Out There: Game On

Recession be damned. That appears to be the sentiment for several out-of-home companies that appeal to consumers’ passion for sports. Distribution networks devoted to everything from stadiums and hockey rinks to health clubs and sports bars are strengthening their offerings with a much wider array of digital opportunities.
 
“Today, about 80 percent of our gyms are digital, whereas two years ago, none were,” says Dennis Roche, president, COO of Zoom USA, in speaking of the company’s fixed signage and TV sets in some 1,000 fitness centers. “About 30 percent of our bars are digital, and we anticipate that in three years, all our bars will be.”

OnSite Network is also raising the bar for sports bars and restaurants. Its video service, featuring live feeds of games with local content and ads wrapped around the outer margins of the screens, is currently available in 100 drinking establishments, primarily in Chicago and New York. The company just renamed itself SportScape and is expanding into 500 new watering holes over the course of May. “Moving forward, we have a goal of launching 1,000 a month, which gets us to 5,000 locations by football season,” says SportScape chief marketing officer Rick Sebok. Eventually the company plans to be available in “every DMA in the country,” he adds.

The trend is also apparent at Sports Media Inc., which currently has about 600 Jumbotrons and 25,000 TV screens in everything from major- and minor-league sports venues to Nascar speedways. CEO Dan Kosth says the TV screens in particular are likely to double or even triple within the next two years.
 
“I think it’s a pivotal time, because we’re getting broad acceptance in the broadcast media and sports media sectors,” says Art Williams, CEO of Arena Media Networks, which intersperses ads with closed-circuit feeds of games that appear on TV screens in some 49 stadiums and arenas. He expects to branch out into other synergistic sports locations “in the not too distant future.”

Melissa Spiegelman, managing director of the destination media group within Kinetic Worldwide, says her clients are increasingly interested in sports locations. The rise of digital screens is “a breath of fresh air. We’re able to deliver ads quickly; we can change them out quickly; we can do dayparting and customize the content,” she says.

Customization is key to Norm Chait, svp, director of OOH investments and activation at MediaVest. For a beverage brand, ads in sports bars may be appropriate, he says, “but you want to make sure you can opt out of certain bars. So the extent to which you can cherry pick and customize buys makes it easier to adapt those tactics.” In fact, some networks allow advertisers to run ads only in bars located in NFL cities. It’s even possible to run customized messages in bars that are frequented by fans of particular teams, says Rocky Gunderson, co-founder and vp of marketing and networks at SeeSaw Networks, which covers a wide swath of sports locations.

But there are challenges for both advertisers and distributors as well. Ryan Laul, senior vp, managing director of Hyperspace, notes that in stadiums and arenas, charter sponsors can “lock out” other advertisers. “If Bud is in a stadium, Coors can’t go inside,” he points out, also noting that the stigma against betting can make racetracks inappropriate for some brands.

And for all the advertisers ready to get in the game, there are others that still need to be educated, notes Jason Brown, president of sales and marketing for IdeaCast TV Networks, which focuses on opportunities in health clubs.
 
People stuck in traffic may have reason to look at billboards for several minutes, but research shows greater awareness of ads in places like sports bars, when people’s passions are activated, sums up Craig Woerz, managing partner and co-founder of media agency Media Storm: “It doesn’t come down to the demographics or the psychographics. It comes down to the mind-set.”