MBPT Spotlight: For InStadium, Brands Get A Big Ad-Vantage By Playing To Sports Fans

During the heydays of Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, an advertisement on the right-centerfield fence of the Dodgers’ then-home stadium proclaimed, “Hit Sign, Win Suit. Abe Stark. Brooklyn’s Leading Clothier.”

The sign is part of baseball folklore. Its presence in the stadium inspired fans to buy Stark’s suits, and when it appeared on newscasts and televised Dodgers games it boosted his popularity, helping him become a key figure in New York politics as president of the City Council and later as Brooklyn borough president.

But with the advent of technology, LED lights, Dolby sound, massive HD video screens (such as the one in Dallas’ AT&T Stadium) and other advancements, sports venues have become an increasingly powerful source of advertising and marketing.

InStadium Inc. is a sports media company with myriad national marketers and nearly 500 teams as partners, including the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS and NCAA, enabling it to lay claim as the “largest in-stadium video network in the country.”

Its current or recent clients include ABC, AT&T, Chevrolet, Disney, Ford, Geico, Google, HBO, Lexus and Microsoft.

Last July, InStadium upped the ante on in-game sports marketing with InStadiumTV, which launched in MLB and minor league baseball stadiums, airing brand-sponsored videos prior to 1,285 games that were viewed by 5.3 million fans, according to the company. InStadiumTV is described as a “short-form video program designed to amuse, educate and inspire sports fans before the game begins [which] offers unique and engaging content and encourages fan participation via mobile and social promotions.”

In January, InStadiumTV was unveiled in an additional 65-plus NCAA basketball arenas in time for March Madness as well as in several NBA arenas. According to the Chicago-based firm, which traces its roots back to 2003 when it placed signage in stadium bathrooms, InStadiumTV “goes beyond traditional 30-second advertising by offering brands the opportunity to sponsor video and mobile content.”

Here, Barrett Davie, executive VP and founder of InStadium, talks about sports marketing, working with teams and brands to reach fans and consumers and how his knowledge and understanding of the sports venue economic model is driving new revenue streams for the sports industry.

You have a background in law, as a football player at Tulane and a love of sports—how did all that get you to this place in time?

My partners and I were in the venture capital space in Chicago, working with start-ups, and we had a client with an opportunity, but one that was in a different space than the one in which we now are. It goes back to 2003 with restroom advertising in sports stadiums, first with the Chicago White Sox. We don’t do that anymore, but you can still walk into some stadium bathrooms and see InStadium brands in the bathrooms.

What did you see in the market that made you confident enough to move ahead?

We saw a large audience and we saw a way to fill a need for fans, teams and companies. There are 128 million unique adults 18+ who go to stick-and-ball venues in the U.S. each year. We have more than 450 pro and college team partnerships including Learfield and IMG and Minor League Baseball as corporate entities. This is an audience that includes some 43 million boomers and 46 million millennials, so we are reaching influential fans who are active consumers.

What made you decide that fans sitting in seats in stadiums would be responsive?

We did a ton of consumer research to learn about audiences and what they want from programming and content on game-day. They want to enjoy themselves. They like to be amused. They like to be inspired. They like to be educated. They want to be engaged. And that was a different approach to what we saw teams and leagues taking, which were focusing on highlights, replays and stats. More than ever, audiences are seeking more from their experiences. And brands are seeking better ways to reach audiences because there is so much inefficiency. We felt that if we could find ways to enhance the experience for audiences and make it more attractive for brands to participate it would improve the overall experience. Teams are not always able to do that on their own, to put it all together and cultivate an interesting and strong business model.

 How did that enable you to bring the concept of InStadium to teams and leagues?

Our business is all about reaching an audience on game-day, when they are sitting in their seats in the stadium or arena. Our partnerships started with corporate partnership people. At some point there is a limit to what [teams] can sell. [Local companies] are limited by a budget. We were talking about bringing in national revenue with a national network. We now have become a national media network rated by Nielsen and integrated by MRI into the planning systems. We started to bring in national brands to fill the national bucket, and we started to build out that model. It became clear that there were a lot of benefits in not just building an ad network but learning about who the audiences were.

March Madness is coming; what presence will you have in the hoops world?

We are partnered with IMG, Learfield and independent colleges in the delivery of ISTV and can tap into their national alliances. We can run generic messages and programs branded to individual clubs. This is our first launch with [college] basketball, so we’ll take what we have learned and will run in 70 [collegiate] markets. That’s an area that will continue to grow. We are working with our partners and with IMG to get it running. On the pro level, we also have deals with most of the NBA teams on an individual basis.

When you are in a particular stadium or arena, is there an impact when major issues are happening, such as with the name of the Washington Redskins or when the Los Angeles Clippers were having a problem with their former owner?

We are aware of situations and what impact they are having on the venues and teams with which we are involved. We always want to be mindful of how teams, fans and venues are being impacted. But to this point there has not been a situation [that you are talking about] that has had a direct impact on our business.

What are the logistics when a team moves to or builds a new stadium or arena, as will happen with the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Vikings?

Our partners are the teams and they generally have the option as to what runs on the scoreboard. There are situations where the team [ownership] leases a stadium or arena, or there are multiple teams in the same venue. In those cases, we deal with each individual team.

How do you differentiate what you are doing from others in the category?

The way we look at it is that we have no competitors and that everybody is a competitor. The reality of the situation is that if a brand is looking to buy a sports sponsorship or looking to form an association with a team or league, we have the relationships and the team partners. We don’t consider ourselves to be in the sponsorship business or sports marketing business. We have built a platform to engage audiences who come together at a sports event. Our clients include major automakers such as Lexus, Ford and Chevy; Geico, Microsoft, Google, McDonald’s, Disney—a great group of clients who work with us because we have shown we have the reach, the impact and the results in driving awareness.

What do you feel are the keys for InStadium to achieve the results that the teams want?

The results we get are a function of three things—Who the audience is, the power of the assets themselves and the place in time in which we work. We focus a lot of our attention on the 60 minutes of pregame, which our research has shown is the best time to reach people. That is when they are most excited, when they are anxious to participate in what is happening in the stadium. And then once the game starts, we continue to engage them and to drive participation.

What are you looking at as far as successful metrics?

It depends on what the client is looking for. We’ve done research on everything from awareness and recall to favorability to purchase intent and actual purchase. As one example, we had an auto brand that we worked with in the second quarter of 2014. For their national buy, they spent 1% of their [marketing budget] for the quarter with us, which turned out to be $75,000. They were spending $7.5 million on that one DMA in the quarter. For them, we reached 7% of the adults in the marketplace. But of greater importance for them, we reached more than 10% of the adults 18+ in households with incomes of $100,000-$150,000, which was the target for an auto launch they were undertaking. So for 1% of their spend, we reached 10% of their audience. In addition, they had done research which showed that 28% of their target audience was aware of the launch. When they did an analysis of our audiences at games, the awareness jumped to 43%.

What are InStadium’s goals and plans moving forward?

Our mission is threefold: Improve fan experiences at live sports events, help teams survive and thrive as marketing technology evolves and help brands generate results from in-stadium marketing. We want to continue to grow and get our messaging to more fans and venues. By the end of 2015 we should be running across most of the pro and college sports teams in America. Farther down the road, we know we will continue to have content and product that audiences want. We know that our team partners are interested in good content and that there is a lot of opportunity to build more and longer-term relationships. I believe that our business will grow dramatically over the next three years as we continue to show how impactful their messages can be in the environment in which we work.

Reprinted with permission from NYSportsJournalism.com.