Win One for the Team With a Sports-Oriented Ad Service

What does a sports sponsorship veteran who was responsible for one of the very first such online ad deals do when he wants a new challenge? He launches a sports-oriented online ad service.

If your clients are itching to get a spot on the official sites of sports teams such as the Chicago Bears or Cincinnati Bengals, or you’re tired of the hassle of booking such placements through multiple ad vendors, check out SportsAdMarketplace. Launched this month, the San Francisco-based ad service is coupling access to pro and college team sites with buyer-coveted standardized Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) ad formats.

Behind the venture is new ad services company, Berridge Interactive. Founder Kirk Berridge is a sports Internet marketing superstar of sorts. He sold the first sports online ad deal on the San Jose Sharks site in 1997 (the Sharks, he says, were the first team to launch a Web site, back in 1995). With SportsAdMarketplace, Berridge will apply the expertise he gleaned from working with the Sharks, along with the San Francisco 49ers, to a product designed for a crowd that was once his competition.

“[Sports] teams haven’t been penetrating the online advertising market,” says Berridge. “Many sports publishers were not even aware of IAB standards or had a variety of non-standard sizes on their sites. Advertisers would have had to do team-by-team deals to penetrate this market, which just isn’t efficient.”

Berridge began to envision the product after leaving the 49ers in 2004. Though he doesn’t like to refer to it as an ad network (“They’re associated with blind buys,” he says), that’s essentially what SportsAdMarketplace is. As the only service to sell ad placements on both pro and college sports team sites (40 to be exact), the “marketplace” allows advertisers to target males 18 to 49 on popular, branded sports team properties.

“Chicago Bears fans are fans of the Bears, not of a media site [such as ESPN.com],” Berridge says. “This is the essence of sports sponsorship, and through one insertion order and one invoice advertisers can get critical mass across all sports team sites.”

So far, SportsAdMarketplace has been focusing on football sites, with its first ads scheduled to go live at the beginning of September. Plans to expand to basketball are in the works for later this year. The service has already received RFPs (define) from such companies as FedEx, Electronic Arts (EA), and DIRECTV.

The ad service will offer three ad placement options, all of which should be comfortingly familiar to buyers who patronize ad networks. Advertisers can choose from the run-of-marketplace option (similar to run-of-network buy), the channel-specific buy (either pro or college site placements), or the site-specific placement. All rates will adhere to a CPM (define) pricing model and increase in relation to the level of marketplace targeting desired.

The continued emergence of specialty ad placement services such as this one bodes very well for online advertisers and our industry as a whole. Improved access to niche advertising and standardized formats on niche sites makes campaign planning and execution far less demanding. The increased ad spending this simplified system affords will further increase our industry’s success. Once, buyers were forced to make network buys blindly. Now, they have access to recognized branded sites and the audiences that have traditionally been more challenging to reach.

That interactive marketers such as Berridge, an expert in his niche, are increasingly behind these ventures is also encouraging, particularly when you consider the somewhat philanthropic nature of their motivation. “My objective is simple: to create positive change in my industry,” he says.

Chalk it up to the vision of one sports online marketing legend.

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