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Live Sports Advertising: A Slam Dunk for Brands

Updated: May 8

Streamers are the new home for live sports, offering fans and advertisers big advantages linear TV couldn't.

women's basketball game

Live sports advertising was already on fire thanks to CTV streaming the NFL and NBA, but Women's March Madness 2024 has been a slam dunk for media buyers.

The buzz around Iowa's star Caitlin Clark culminated in an NCAA Final game that drew 18.87 million viewers, the most watched basketball game — college or pro, men’s or women’s — since the 2019 NCAA men’s championship game. That's an enormous audience of highly passionate and engaged consumers.

As women's sports viewership grows, the ad dollars flow -- brands like Home Depot, Ritz, and Aflac sold out all of Disney's ad inventory for March Madness two weeks in advance.

We all know live sports are popular with consumers, but what about the backend? Does this channel provide advertisers with the results necessary to justify the cost?


Why advertise in live sports?

  1. Audience Reach and Engagement: Live sports still reign supreme as the most-watched TV broadcasts. Brands have long understood that the sports fan is engaged and deeply loyal - so having access to them via CTV can be a goldmine for marketing teams.

  2. CTV Enables Mix of Ad Creative Formats: Live sports streaming on OTT platforms enables advertisers to reach entirely new audiences of dedicated sports fans with creative, personalized ad messaging.

  3. Precise Audience Targeting: The ad inventory can be bought programmatically, which allows media buyers to target precise audiences at the most efficient cost.

  4. Emotional Connection: Brands can tap into the deep emotional connection viewers feel for their teams by telling impactful stories. Take this Cetaphil Super Bowl ad, for example! Tug at the heartstrings, and you won't be forgotten.

  5. Omnichannel Opportunities: Sports isn't just on TV -- the players amass huge followings on social media, tell their stories in the press, sign endorsement deals, and inspire sports betting (another exploding advertising channel!) -- which means plenty of opportunities for retargeting and reinforcement.

TV is an excellent brand awareness lifter, but people need to know how and where to buy your product or service in order to drive a sale.

How brands can win at live sports advertising:

A. Plan

It can be challenging to plan, measure, and analyze the effectiveness of ad spend on sports events throughout a season because viewership is subject to peaks and valleys. Fortunately, some programmatic advertising platforms like The Trade Desk have developed pacing tools to help media buyers optimize their ad spend in real time.

Partnering with the right media planning and buying agency can be the difference between wasting precious ad dollars and sending them straight to your goals.

B. Diversify

Since TV ad spots during big games can be expensive (and thus risky), it's important not to put all your eggs in that basket. Make sure you're building a strong brand identity first, then complement your CTV spend with other strategies like DOOH, social media, omnichannel retail, or audio spots.

Besides, TV is an excellent brand awareness lifter, but people need to know how and where to buy your product or service in order to drive a sale. Shoppable CTV elements like QR codes or text codes can get viewers engaged right from their couch. Or you could include a clear call to action in your ad creative directing viewers to your website or store.

C. Think Local

Costly national TV spots aren't the only option for sports advertising. Local affiliate stations sell ad inventory, too, and they might be a more cost-efficient option if you have target audience segments in specific geographic locations.

D. Measure

To measure campaign effectiveness, be sure you're using the right metrics. For CTV advertising, KPIs like average viewership and unique viewers are most relevant. Cross-reference these with other channels like social media growth and merch sales.

E. Grow

eMarketer predicts that viewership of digital live sports content in the US will reach 90.7 million by 2025! That's an enormous growth opportunity brands can bet on.


This piece originally appeared in our weekly Paid Media Insights newsletter. For more tips, research, and analysis; subscribe for free here.

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