Ed Erhardt

Upfronts 2017: ESPN Ties Ads to Data Tracking Fans’ Emotions

Sports giant looks to use Total Live Audience as sales metric

Related: Upfronts 2017: Skipper Says ESPN Is Making Changes From Strength

ESPN is getting emotional about data.

The sports network said it has solved the tricky problem of linking ad messages to the emotions viewers experience while watching games and that marketers are getting higher sales as a result.

During its upfront presentation Tuesday, ESPN also told advertisers it was looking to do business on a simple metric it calls Total Live Audience, which includes viewing through set-top boxes on cable, streaming usage and out-of-home viewing, all measured by Nielsen.

Vikram Somaya, senior VP, global data officer at ESPN, said his team has spent two years proving that emotions can be used to affect the impact of advertising.

“We tapped into the most sophisticated sports analytics team that exists anywhere, ESPN stats and info. They broke every single sporting occasion into a series of discrete events. We call these events triggers,” Somaya said.

There are over 700 triggers that can happen over the course of a single NFL game.

ESPN also has data on 40 million people who have told the network what kind of fan they are. Another 100 million every month allow ESPN to validate their information.

Related: Upfronts 2017: ESPN Sets New Lineup of Weekday Programming

“We are also aware, live and in real time, of what is happening in every sport around the world,” Somaya said. “So we brought together two things only ESPN has: unrivaled sport and fan data. Then we added the magic ingredient, emotion.”

ESPN mapped all those fans and all the emotions they could be feeling during a game—triumph, happiness, anticipation, dismay and more.

Then it got together with advertisers.

Coors Light tapped into fans' moments of anticipation, running emotion-related tailored messaging, before, after and during games. The ads drove a 16% lift in brand consideration, including a 31% increase during pregame.

Financial services company BBVA Compass triggered with tense moments. With tailored creative they saw a 46% increase in visitors to its website, especially when a game went into overtime.

Dick’s Sporting Goods got a 7% increase in retail sales, the majority of which came in post-game, thanks to emotionally triggered ads.

Ed Erhardt, president of global sales and marketing at ESPN, said emotional data-based sales are a small part of ESPN’s business now, but with 30 advertisers now employing it, it is likely to grow.

“No one else can do this. Not Facebook. Not Google. Not NBCUniversal,” said Eric Johnson, executive VP, global ad revenue and sales operations at ESPN.

Johnson noted that in the current environment, advertisers are demanding performance.

“We have created better tools and better insights into your message, designed to be hyperfocused” on delivering sales.

He also said ESPN has been working to make a complex media environment simpler with a new metric called “Total Live Audience.”

Campaigns running on ESPN platforms can be bought, sold and measured using one metric that covers traditional TV, streaming and out-of-home viewing measured by Nielsen.

“We don’t really care about aggregating impressions that are going to spill outside of your marketing windows,” Johnson said, dismissing C7, C14 and even C35, all commercial ratings that include delayed viewing.

“That’s not our game. We’re committed to something even more valuable than that. Every impression on every screen 24 hours third-party verified. It’s one currency for you to trade on. Simple,” he told buyers. “Welcome to the era of one environment, one message, one measurement, one platform, ESPN."