Media Briefing: Publishers pitch women’s sports as advertiser interest grows

This Media Briefing covers the latest in media trends for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

Scoring women’s sports ad dollars

Women’s sports is a rapidly growing focus for advertisers, and in order to direct that attention their way, sports publishers are shoring up intel on these audiences to make them even more enticing.

And so far, several publishers told Digiday these efforts have worked to lure advertisers — both new to sports or historical supporters of men’s sports — into buying women’s sports. Even if in these early days, that ad spend isn’t yet comparable to that of men’s sports.

Coming off March Madness earlier this year, marketers started to inquire more eagerly about opportunities to advertise against women’s sports, but at the time expressed that there wasn’t enough inventory available against this content to scale enough to meet their ROI goals, said Kelly Andresen, president of national sales at Gannett.

“That was a really good eye-opening statement for publishers to say ‘we can change that,’” Andresen said, adding that it’s an opportunity that Gannett is planning to take advantage of this year.

And given how many publishers — even those not explicitly in the sports category — were boasting women’s sports content a few months later at Cannes this year, it’s clear Gannett isn’t alone in trying to solve marketers’ scale concerns with more women’s sports coverage and thus more advertising opportunities.

Lauren Funke, vp of advertising at The Athletic, said the bulk of advertising conversations tied to women’s sports has been focused on the WNBA, “which I think we can thank Caitlin Clark for.” For this year’s March Madness, she said her team sold ad campaigns across both the men’s and women’s tournaments.

While the uptick in interest has been coming from a lot of the usual suspects of sports advertisers, Funke added that she expects to see new brands and ad categories coming into the mix as audience numbers continue to pace upwards.

Meanwhile, Vox Media’s CRO Geoff Schiller said new brands from a variety of categories have been inquiring about running against the company’s women’s sports coverage for the first time. 

Advertisers have continued interest in SB Nation’s women’s sports inventory, but other Vox Media publications — the Cut and PS (formerly PopSugar) in particular — are pulling in new advertisers, he said, though he declined to name specific advertisers. “We’re seeing it across the board, beauty brands, retail brands — not those handful of brands that have been in the space for at least the last three, four years,” he said.

Just Women’s Sports was founded four years ago by former professional soccer player Haley Rosen and covers (as its name suggests) only women’s sports. In the past year, Rosen said the ad market’s growing interest in this category led her to double the size of JWS’s sales team, though she declined to share the total headcount.

JWS’s sales strategy has largely been rooted in education for new advertisers just now coming into the category, emphasizing that brands should be allocating spend from their sports budget and focusing their messaging for sports fans, rather than treating women’s sports as part of their advocacy or inclusivity efforts. 

“Women’s sports is sports … That’s what resonates, is the fan base is excited about seeing the best athletes in the world compete on the biggest stage,” said Rosen. “There’s this really incredible byproduct of empowerment and raising the status of women more generally in society. But I think if we focus on the ladder [in the ad messaging around women’s sports] we actually don’t get there. We don’t need to overcomplicate this.”

While ads against men’s soccer coverage currently represents the lion’s share of FootballCo’s advertising revenue, Jason Wagenheim, CEO of North America, said he fully anticipates that in the U.S., women’s soccer will be the primary growth vehicle for this revenue stream this year. 

“Lots of marketers are making big investments in the category,” Wagenheim said. He added that FootballCo is relaunching its women’s soccer brand Indivisa within its marquee website Goal.com this summer and refreshing the brand’s social channels. 

“I’m very bullish on the opportunity, not just because of the momentum and the support for women’s sports in general, but also with the products and the storytelling that we’re doing within Indivisa. There’s so much opportunity for the women’s soccer side of our business to really grow quickly,” said Wagenheim. 

As for the price point of ads against women’s sports coverage, one agency executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that there is still a significant difference from the price of men’s sports ads. Viewership for women’s sports may be up 200-300% in some instances, but even if viewership for men’s sports is down 20%, they said there is still a notable gap, which is reflected in the price of women’s sports ads. They declined to share exact price figures for this gap, given the variability between sports.

