Turner Just Launched a Full-Service, In-House Sports Marketing Agency for Brands

Building long-term partnerships with Turner Ignite Sports

From branded content to audience targeting, Turner is giving advertisers a new way to reach its sports consumers.

One year after unveiling Turner Ignite, its insights-powered unit focused on content and data solutions, the company has launched Turner Ignite Sports, which will connect brands to its sports programming and properties like Bleacher Report. The announcement came today during CES in Las Vegas.

Turner Ignite Sports is "an in-house, full-service, sports marketing agency for clients," said Will Funk, evp of sales and property sponsorships, Turner Sports.

Like Turner Ignite, which was announced during last year's CES as part of the company's 2016 programming and ad sales innovations, the new division will provide a more streamlined way for advertisers to reach consumers.

The advertising business model "is still anchored in the past," said Dan Riess, evp of content partnerships and co-head of Turner Ignite. "The industry is changing, more than the technology."

In its first year, Turner Ignite partnered with brands to get branded content on linear TV via Turner Native Plus (branded content replaced 200 linear ad pods in 2016), and offered social optimization for branded content via Launchpad (with more than 80 campaigns in 2016) and audience targeting via TargetingNow and AudienceNow (with 100 campaigns in total).

Turner Ignite Sports will serve clients in four key areas: intellectual property (NCAA, March Madness, Bleacher Report and ELeague, its professional eSports league for competitive video gaming); live events and experiential marketing (March Madness Music Festivals and TNT Road Show); creative services (commercial and branded content production, using Turner's production studios in Atlanta); and data solutions (TargetingNow, AudienceNow and Launchpad).

Because Turner licensed intellectual property rights in addition to linear and digital rights for many sports properties, like the March Madness tournament, "we are the league and the media partner combined into one entity," said Funk. "We're a one-stop shop for clients. We collaborate with agencies, but we can deliver many of the same services an agency does, plus the IP, plus our owned and operated media scale."

Turner hopes that simplifying the advertising process will entice new clients and categories, like packaged goods, to enter the sports realm. "For many clients, it's a daunting task to say, I want to be in the sports space, because I have to hire an advertising agency, I have to hire a media-buying agency, I have to go to a talent agency to get players if I want to use players, I have to go to the league and negotiate separately with the league, and then I have to go to find a network partner, a digital partner, to help distribute all this content that I've already paid for and all these fees I've already paid in terms of production and marketing services," said Funk. "So simplifying that for a client and saying, 'we can deliver all of that to you in one-stop shopping' is very compelling."

Because intellectual property rights are included, these deals will be far more intricate than standard upfront negotiations. "These are multiyear agreements that we're doing," said Funk. "We're moving from short-term, transactional relationships to much more long-term, full[y] integrated, strategic partnerships."

Turner is also ramping up its audience targeting capabilities as it strikes more deals outside of the usual C3 or C7 metrics. "By the end of 2017, we will probably have flighted close to 300 media schedules on behalf of clients that are probably going to be either non-Nielsen-guaranteed, or optimized against a secondary audience segment. What we're focused in on is, how do we make that process simpler and more scalable?" said Michael Strober, evp of client strategy and ad innovation and co-head of Turner Ignite.

And Turner's athletes, like Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal, are happy to pitch in with brands to create content. "Our talent has big, massive fan followings," said Funk. O'Neal has 13 million followers on Twitter, 6 million on Facebook and 4 million on Instagram.

Both O'Neal and Barkley were on hand as part of Turner's CES presence today, where they joined Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith to broadcast tonight's Inside the NBA live from the CES floor.

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