Sports Sites Talk a Big Engagement Game

  |  December 12, 2007   |  Comments

In pitch to advertisers, sports sites play up ability of video, fantasy leagues to keep viewers on-site longer. Do advertisers care?

As the pro football and basketball seasons hit their stride, some sport sites are proudly showing advertisers just how much time consumers are spending with their content in the hope those would-be clients believe engagement translates to greater advertising impact. Their eagerness to crow about such metrics suggests Nielsen//NetRatings' new time spent metrics may have come at the right time, but are advertisers listening?

CBSSports.com recently released statistics gathered by Nielsen//NetRatings' home and work panel measuring time spent on Web sites. The data showed the site had an average of 9.03 visits-per-person during the month of November, and that its viewers stayed for an average of one hour and 22 minutes. "They are not just flying through our site to check scoreboards and get in and out, they are spending time there," said Jason Kint, SVP and GM of CBSSports.com.

Patrick Stiegman, vice president and executive editor and producer of ESPN.com, sounds a similar note. "Our ESPN pages are like fans sitting around the bar talking about their favorite team," he said.

Sports Sites Roll Out Sticky Features

Sports sites are always looking for new methods of engaging their audience, but some features are becoming universal. Most sites now rely on Fantasy Game Leagues and online videos to drive user activity. Last week, the National Football League (NFL) expanded its online video presence by offering "Live Look-Ins" during games at 15 minutes and 45 minutes past each hour for its NFL Network subscribers. The site also provides additional in-studio programming and "red zone" coverage when the ball advances to within the 20 yard line.

NFL.com will offer the video feature during select Thursday night and Saturday games through December 29, and has signed Sprint as a sponsor. The wireless provider is also broadcasting the videos to mobile devices on its network.

In addition to tried and true features, CBS Sports is currently running three different sports widgets, including a Facebook application sponsored by wireless provider T-Mobile. The Facebook app, called Office Pool Challenge, lets friends compete to pick winners for upcoming games. Earlier this year, CBS Sports also experimented with a new ad unit, sponsored by E-Trade, in the form of yellow sticky notes that overlaid scoreboards in its Fantasy section.

Even smaller sites are getting in on the game. High school sports social networking site Takkle last week signed on with ImageSpan to use its CurbStream content network to collect video submissions from athletes. These included several sponsored "video battle" challenges, including a cheerleading battle sponsored by Procter and Gamble, a three-point basketball shooting challenge sponsored by Spaulding, and a battle of football hits sponsored by Nike.

Do Advertisers Care?

Not all advertisers are sold on the notion that engagement equals impactful advertising. Brian Mathena, group media director in Carat's Los Angeles office, which represents both Adidas and Reebok, said impressive time spent metrics don't necessarily indicate consumers are bothering to look at ads. Advertisers looking to reach sports fans are better off sponsoring large events, like the World Cup or the NBA, Mathena said.

"All time spent does is show affinity for the destination," he said. "I don't think it's a direct correlation that people are going to be more engaged with advertising."

Still, some advertisers believe if a users is spending plenty of time on a site, it naturally follows that they are more engaged with its advertising.

"When we buy advertising or sponsorships with a sports site, we buy in the hope that the audience will have at least an opportunity to see our ad, and even better if the user spends some time on the page," said Scott Symonds, executive media director with agency AKQA. "Typically if a site does a better job of building engagement with its users it will help our advertising score better for our clients on the qualitative research. [It's] a virtuous circle, if done well."

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Matthew G. Nelson

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