How reliable is this new wave of advertiser interest? 

Publishers say there is still a question mark hovering over how long the advertiser interest in women’s sports will persist.

“Is this a moment, or is this something that’s going to take shape and grow over the course of the long term? I think that’s yet to be seen,” Funke said. “From an editorial perspective, sustainability is there. [From an] advertising perspective, it’s [on] us continuing to be as loud as we can out in market.” 

Charlotte Mercer, COO at media buying agency Media Two, said that the brand safety of sports is appealing for advertisers in a heavy news cycle and political year. Meanwhile, the lack of oversaturation of advertisers in women’s sports makes the branding opportunities all the more appealing.

Ultimately, though, because Media Two’s client base largely consists of performance marketers, the flow of ad dollars to women’s sports will ultimately depend on audience size and engagement rates with adjacent ad campaigns, Mercer explained. If the audience for women’s sports is sustained, she said expects performance marketers will spend more on this category. So as long as the audience persists, so should the advertisers’ interest.

Jimmy Spano, evp and head of Dentsu Sports Media, said that this year, his team has begun actively building out landscape decks specific to women’s sports, talking about the WNBA as part of upfront negotiations and adding a specific line item for women’s sports in media budgets.

“Previously, whether it was the WNBA or NWSL or whatever sport, [women’s sports] always was something that was almost kind of swept under the rug, or an add-on into a men’s specific deal that was being done. Now it’s its own entity,” Spano said. 

“Over the long haul, it’s been a very slow crawl … but within the last year or two, it has been a sprint [to advertise against women’s sports],” Spano said, adding that women’s sports is a topic that crosses his desk on a daily basis now. And although pretty much every category of advertisers have inquired about women’s sports, he said the actual ad dollars being spent are coming from advertisers that have been mainstays of men’s sports — like sports betting brands.

What’s been helpful for buyers that are beginning to allocate their clients’ budgets into women’s sports for the first time is media companies — be it streamers, networks or digital publishers — bundling up women’s sports coverage into distinct packages separate from men’s sports. “It’s like a, ‘if you build it, they will come,’ type of analogy,” Spano said.

What we’ve heard

“This is a Tower of Babel situation, whether it’s brand safety, or it’s media sustainability. And what we’ve effectively done is created a Rosetta Stone – not to say that there needs to be a single language, but at least there is a single place to actually translate languages. And that, to me, is the right [level] of voluntary industry frameworks that allow for transparency that allow for consistency, but also allow for freedom.”

– Rob Rakowitz, co-founder and initiative lead at GARM, on the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast.

News publishers using AI should ‘tread lightly’

On Monday, the Reuters Institute published its 2024 Digital News Report that in part examined the public’s attitude toward AI in journalism, be it in behind-the-scenes operations or used to create audience-facing content. 

Based on the report, it doesn’t appear like the use of AI in producing journalism is advised for publishers concerned about maintaining audience trust.

Surveying about 6,000 people from Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom, Reuters Institute found that only 36% of the respondents reported feeling “comfortable using news made by humans with the help of AI,” while only 19% felt “comfortable using news made mostly by AI with human oversight.” AI aside, people’s trust in news overall was pretty low, with 40% of respondents saying they trust most news.

However, the results change a bit when respondents are categorized by their level of AI awareness. People with greater AI awareness tend to feel more comfortable with AI being used in journalism – relatively speaking. Fewer than half (45%) of the survey’s respondents said they’ve heard or read a large or moderate amount about AI, while 40% reported hearing or reading a small amount, and only 9% reported nothing at all. 

Of the group of respondents who were more exposed to AI, 26% said they were comfortable using news made mostly by AI, while 45% were comfortable using news produced mostly by a human journalist with some help from AI. Meanwhile, the group that only reported having a small amount of exposure to AI were less comfortable with AI in journalism. Only 13% reported being comfortable using news made mostly by AI and 30% said they were comfortable using news produced mostly by a human journalist with some help from AI.

And finally, respondents’ overall trust in news influenced the findings as well. 

