Web, Meet Lord Stanley

You heard it here first: the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup will be the most watched sporting event in history. OK, maybe not, but there could very well be a resurgence in viewership this year because of the web. Last week, announced that with a $169 subscription to Gamecenter Live consumers will be able to watch every game live, enabling them to simultaneously watch four games and get access to stats and fantasy hockey results. Though the price may seem a bit steep, every hockey fan I know is a bit crazy to start with anyway.

Although I will not be subscribing to the NHL package, as a consumer and a sports fan, I think the direction that publishers are going with streaming live sports is pretty exciting. I can't think of a more exciting streaming event than CBS' coverage of the NCAA Basketball tournament, and there are about 5 million people that would agree with me. Recently CBS extended its broadcast partnership with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) to stream live football games on the weekend -- a trend we're likely to start seeing more of by the end of the year. Multi-year broadcast deals will continue to be extended online -=- some faster than others.



For advertisers, the movement toward streaming sports content is even more exciting, and here's why:

1. It is sports. There is a reason why this content category is so competitive amongst advertisers -- it's one of the easiest ways to align a brand with a specific consumer segment.

2. It is video, which always performs better -- in terms of both clicks and driving awareness metrics. Natural breaks in a game make it a stronger outlet for the use of :15 and :30 spots.

3. It increases reach. Basically, there are two types of consumers watching sports streams. First, there's the at-work consumer -- these guys are watching the U.S. Open on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, or have an SEC game on while they're in the office on a Saturday. This consumer will increase reach, whether the advertiser has a cross-platform program with broadcast or is only a sponsor of the digital extension.

4. It builds frequency. The second type of consumer is the simultaneous viewer. This consumer is tuned into, viewing alternate camera angles of the Sunday night football game or watching a competitive team online, and watching his favorite team on television. Advertisers that are able to take advantage of cross-platform programs can be very effective in reaching these consumers, building brand awareness and driving key metrics. Typically, frequency is needed to move the needle on these types of metrics, but reaching the same consumer on TV and online will do this also.

5. The consumer is even more engaged. Imagine this: the advertiser's messaging is in front of a fan watching a hockey game online. This fan also has the ability to check stats and scores from other games, read up on injury reports and get updates on his/her fantasy team at the same time. That's one event with four to five potential touchpoints. The advertiser that can afford to "own" the event will create an impactful experience, but even those that have a presence in only one of the areas will at least get a more engaged consumer.

2009 will undoubtedly be an interesting year for many sports publishers. Those that can get in front of fans by leveraging multi-year broadcast deals will have a distinct advantage. Publishers that are able to integrate video with other online components, like fantasy sports and scoreboards, will also be able to provide advertisers with a truly impactful opportunity. We've seen sports streamed online for several years now, and although the NHL was a bit late to the game, the steps they're taking to integrate with other components seem to be right, and  hopefully will lead the way as the space continues to expand.

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