of users: When a technology is introduced, some will adopt it but most do not. There is no foreseeable future when every person has and uses every available device.

2. No new metrics: Measuring new media does not require new metrics — it requires metrics that unite behavior across different platforms. They may be called different things in different media, but they have the same meaning: How many, how often and how long.

3. Users and usage: “How many” is not the same as “How long.” Both users and usage are valuable metrics in analyzing cross-media behavior, but mean different things and must be considered separately.

4­. A heavy user is a heavy user: The heavier user of one medium tends to be a heavier user of other media as well.

5. Cross-media usage is not zero-sum: Doing one behavior more does not mean doing another behavior less. Media usage is no longer constrained to limited locations and opportunities — people can consume media throughout the day, wherever they are. We call this “new markets of time.” TV viewing continues to grow because the media pie is getting larger.

6. Simultaneous usage is widespread but limited: While people do consume multiple media at the same time, it represents only a small amount of total media usage — just minutes per day.

7. Best available screen: People are using different platforms at different times and in different places for different purposes. Cross-media behavior isn’t about convergence — it is about the opportunity to follow the consumer throughout the day, fulfilling specific needs and building touch points.

Source: ESPN

Companies and teams long ago began trading and analyzing data on attendance, TV ratings and other measures showing how fans spend their time and money on sports. Such numbers will always be compelling and important, but now industry executives are seeking answers based on a question that, at first blush, sounds like a mushy concept: How do you feel?

A question that long ago became a sign of banality among newscasters resonates with sponsors, leagues and franchises because it can provide valuable insight on when, why and how fans form attachments to their favorite teams and players.

The Philadelphia Eagles use a season-ticket advisory board to gain insight from fans.
Photo by: Getty Images
Researchers point to more expensive and more time-consuming focus groups, open-ended surveys and one-on-one interviews as key methods for exploring what triggers fan loyalty — and what threatens it. Those findings hold different but valuable insights for franchises and corporate backers.

“Why do people care so much about sports, music and entertainment?” said Simon Wardle, chief strategy officer at Octagon, which distills fan preferences through its Passion Drivers research product. “Historically, we haven’t had an answer to the question why.”

More and more, however, Octagon and other agencies, franchises, leagues and sponsors are doing their homework to find out why fans like what they like and what motivates them.

For a team, it becomes vital to recognize that a lapsed season-ticket account involves more than a straightforward transaction, for example.

“If you’re a Vikings ticket holder, you’re not happy with the way the team is performing,” said Steve Seiferheld, Turnkey Intelligence senior vice president, picking a team at random. “If the Vikings continue to fail to meet my expectations, the team has to win me back. If I decide not to renew my tickets, it’s not just a purchase decision, it’s a break-up. That’s the part that gets overlooked.”

On the corporate side, Seiferheld said that deciphering the links between teams or leagues and their fans can be vital because it offers a better gauge to decide whether a sponsorship makes business sense.

Referring to the recent three-year title sponsorship extension between Sprint and NASCAR, Seiferheld said there are

obvious research questions involving fan attitudes that supersede ticket sales and TV audiences. “I want to know what role the sport plays in their life, how these fans interact with smartphones and what I have to do as a partner to take advantage of the equity of the NASCAR brand.”

Octagon and Wardle count Sprint as a client, working with the company on the NASCAR sponsorship and a new NBA partnership. Sprint spent its first couple of years treading lightly as title sponsor of NASCAR’s top series, but learned through research that personal, human connections with the drivers mean more to getting fans’ attention than even the drivers’ performance on the track. The company’s marketing approach shifted accordingly.

“It’s getting to the head and heart and how you as a brand can play in that emotional territory,” Wardle said.
The Philadelphia Eagles rank among the ardent believers when it comes to sifting through constant interviews and surveys to learn more about why and what their customers adore and abhor.

Most recently, the Eagles formed a season-ticket advisory board to gather opinions and suggestions on various aspects of the organization. After receiving 1,000 applications to serve on the board, the Eagles selected 35 people, emphasizing diversity in all aspects, from demographics, to seat locations, to where the fans live. Monthly meetings and regular email correspondence raise awareness not just of issues surrounding game day but also feedback on possible marketing plans and other strategies.

