Without any live sports to sell to advertisers, media companies have to get creative. At DISH Media, they are harnessing their first-party data to identify sports viewers, and then, using data-driven solutions like addressable TV and programmatic marketplaces, connect brands to these sports-loving households on both its satellite system and OTT service, SLING TV. DISH pivoted quickly to develop its new sales initiative intended to reach sports fans without sports. Armed with data and targeting tools, DISH Media can sell its ad inventory to brands that want to reach sports fans who are now tuning in to non-sports content. DISH Media's director of national sales Jim D'Antoni (pictured below), a former ESPN sales executive, says fans are loyal and passionate about their favorite sports and teams, and their past viewing provides valuable information for retargeting ads for new campaigns.
DISH is also packaging all the sports-related content it can find. Without any live sports, fans are ravenous for content. So, D'Antoni says he expects the upcoming NFL Draft and ESPN's documentary series The Last Dance to garner big ratings — so much so that DISH is offering an ad package surrounding that content.
Without any live, televised sports on the horizon, MediaVillage spoke with D'Antoni to discuss DISH Media's new solutions, how it has embraced programmatic sports buying, and why he thinks brands should keep advertising.
Alli Romano: Without live sports, how are you connecting brands with would-be sports viewers?
Jim D'Antoni: We're getting asked a lot how to reach fans, like NBA or NCAA fans, when there's no programming out there. Right now, we're in this Sahara Desert of live sports, but, through our first-party data, we can track past viewing habits. We know everyone within our footprint who watched NBA playoffs or the NCAA tournament or Monday Night Football last year. We can slice and dice that data a number of ways and we can retarget those households, whether they are heavy sports viewers across the board or those who watched individual sports. If someone says, "I want to reach NBA fans who use my brand heavily, we can do that. That's our calling card in the marketplace right now."
Romano: Can you give us an example of how you've used this solution with a client?
D'Antoni: There was an insurance company that was looking to reach NBA-specific viewers. We modeled the homes that had watched the NBA regular season this year and the playoffs last year and created a media plan only targeting those households. Ultimately, we know those homes are predisposed through their NBA viewing habits. This is meaningful to marketers who know NBA fans buy their products.
Romano: How have you used your past experiences to create this new initiative?
D'Antoni: We've been modeling audiences for years with first-party data. Since then we have built a strategy that specifically seeks out and targets those same sports fans. You can say, "These 2.5 million households have watched 25 or more live sporting events in the last six months," or "These 4.4 million homes have watched the NBA playoffs last year." It depends on what the buyer is looking for, and we can track by individual sport or more broadly.
Romano: Is there still engaging sports-related programming you can sell to clients?
D'Antoni: Sports fans are ravenous to stay connected. Live sports have gone away, but the fans' passion has not. As of now, the NFL Draft is going to go on as scheduled and it will all be remote, with cameras for each team and all the top players. It may not be quite as engaging, but it will create dramatic moments the same as every draft does. Given the pent-up demand for sports content, that will draw a huge number.
Also, on April 19, ESPN is going to debut the Michael Jordan documentary The Last Dance. They were going to premiere it in May, but they moved it up. It is a 10-part series and we're out in the marketplace packaging it with the NFL Draft and live studio shows on ESPN and the NFL Network that will break down the draft and discuss the documentary series. In my opinion, this unique, new programming will bring sizable numbers. When you combine the best in class documentary work that ESPN is known for with an iconic figure like Michael Jordan, you are going to generate an audience who is starved for compelling sports content. The Last Dance schedule change is a good example of the marketplace trying to pivot to provide the most relevant programming possible for viewers.
Romano: What are SLING TV's programmatic offerings for sports programming and is that continuing?
D'Antoni: SLING TV has been providing sports-oriented solutions to advertisers for a number of years. In 2017, SLING TV was the first in the marketplace to offer a live programmatic auction for the NCAA tournament. SLING TV has regularly offered programmatic options numerous times since then, with Monday Night Football, the Olympics, PGA Golf Majors, the NCAA tournament, and the NBA, among others. Now, we have an NFL Draft marketplace and one for the Michael Jordan series. In addition, we are still offering turnkey, programmatic access to all of our premium sports networks. With programmatic being a 1:1 environment, we know that there are still users consuming that content every day, despite major events on hold.
Romano: Some advertisers are thinking of pulling back because of their own financial problems or concerns about appropriateness. What do you say to that?
D'Antoni: There are numerous examples from the last recession in 2008, where certain brands went dark with their ads, but then in 2009 when they started to advertise again their brands were playing catch up because there was a gap in their messaging. Of course, it depends on the individual category and brand, but I think marketers should stay connected with their consumers with their messaging. Recently, a lot of advertisers have pivoted with new creative that is feel-good; the messaging has to be appropriately crafted. But, to just go dark, I don't think that is going to help your brand in the long run. That said, if you don't change your message and have a message unaligned with the times, that will alienate viewers. Just last week I was talking to a beverage marketer who has traditionally connected with their customer base with an upbeat, happy tone. They are considering changing their message but want to make sure it's done correctly. Financial marketers face a different challenge, where they need to offer reassurance and solution-oriented messaging. These are the kinds of conversations we're having in the marketplace, where we look to be consultative and provide the best solution for each advertiser.
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