The Sports Marketer’s Playbook for Online Advertising

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If you’re the marketer of a sports franchise, you know all too well that the closest competition for your team’s business success usually happens off the field. As ticket prices rise all around the nation, you must continuously demonstrate the value of single, multiple, and season tickets to see your sporting event live so that your fans keep coming back to the stadium. In addition, sports franchises find themselves competing with the secondary market (ticket broker sites) that purchased empty seats well before the season started. And let’s face it, losing fan ticket sales to the brokers and ticket trade sites directly cuts into your bottom line.

As such, maximizing your team’s online sales through your primary ticketing method is always a priority. So in this article, we’ll review some important strategies to get top performance in team-driven ticket sales through—you guessed it—optimizing your online advertising campaigns.

The PPC vs. Traditional Advertising Matchup
Traditionally, sports teams have turned to mediums like TV, radio, and billboards in promoting their games. Unfortunately, these platforms don’t offer today’s most advanced targeting options, and their individual ROI can be very hard to measure. So it’s no surprise that more team marketers are now spending larger portions of their budgets online. After all, a Forrester report indicates that sports fans comprise 19 percent of the total online audience; and a survey of Bing ticket seller accounts showed that sports events made up 48 percent of all clicks during prime sports seasons. The audience is there, and they’re active!

Start With the Essentials
So what makes a well-managed online advertising campaign in the sports market?

  • Varying the types of ad delivered. Getting the best bang for your buck means reaching your fans wherever they browse and displaying your message in different and relevant ways. With Search and Contextual, you’re creating new customers from your fan base using keyword interest and browsing behavior. On the other side, a powerful Display campaign helps you capitalize on the millions of fans who are literally trained to notice your team’s logo and players (and gives you the opportunity to capture their eyes with play-action videos in banners). Finally, Remarketing will help you continue to engage these extremely loyal fans and site visitors all around the Internet. And of course, don’t forget to go Mobile on nearly all your ad units!
  • Offering online deals and discounts to separate you from competing ticket sellers. If you can’t beat them on price, beat them on value. Give your fans reasons to buy tickets from you because the experience will be better. Maybe you can offer game-day promotions, free food and beverages, VIP experiences, or competitive multi-game packages. Anything exclusive to your tickets will raise the value to your potential buyers, giving you the “home field advantage.”
  • Targeting specific geographic areas, cities, and larger regions that your team serves. For professional teams, this will likely include large metropolitan areas that are more likely to drive or take public transportation to the stadium. Just like with radio, television, and billboards, there’s no reason to waste a large chunk your ad budget in Los Angeles if your team plays in Seattle—you’ll probably get poor ROI. However, this doesn’t apply to Remarketing. Once you’ve identified fans, you should be engaging with them wherever they browse the Internet, regardless of their actual location.
  • Scaling back or ramping up your game plan as needed. Some games will sell out the day tickets go on sale—others will not. Pay per click allows you to quickly and easily reduce or increase keyword bids or even entire campaigns according to ticket availability. You simply can’t get this kind of responsiveness with old-hat mediums.
  • Customizing campaigns as the season progresses. The tone of your opening day pitch and your playoff pitch likely sound very different, and also may target different demographics. PPC advertising ensures that your ad copy is as timely and relevant as possible. Lots of news stories break on professional sports teams, and your online campaigns should react to these changes to stay current and keep your fans interested.
  • Playing the long game. Just like a draft pick, pay per click is an investment with built-in payoff—assuming you put the time and work into it. Placing ads on the internet is a continuous process, with integrated analytics so you can see what works, what doesn’t, and why. And as most marketers who deal with online advertising understand, you can never use a “set them and forget them” ad strategy if you want to get high performance ROI. To win the long game, you’ve got to test, analyze, optimize, and repeat for every campaign you run.

Keywords: Your PPC Starting Lineup
Sports franchises present a uniquely local targeting opportunity because the vast majority of potential conversions are located in a relatively small geographic area. Most PPC-managing marketers knows where to start in terms of keyword strategy: your team’s name, their opponents’ names, venue names, and the name of the sport.

But veteran PPC managers know the value of long- and medium-tail keywords, especially when it comes to boosting the ROI and overall efficiency of ad campaigns. Sure, “Rockets tickets” might be a #1 priority keyword for you, but don’t forget long-tail, phrase-match keywords like “Rockets Lakers game tickets 4/8”, “Rockets April home games”, or “buy discount Rockets tickets 4/18”. These are often lower-cost keyword phrases that might not get huge volume, but will usually have higher conversion rates because fans searching these are in ticket-buying mode.

And don’t forget about negative keywords! Including “tickets” in many of your phrases are a necessity, but keywords like “movie tickets” and “concert tickets” certainly aren’t. Use negative keywords to remove these phrases from serving your ads, and you’ll start reducing the part of your ad budget that gets wasted on irrelevant clicks.

Game Day Adjustments
As noted earlier, pay per click allows you to react dynamically to whatever the day’s conversation may be, both in your ad group configuration and in the ad copy itself. Is your team on a winning streak? “See the Red Wings go for 8 in a row!” sure would look nice atop a relevant search results page or on a display ad.  Also, keep tabs on rivalries and rematches. For example, if an opposing player of an upcoming rematch made headlines last time he played against your team, work this narrative into your copy.

Finally, just like you might increase your bids for season tickets as opening day approaches, you should approach game day the same way: Look at your stadium-goers’ ticket buying habits prior to each game, and adjust your keyword bidding accordingly. Find the sweet spot when more fans are likely to make their ticket purchases for a game—this is a great time to increase these bids. The competing secondary market is already forecasting and adjusting campaigns this way, and it’s what’s making their profits. There’s opportunity for your team to do it as well.

Just like a winning sports season, a well-coordinated pay per click campaign means covering all your bases, dynamically adjusting your game plan, and experimenting with new strategies. Having an experienced “coaching staff” and a hybrid ad network-agency program like ours can be a huge advantage in the online advertising marketing for pro sports. But even if you already work with a dedicated agency or particular ad networks, make sure they’re helping you accommodate these important strategies to get the most out of your sports marketing season.

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