“It’s been a great source to do a gut-check before we go forward with something,” said Tim McDermott, Eagles chief marketing officer. “If they were in our shoes, what would they do differently? Tell us how we should improve, that’s the big thing.”

Insurance company Travelers uses fan surveys to come up with improvements for its PGA Tour event.
Photo by: Getty Images
Changes backed or suggested by the advisory board in recent months include check-in and video-on-demand features on the Eagles’ phone application, increased replays and fantasy football stats on the stadium video board, and a slew of local food options added at concession stands.

Major brands in sports offer varying examples of using surveys and other research to sharpen sponsorships.

Insurance company Travelers, title sponsor of a PGA Tour stop in Connecticut since 2007, conducts fan surveys with tournament organizers each year to make upgrades. To put fans closer to the golfers, Travelers led the planning for an overhauled practice tee area that includes grandstands nearby. For top guests — clients or prospects — Travelers created a limited number of honorary observer badges, allowing inside-the-ropes access to walk near the players on the course.

Andy Bessette, Travelers executive vice president and chief administrative officer, said the sponsorship resulted from research showing golf would be the best fit for an insurance company, and to accomplish an internal goal of including a significant charitable component.

A thirst for beer among hockey fans, who are shown to index higher than audiences for other sports leagues, led MillerCoors to become an NHL sponsor starting this season. “Research helps us make choices,” said Jackie Woodward, MillerCoors vice president of media and marketing services.

Fans who are aware of a sponsorship buy the company’s product at a rate three times higher than the average consumer and recommend it twice as often, said A.J. Maestas, president of Navigate Research, an industry consultant. A prime example: electronics company LG, a Navigate client that decided to continue with a varied promotional push as part of its March Madness NCAA partnership.

LG, citing findings from Navigate from the past two years, maintains a blend of narrow, face-to-face marketing at the Bracket Town fan festival as part of the Final Four, paired with broader TV and online advertising throughout the entire tournament. Bracket Town displays have included not only flat-screen TVs but also LG kitchen appliances through cookoffs featuring coaches such as Pitt’s Jamie Dixon and Villanova’s Jay Wright.

Despite ample evidence supporting more extensive research into what motivates sports fans, Seiferheld, the Turnkey Intelligence executive, still sees room for improvement.

“This is the element of research that is missing most in sports,” he said. “This is the part that gets left out. It’s not hard to figure out why. It costs more.”

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

With so much focus on return on investment, the idea of companies wasting luxury suites haunts CEOs and sales managers alike.

After all, prime seats and suites often count as major bargaining points when a company negotiates a sports sponsorship. With investments typically starting at $100,000 just for a suite, not to mention the much higher cost if VIP tickets come as part of an all-encompassing sponsor package, companies and teams can’t afford to come up short.

Yet that is often exactly what happens, according to industry experts. So much so that a cottage industry has emerged to help companies solve the problem.

Companies are seeking ways to better manage suite inventory so that seats are filled with the most ideal clients and prospects.
Photo by: David Durochik
As much as 40 percent of corporate seats go unused, said Mark Crepeau, vice president of marketing solutions at Atlanta-based Ovations Management Solutions. Ovations Management counts Coca-Cola, Delta, Visa and Verizon among clients for which it helps manage tickets and sports entertainment.

Just as worrisome as unused seats is the specter of the desperate giveaway, a last-ditch attempt to find the nearest available bodies who can help fill out a corporate ticket block. This familiar scenario can leave a loyal customer or prospective client feeling something less than appreciated.

“If you’re in a suite and you chat up the guy next to you and he says, ‘I got the tickets because my brother-in-law gave them to me,’ how special do you feel?” said Dave Grant, principal at marketing agency Team Epic. “That’s a real problem.”

It troubles teams and venue operators as much as the companies and sponsors seeking solutions to the conundrum of making sure tickets aren’t just used, but put in the hands of people who affect the bottom line. Why? To cite the most

obvious reason, fewer people in a stadium or arena cuts into ancillary sales ranging from catering to souvenirs. Much more important, though, is the specter of losing a sponsor or suite holder frustrated by the hassles of mastering the art of corporate hospitality.