In the U.S., 32% of respondents said they trust most news most of the time. Within that group, 36% of respondents said they were comfortable with news created mostly by AI versus only 16% of respondents who said they don’t trust news. And 58% of respondents who trust the news were comfortable with news mostly made by humans but had some level of AI use, versus 34% of respondents that do not trust news. 

Long story short: The minority of news audiences appear to be on board with the use of AI in the journalism process at this period of time.

Numbers to know

29: The number of fact checkers that The New York Times will have live checking today’s presidential debate between President Biden and former President and convicted felon Donald J. Trump. 

$70 million: The amount of money BuzzFeed is asking for its First We Feast vertical, which includes the YouTube series-turned-franchise property, “Hot Ones.” 

$100 million: The amount of money that the Associated Press’s new independent, nonprofit charitable organization is looking to raise to expand state and local news.

What we’ve covered

At Cannes, publishers attempt to quell marketers’ open programmatic apostasy:

  • Media execs hold close that they need to foster more direct sales, and took this week to do so in the South of France.
  • But they, too, concede that programmatic advertising remains a meaningful revenue stream for many of their businesses.

See how publishers were approaching marketers’ programmatic concerns here.

The Trade Desk shuts advertisers’ access to Yahoo’s video content:

  • The Trade Desk disabled access to Yahoo’s video inventory across the open market on June 17 in a dispute over how the latter labels its media inventory.
  • While negotiations are ongoing, further repercussions are in prospect.

Learn more about the months-long dispute here.

Three strategies publishers are adopting to drive affiliate commerce revenue for Amazon Prime Day 2024:

  • One of the most lucrative shopping holidays for publishers’ affiliate commerce businesses, Amazon Prime Day, is approaching.
  • Condé Nast, Gallery Media Group and She Media aren’t relying on last year’s strategies to maximize the revenue potential of next month’s shopping holiday.

Read how publishers are handling Amazon Prime Day this year here.

Soccer publishers pitch U.S. advertisers on evergreen sponsorship around the sport:

  • Sports publishers are once again expecting soccer to have a pretty significant moment in the United States over the next few years.
  • But for many of the publishers selling ads against soccer content, most sponsorships have largely been rooted in tentpole moments like the Men’s and Women’s World Cups, rather than in an evergreen or even seasonal capacity.

Learn more about how soccer publishers are pitching evergreen ads here.

Publishers’ top tips for pitching advertisers at Cannes: 

  • Publishers packed six months’ worth of face-to-face selling opportunities with marketers and agency heads into the span of a week at the Cannes Lions Festival.
  • But it’s not enough to just be present in Cannes to turn those meetings into lucrative deals. 

See how publisher execs tailored their sales pitches for a Cannes audience here.

What we’re reading

Wired says Perplexity AI plagiarized its article about Perplexity AI’s copyright infringement: 

Wired wrote an article about Forbes threatening Perplexity AI with legal action for plagiarizing and wrongfulling infringing on the publisher’s copyright. Then, Wired reported that Perplexity plagiarized that article as well. 

Apartment Therapy’s redesign focuses on audience retention:

Apartment Therapy relaunched its website this month, in an effort to support reader retention and encourage onsite registration, Adweek reported. The redesigned site now includes a community forum, new sponsor capabilities and other additives. 

The Washington Post’s incoming editor-in-chief won’t take the job after all: 

Robert Winnett will not become the Post’s new top editor this fall following reports questioning Winnett’s reporting and news gathering practices over the past few weeks, according to The New York Times. Winnett will remain in his role as deputy editor of The Daily Telegraph.

The New York Times is paywalling its podcasts: 

The Times will limit the number of free episodes of its top podcasts, The Wall Street Journal reported. In an effort to squeeze more revenue out of its podcasts, only three episodes of “The Daily” will be available to non-subscribers, while new episodes of “Serial” will be completely paywalled for an initial period after publication. 

Several top journalists at Politico are departing: 

Semafor reported that three high-profile reporters are leaving Politico over the next few weeks. These departures come after a yearlong newsroom transformation at the publication.

https://digiday.com/?p=549034

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