New sports bar network raises questions

May 20, 2009 by Dave Haynes

My first post typed out as I ride the Toronto commuter rails. It’s slow, but I enjoy rolling along past the parking lots that are this city’s freeway system. It’s slow but I’m moving!!!

I was interested in news this week of yet another attempt by a media company to go hard at the sports bar and fast casual restaurant industry with an ad-driven solution.

And I quote:

A Chicago-based company that overlays ads on the sports broadcasts seen on screens in bars has signed a deal it believes will allow it to exponentially increase distribution. The ads come in an L-bar shape and take up about 30% of the screen, highlighting Major League Baseball or NFL games, whether carried on ESPN or NBC. (the Media Post story was later clarified to note the graphics the broadcast but do not overlay the signal).

The out-of-home venture carries the SportScape moniker and has been in about 100 bars until now. This latest agreement with Des Moines-based Rivals Media expects to ramp it up and add perhaps 1,000 bars a month.

SportScape promises to have a presence in each city with an NFL team by the time the season kicks off this fall. The company says viewers in sports bars generally watch live games for an average of 105 minutes per visit.

A few things come to mind:

1,000 bars a month? – Well, good luck with that fellas. That’s a new bar coming online every 25 minutes or so, if we  factor in bars being open 14 hours a day, and if we also factor in the idea that techs would love to walk in with ladders and gear at 9:30 on a Saturday night. The 1,000 a month of anything has been number one with a bullet on my BS-o-meter for many years. If you have a prospect who tosses out 1,000 as the plan, be that month, quarter or year, it’s a number probably coming right out of his or her butt.

Is it legal? – I have spoken with companies that do this video squeezie thing that pushes the broadcast signal in and creates this reverse “L” for ads. The squeezer guys spend a lot of time and money on lawyers, trying to make sure they are on safe legal grounds. The last guy I spoke with went on for a long time talking about the intricacies of acquiring broadcast rights and permissions. By just squeezing the signal, it’s argued the broadcast signal is not altered, but the broadcasters may (or will) counter that the ads are leveraging the broadcast and diminishing the broadcast integrity and value of the paid ads on the broadcast. It’s murky, but I have to think the SportScape guys aren’t blithely doing this without getting some solid opinions.

Is it a good product? – This is, to me, the real argument. If I am hanging out at a sports bar in Fremont, Ohio and paying what already seems like way too much for a pint, how happy am I going to be that the game I came to the bar to watch is now squeezed to 70 per cent so that ads can run alongside the broadcast and, in theory, make more money for the bar operator through shared ad revenues. Something tells me I am not the only one who would wobble down the road to the sports bar that doesn’t have this thing on it. Just saying …

There is absolutely, unequivocally an effective plan for screens in sports bars and fast casual restaurants. But those screens have effective marketing that sells more potato skins, desserts and fancy coffees, FULL SCREEN. Maybe the screens tell people in the lounge when their table comes available. Those kinds of screens do NOT annoy people, and that’s likely what these “L” thingdoodles will do.

The industry is starting to get pretty sophisticated in terms of what can be done in these sorts of environments. Think SMS. Think social media. Bluetooth. Triggered content. Back-office integration. This whole thing just makes me think I blinked and it’s 2003 again.

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