Sports Summer: The Live Opportunity

By Emmanuel Josserand, Senior Director, Brand, Agency and Industry Relations, FreeWheel

As Nelson Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” In a media landscape where the number of platforms and channels to choose from has never been greater, sporting events can still be a great unifier.

With several major sporting competitions taking place in 2024, advertisers and broadcasters will be keen to make the most of this unity. Live content represents a perfect opportunity to bridge traditional linear TV with newer digital formats such as streaming services and social video. This summer’s action – centred on tentpole events such as the Paris Olympic and Paralympic Games and the UEFA European Football Championship – will show the vast potential live content has to drive viewership and provide the foundation for powerful advertising experiences.

Why live events hold such potential for advertisers

Even with an increasing number of platforms and devices competing for consumer attention, there are still a few high-profile events that are capable of capturing huge audiences. Major news events such as the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II for instance – watched by more than 29 million people in the UK – entertainment events, and sports events attract massive viewing numbers, with many of those watching live. The universal power of these events is to tap into people’s emotions and drive unparalleled engagement, with opportunities to capitalise beyond the loyal fan base; reaching those who are sharing a unique experience as it unfolds.

The size of sports audiences combined with the strong emotional response that sport-related advertising can generate, underscores the potential for advertisers to harness the power of sports to foster a more profound connection with consumers at scale. As discussed by Les Binet and Peter Field in ‘The Long and the Short of it’, broad reach drives the most powerful business effect.

The live sports opportunity

The scale of showpiece sporting events can be enormous; the final of the 2020 UEFA European Championship between Italy and England was broadcast on both ITV and the BBC and recorded over  30 million viewers, while the most recent Super Bowl set a new record for the most people tuned into a single-network broadcast, with 120.3 million people watching. For advertisers, the Super Bowl is also the pinnacle of their season; a chance to reach hundreds of millions of highly-engaged viewers.

This summer, global viewers will have plenty of options to watch the sports extravaganza unfold: UK fans can follow the Olympics on the BBC, including iPlayer, and TNT Sports on Discovery+, while FranceTV confirmed they would leverage as the digital touchpoint to pair with linear Olympic broadcasts across France 2 and France 3 channels. The Euros will be shared between the BBC and ITV in the UK, and there will also be several other big sporting events televised this year, including the cricket T20 World Cup on Sky Sports in June. As broadcasters expand live sports coverage across digital platforms, the ‘new’ TV presents opportunities for advertisers to meet with large, simultaneously engaged audiences in a brand-safe environment.

The possibilities, however, extend beyond reaching large, passionate audiences. Many advertisers will want to take advantage of the contextually relevant backdrop to build awareness-focused campaigns that play out across both linear and CTV. Some broadcasters will be opening up inventory through programmatic to facilitate real-time audience engagement, while NBCUniversal’s coverage of the Olympic and Paralympic Games will offer brands easy cross-platform planning and activation. All in all, these offerings will present brands with the perfect platform to easily connect with sports fans.

A case study by Mediaprobe shows that there are higher levels of brand recall when emotional peaks are delivered by a live sporting environment – which highlights the significant impact of sports association in propelling brand transformation.

Why CTV brings a new dimension to live sports advertising

According to FreeWheel’s Video Marketplace Report for H2 2023, CTV usage grew by 24% in Europe year-over-year (YOY) between the second half of 2022 and the second half of 2023. If ad views on CTV have grown substantially since 2022, live content still only accounts for 19% of total ad views in Europe, making it a critical growth area for advertisers and publishers.

Smaller, local brands, which don’t usually have large TV budgets, for instance, can tap into CTV for their brand awareness campaigns, while global brands can achieve incremental reach on top of their linear TV campaigns and connect with non-linear viewers. Additionally, growing numbers of digital viewers for live events could give publishers the chance to utilise programmatic as a supplementary transaction mechanism to expand and diversify the advertisers they work with, while maintaining frequency capping and industry separation during live streams.

To get the most from the CTV opportunity and attract ad spend, broadcasters and media companies need to make sure they break down the barriers between digital and TV teams, and leverage first-party data to enable data-driven buys for advertisers.

How live sporting events can offer additional value in the future

Many viewers engage with multiple screens during live sporting events. As well as watching the action on big screens, they use other devices to discuss events on social media, take part in live sports betting, watch highlights, interviews, and get score updates. These additional screens can generate more opportunities for advertisers to drive desired outcomes through creative storytelling and interactive formats, such as QR codes, that compel audiences to visit a specific website or download an app on their mobile device. All with the ability to attribute the action to the ad shown on the big screen.

Sporting events also typically attract a large co-viewing audience – with family and friends coming together to watch their favourite teams in their living rooms, or in public spaces such as bars and fan zones. This offers a huge opportunity to advertisers, as ad recall increases by 23% when watching with others, and the social aspect of sport attracts audiences that may not have been engaged otherwise.

With ever-greater audiences watching live sports and even more ways for advertisers to engage with them, the foundations are in place for advertisers and publishers to create truly world-class experiences that consumers will find every bit as compelling as the sporting action itself.