Many larger national sponsors — companies with tickets, club seats or suites at a slew of arenas and stadiums across the country — have turned to outside companies or created internal systems to control access and monitor results.

Stashing tickets in desk drawers is antiquated and ineffective. Instead, smart sponsors use technology to analyze ticket requests, track who is being entertained, and assess what resulted from socializing over, say, a Bulls-Clippers game at Staples Center.

“I don’t necessarily recommend to companies that they must hire someone to manage their suite or ticket inventory,” said Todd Fleming, vice president at Legends Hospitality Management, the company handling premium seat and suite sales for Cowboys Stadium and the planned new home of the San Francisco 49ers. “What I have seen work best is the company develops a plan among senior management.”

Fleming points to an approach that establishes defined advance deadlines for determining who will use the suite as well as larger parameters on how a suite will be used throughout the year.

Do top clients automatically get the best concert and the marquee games at the venue? Which events and games will be used for prospecting? Do clients and prospects commingle or are they invited to separate events? Other considerations: How do the various departments in a company share the tickets and how does each adapt its strategies to the overall hospitality goals targeted? What about employee incentives?

Crepeau, the Ovations Management executive, agrees with Fleming and other experts on the importance of priority. Who uses a sponsor’s tickets for a regular-season basketball game would likely differ from invites to a Bowl Championship Series football game, he said.

Depending on the ticket volume and the analysis (who was entertained and when, what did it cost and so on), Ovations charges clients $100,000 and up for comprehensive hospitality management, a sign of how detailed and complex taking a business partner to a ballgame has become.

No matter who manages it, hospitality works best when it’s meaningful and makes a connection beyond receiving a free ticket.

Jeff Marks, managing director at Premier Partnerships, a sponsorship sales and consulting firm, points to a deal he worked on between the Rose Bowl and jeweler Tiffany. The agreement signed last year made Tiffany the presenting sponsor of the President’s Ball, a black-tie gala preceding the game, while also encompassing VIP seating for the Tournament of Roses Parade and the bowl game.

Such access, combined with Tiffany’s exposure as maker of the game’s trophy, makes for a memorable trip for the company’s clients. “You’re creating an authentic relationship,” Marks said.

At the other end of the spectrum, Marks said that sometimes companies and teams make a mistake of automatically including tickets and hospitality when it might be superfluous — and damaging to prospects for a long-term relationship. He offers as an example a local fast-food franchisee group, which may benefit from backing a team by advertising at games and on broadcasts, by passing out samples and coupons, and holding other promotions. There may not be much, if any, need to entertain customers.

In a similar vein, companies have to make sure they have the right property, audience and approach in mind, said Michael Burch, vice president of national sales and marketing at Speedway Motorsports. With a key customer or prospect, it could be important to invite a spouse or other family members, too, perhaps creating a more lasting memory. Pit-road tours and visits by drivers and crew chiefs, standard fare in many NASCAR hospitality packages, can also enhance the invitation.

“To me, it goes back to who are my customers,” Burch said. And employees. As Burch said, “If you run a sales contest [for tickets to a speedway suite], you better make sure your employees like racing.”

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

Turnkey Sports Poll

The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in December. The survey covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.

How much of a priority is market research and/or customer insights within your organization?

Top priority 19%
Very important 50%
Somewhat important 20%
Not very important 6%
Not at all important 1%
Not sure / No response 4%


Which of the following best reflects your opinion on your organization’s budget for the following types of research?

  We should
spend more
We spend
the right amount
We should
spend less
Not sure /
Fan/consumer research 56% 30% 2% 12%
TV ratings research 18% 53% 9% 20%
Media impressions research 29% 47% 8% 18%

In what area of sports does research/analysis…?

  Marketing Sponsorship Ticket sales Player
Other Not sure / N/A
… have the biggest impact 28% 32% 26% 8% 1% 5%
… have the largest budget 30% 25% 18% 18% 1% 8%
… need to be utilized more 20% 32% 31% 5% 4% 8%

Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. Turnkey Intelligence specializes in research, measurement and lead generation for brands and properties. Visit