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Why Brands Are Upping Their Ad Spends on This Sports Site That Covers Everything From Track to Jiu-Jitsu

FloSports runs with New Balance, Gatorade

Marketers are taking notice of amateur sports coverage.

Sports marketing is hotter than ever because it's one of the few types of programming—on TV or online—for which brands think consumers actually engage with ads. And during the last few years, FloSports has attracted advertisers like New Balance, American Family Insurance, Gatorade and national dairy org Milk Processor Education Program (MilkPEP), building a business around athletics that exist more on the fringes of America's consciousness than at the center of its attention.

For instance, the Austin, Texas-based digital-media company is readying a new channel for this fall called FloGrappling, which will cover the ins and outs of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It will be the seventh channel on a list that already involves softball, gymnastics, track and field, and wrestling. Content includes livestreaming, an archive of various kinds of video, and text-based articles.

"We have a pure athlete audience," explained David Weiss, evp of multimedia sales for FloSports. "Seventy-five percent of our audience is actually participating in the sports we cover—which is kind of a unique branding proposition compared to media competition that tends to generate an audience of 'armchair athletes.'"

FloSports Is David to ESPN's Goliath

While Weiss' "armchair athletes" comment wasn't necessarily a dig at ESPN, the cable sports giant may have been in the back of his mind. "We are going after the same ad dollars," he later said.

Weiss' sales pitch leans hard on the idea that his amateur-athlete viewership values FloSports' content to the point where marketers get greater consumer-to-brand interaction. "Our audience is participating in the sports, working out six times a week and are influencers in their sport," he said. "It's a really uncluttered environment, because the sports haven't really been covered before. Since we talked to the athletes first, it really creates opportunities for sports marketers."

Ultimately, his sales team offers a range of sponsorship packages that includes event livestreams, custom video branding and banner ads, as well as offline appearances/signage at events like the FloTrack Throwdown, a track showcase taking place in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 8. New Balance has appeared in a few such opportunities in the last year.

"ESPN is an important media property in the sports-marketing world, and the value they provide to New Balance is an important piece of our marketing plan," said Ryan Cassidy, New Balance's digital associate manager for running. "With that said, FloSports offers New Balance a dedicated, year-round conversation with a hypertargeted audience passionate about track and field."

Jamie Rubin is svp and group media director at ad agency Campbell Ewald, which led a recent FloSports effort for MilkPEP's "Built With Chocolate Milk" push. Now, his client is doubling its investment in the sports site.

"They are serving an underserved community," Rubin said. "And when you do that well, there's a high level of affinity, a high level of engagement and interest. We've seen that translate to the brand work we've done on the site—everything from traditional [banner] advertising through syndicating our videos and other content on their properties."

Brands Take Note: Amateur Sports Are Growing

FloSports has more than doubled its ad sales in the last two years, projecting a modest, but not insignificant, $5 million this year. (It declined to project 2015 revenue for the subscription side of its business.) The potential for greater ad revenues appears to be in the offing: Site traffic from January through May totaled 12.8 million unique visitors and 194 million page views, while video views reached 13.3 million.

"FloSports has tapped into a market that was light on supply," said Dan Gilmartin, CMO at marketing services company BlueConic. "By building the audience around the specific content, they give the brands access to a distinct audience. I think this is a great strategy for brands, but they have to have an authentic message for the audience. Marketing is not a one-size-fits-all world."

At the same time, with such impressive audience numbers, Weiss and his team appear to have work to do in social media, where it counts just 678,000 followers across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. But the consumer interest is clearly there.

"Participation in marathon running since 1985 is up 300 percent," Weiss said. "CrossFit training participation has increased 700 percent since 2011. The perception about what is a mainstream sport versus what isn't mainstream—it doesn't have to be on TV to have a passionate community following it. We are pioneering things here."

One of the more interesting ways his team is attacking the amateur sports scene is with brief videos about subjects like Olympic gymnast and multiple gold medalist Gabby Douglas. 

Another example is this video about Team USA softball pitcher Cat Osterman:

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