Thinking Box to Box: Adspace in Televised Soccer

Commercial breaks, timeouts, referee play reviews and any other break in normal play of professional sports are the playgrounds of advertisers and marketers. To the fan sitting in the stadium, these breaks in play aren’t as significant, but to the fan sitting on his couch at home, or on a stool in a bar, these are time slots highly sought after by companies as a way to communicate their products and brands to consumers.

Soccer as a sport, with its constantly running clock, no timeouts and only one somewhat-brief break in the middle, doesn’t possess these kinds of advertising opportunities. Except for just before the game, just after, and at half time, multiple minute television spots don’t exist for soccer. At first glance, it’s possible that advertising in soccer wouldn’t appear to carry a very high value which would lead to less revenue than other sports that have these comparatively more abundant TV advertising opportunities.

This assumption fails to take into account two facets of soccer advertising, the first being that a lack of game interruption actually leads to a consistently captivated consumer for the entirety of the game. This makes the areas that are available for ad placement potentially more valuable than multiple 30-60 second commercial spots.

Standard Strategy

With television commercials less effective, advertisers must look for secondary opportunities within the television medium that reaches those same viewers that more frequent TV spots in other sports do. In soccer the two most used are sideline banner boards and player jerseys.

These two spaces primarily provide static advertising opportunities to marketers which may force a company to adjust its brand strategy toward brand development and logo placement. Player jerseys naturally offer sportswear companies the opportunity for players to physically wear their products while a non-sportswear company has the opportunity to have their logo on at least 11 players on the field.

In some cases teams will even take a page from NASCAR’s book and utilize as much space as possible by having multiple brand logos on jerseys in areas like the shoulders, back, chest and even the legs on shorts. FC Barcelona and Getafe in Spain even went so far as to place logos on the inside front of the jerseys so the logos/images are visible if a player pulls his jersey over his face during a goal celebration.

Sideline boards offer static advertising space but with the proliferation of LED boards there are new opportunities to develop slightly more dynamic digital designs for the boards. This allows for more creativity and nuance in the message. The downside to the sideline boards is they time-out very quickly and most teams have partnerships with multiple brands, which results in sharing of that space with other brands, thereby reducing visibility and increasing clutter.

An interesting situation that this creates for the company looking to advertise means that they no longer negotiate with the broadcaster for air time, rather they look to become partners and sponsors of the teams that are being broadcast.

New Practices and Innovation

The mantra of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” doesn’t necessarily apply in many aspects of advertising. Innovation and creativity are keys to staying ahead of competition and keeping relevant with consumers who have shorter and shorter attention spans.

The LED sideline boards are growing to the point where companies are now able to incorporate images of products and creative slogans allowing those companies to incorporate the boards into the marketing mix of more elaborate campaigns. Nike does this very well and it’s due to advancements in signage and LED technology.

With that being said, it could be argued that innovations do more than just improve on strategy that’s already being implemented. For soccer, standard practices and situational assessments of the way the sport is televised have pushed companies to develop their brands through the teams as a way to indirectly find advertising space on television.

PUMA has recently innovated by moving from the box on the field lined in white, directly onto the box sitting in viewers’ living rooms, the same location that appeared functionally impossible to find space in.

Just like ESPN is never without the ticker at the bottom posting scores and headlines for every sport, so too are soccer games never without the broadcaster’s scoreboard in the corner of the screen and in recent years that has become utilized ad space.

NBCSN Scoreboard Ad

The DIRECTV use of the ad space provided by the transformed digital scoreboard is a common one in recent times and follows the same static application and strategy as standard sideline board advertising. Puma however has taken it to another level with their Forever Faster campaign.

Looking at the Forever Faster campaign video it’s clear that it’s tailored to wide, narrow views with the primary athletes in the middle sight line. Landscape and images in the background, visible above and below that sight line are never the focus.

Normally this isn’t a major detail in the video but in this case, it lends itself perfectly for PUMA’s utilization of the scoreboard as a way to advertise video spots without ever needing a commercial break. The narrow panel provided by the transformed scoreboard simply offers the focus on the middle sight line without the top and bottom distraction, and allows for direct scenes from the full length TV style video to be shown during a soccer game without a commercial break.

Moving Forward

Without a doubt, PUMA won’t be the only one to utilize this ad space in a dynamic way and soon it will most likely shift from innovative into standard practice, making room for further advertising and marketing innovation.

Jersey sponsorship and Kit manufacturer contracts are growing at astronomical rates and companies are looking to utilize these properties to build their brands. This strategy isn’t new, but expect that with higher price tags, higher expectations and pushes for creativity and innovation are sure to follow. Puma’s move with the scoreboard transformation may only be the first step.

Reporting on the business side of the world's game.