How 'Virtual' Advertising Is Helping Brands Reach International Soccer Fans

How 'Virtual' Advertising Is Helping Brands Reach International Soccer Fans

Virtual advertising technology delivers targeting pitchside advertising to international fans. Photo: ADI.ADI

US soccer fans watching televised action from Germany’s Bundesliga this season will see something different on screen from their German counterparts.

And fans in China, Australia or other parts of the world, watching the same match at the same time, will also have fractionally different viewing experiences.

The Bundesliga, which begins today, has become the first of Europe’s ‘big five’ leagues to fully test and approve ‘virtual’ advertising – a technology that virtually substitutes the advertising on perimeter boards around the edge of the pitch.

While the technology makes no difference to what fans see on the pitch, virtual advertising images digitally inserted on pitchside advertising boards will be unique to their region.  

This allows clubs to tailor advertising that is most relevant to the respective international TV audience, whether they are watching from their armchair in Los Angeles, Beijing, Sydney or any other global market.

The potential windfall for clubs employing virtual advertising is not insignificant. A report from Nielsen Sports found the 18 Bundesliga clubs could potentially boost collective advertising revenue by 7%, or €60 million ($69.7m), by selling targeted advertising to fans in five international territories.

The augmented reality technology, created by Supponor, is built into ‘Virtual Hybrid’ LED systems made by stadium screen specialists, ADI.

The English FA used the technology to deliver modified feeds for England’s World Cup warm-up against Costa Rica.ADI

The technology was used in the German Supercup earlier this month, with “modified feeds” providing targeted ads to fans watching in North Asia, South Asia, the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa.

“The sports advertising/sponsorship market has really matured in many top tier sports. Clubs and rights holders need to find ways of delivering greater value for their partners or to segment their offering more effectively,” ADI CEO Geraint Williams told me.

“(With this technology) Brands can speak to their target market in their native language and align their message with regional brand strategy.”

While the Bundesliga is leading the charge, other leagues, and sports, that attract large international audiences are naturally interested in the technology. ADI is at various stages of integration and testing with the NFL, NHL and NBA, for example.

The English Football Association has also been an early adopter, deploying the technology for England’s World Cup warm-up against Costa Rica in June. Region-specific digital ads and messaging were inserted for a feed in the Americas and another in the rest of the world, in addition to the in-stadium domestic feed with the advertisements physically at the ground.

The Premier League, with its huge global audience, is another which may invest more heavily in the technology.

“Each club attracts significant investment from international partners. Watch any Premier League game and you’ll see that the perimeter media space is full of adverts for multinational brands as well as adverts for numerous Asian partners which are, quite frankly, wasted on the vast majority of the viewing audience,” Williams said.

“All of the parts of the puzzle seem to be in place. The viewing audience is there, the demand from partners is there, and the technology is here.

“Over the past two to three years we’ve seen significant increase in demand from clubs for the technology, with around 25% of clubs now having systems that are either fully functioning Virtual Hybrid systems, or they have the ability to be easily upgraded.”

As fans move towards online content and watching what they want, how they want to, virtual advertising in sport could become even more targeted. Supponor is currently developing technology to insert virtual ads from the online world which are targeted at individual IP addresses.

“Ultimately, we see a day when virtual advertising will be able to reach viewers with tailored content, not just on an international level, but by individual,” Williams said.

“That could mean the likes of Amazon being able to integrate clickable perimeter ads which are served by the individual’s purchasing habits – much like we see in online advertising now.”

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