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Keeping Score as Logos Jostle on the Athletic Field

Televised sports at times can seem like a contest of brand names more than athletes.

During Sunday's broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 auto race, for example, dozens of corporate logos could be seen whizzing by at 200 miles an hour. And in coming weeks, a long list of well-known brands such as Nike and Anheuser-Busch will blanket World Cup soccer games.

But as more logos show up in sports broadcasts, sports-marketing experts say it's becoming difficult for individual brands to stand out. And that's raising questions about the value of sports deals to marketers.

With that in mind, Relay, a sports-marketing unit owned by Publicis Groupe, is launching a service aimed at putting a value on what marketers get out of sports deals. Relay says the service will tell clients which sponsorships get the most attention from TV viewers -- and help marketers decide which sports events are worth sponsoring.

The venture is about finding the "most impactful place to put a brand," says Wally Hayward, Relay's chief executive. Relay, which has licensed the technology from a British company, works on behalf of marketers such as Coca-Cola, Kellogg and Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of AT&T and BellSouth.

The new service, called Relay SponsorVision, uses optical-resolution technology to scan sports broadcasts for brand names and images. The scan tracks the percentage of the TV screen that is taken up by an individual corporate logo, as well as the logo's location on the screen and whether there are other brands on the screen at the same time. The data are then used to calculate the financial value of the screen time, based on a formula loosely tied to the cost of TV ad time.

SponsorVision's tracking showed, for instance, that Honda Motor was the highest-scoring brand in terms of exposure during the Indy 500 broadcast. The data show the brand received 1,400 seconds of broadcast exposure on Walt Disney's ABC -- which Relay estimated to be worth $1.33 million. The brand was plugged on many of the race cars, as well as in on-screen graphics during the broadcast and on clothing worn by some of the drivers and pit crew.

Relay's move comes as marketers are asking Madison Avenue for more information about the value of advertising generally. Sports marketing has been particularly tough to evaluate. "There is not a long history of doing a lot of analysis in sports-sponsorship deals," says Kenneth Shropshire, director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania.

That lack of analysis may reflect a common rationale for sports deals in the past. Sports-marketing experts say that for years, deals were fueled by a chief executive's passion for playing the ponies or desire for Super Bowl tickets. The business got started because of "people wanting to play golf with Jack Nicklaus," says Shawn McBride, vice president of sports marketing at Omnicom Group's Ketchum. But those days "are very much in the rear-view mirror," he says, as companies are increasingly under pressure to prove their ad dollars translate into higher sales. Adding to the pressure is the rising amount spent on sports deals -- up 8.3% last year and projected to rise an additional 7% to $8.9 billion this year, according to IEG Sponsorship Report.

Relay faces competition. Joyce Julius & Associates, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., already monitors more than 2,500 nationally televised sports and special-event programs annually. The firm also estimates the financial value of brand appearances. Nielsen Media Research, which provides ratings data, and IAG Research, which monitors viewer response to ads, also provide some information on sports marketing. Neither calculates dollar value, however.

 

Suzanne Vranica, The Wall Street Journal. June 1, 2006

Copyright © 2006 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.. All rights reserved.

 

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