How programmatic can break through the noise of advertising at sports events

Louis Schermuly

Biddable Media Manager

Sport is reappearing on our screens; exciting, enraging and comforting us in these most strange of times. Advertising around sports events has seen a drastic shift over recent years, with programmatic media buying increasingly becoming the competitive option for brands and advertisers to win audiences over.

Worldwide sporting events have long presented a complex opportunity for advertisers. Sporting events offer brands the chance to get in front of hundreds of millions of people across TV sets and devices from Beijing to Buenos Aires. However, breaking through the ad noise, attributing success and making any sort of return on investment has proven difficult for some.   

The Rio Olympics of 2016 were a prime example of this with 43% of viewers watching the event online, truly relegating TV in favour of devices and apps. As TV ratings in turn took a dive brands that splashed all their budgets on television slots missed a golden opportunity to secure online sales.

However, brands aren’t turning their back on these showcase sporting events. At the 2018 World Cup, there was a sharp trend in big brands turning to programmatic, especially on mobile. Who can forget Uber Eats teaming up with former World Cup winner Alessandro Pirlo to target hungry spectators through TV and complimented hugely by video and dynamic banner ads? The Economist magazine successfully broke through the blaring noise by targeting football fans through a combination of programmatic banner and audio formats, directing them to their dedicated Economist World Cup hub, full of insight and perspectives on the competing nations.

While the Olympics may be postponed to 2021 and with budgets tighter than ever, we predict that programmatic will again be leading the advertising charge to deliver on ROI goals.  

The birds eye view

Advancements in technology makes it increasingly easier to accurately reach target audiences during big events. Most demand-site-platforms (DSP’s) now have real-time triggers available for sports events which automatically upweight spend or simply serve the ads you want to show at the time of the sporting event you want them to show at; pre, during, post-match and at that elusive half-time window. This is really exciting for brands to serve sport themed adverts during events such as Lidl’s ‘Dream Big’ campaign at the 2018 World Cup which spotlighted their charitable youth football initiative. Or even to reach an audience on a lower funnel level, perhaps tempting them to have a flutter on the event they’re watching or even order a half-time snack. Both food delivery platforms and betting companies are already doing well, combining triggers with other ad tech such as dynamic messaging to personalise and appeal to the immediacy of the event.

Google’s DV360 product also allows advertisers to plug into premium content. Say there are various football matches on at 8pm. Between a quarter to 9 and 9pm, you know that a large chunk of the population is going to be checking the Sky Sports app for the latest half-time scores. Activating triggers on this guaranteed, highly sought-after inventory presents an effective and efficient opportunity to reach your target audience in a receptive moment as they’re waiting for the match to restart. 


With programmatic you can tailor advertising during sports events, showcase your brands and serve your target audiences exciting and timely content in the perfect moment.

With more and more users looking online to read about and to watch sport, programmatic is increasingly a more attractive and efficient ad solution. Increasingly, brands are shifting their advertising budgets away from television and wisely putting their trust in online display solutions to sell their message. Capitalising on the excitement that sporting events create amongst spectators, offers brands of all sizes and verticals a powerful opportunity to reach new or existing audiences.

While brands must avoid straying into bandwagon jumping territory, if there’s the scope to harness the huge pull of a major sporting event, whilst at the same time staying relevant, programmatic offers an ideal effective, efficient and flexible solution.

Whether at half-time of the Superbowl or full-time of the Bowls World Championships, with programmatic talking to that audience no matter how niche is more accessible and achievable than ever. The technology is there, the vast number of creative formats is there, now we just need more sport to re-start! 

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