Olympics: How brands are using AI to track their in-game sponsorships

Companies like Eon Media are crunching the numbers to determine “exposure ROI.”
article cover

6 min read

When Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo steps to the free-throw line (and takes his sweet, sweet time), he’s a standing billboard. Above his heart, his jersey sports a Motorola patch, getting airtime for all 10 of the seconds he lingers at the line.

While we don’t know exactly how much Motorola and other brands pay for jersey sponsorships—they average between $7 million and $10 million a year, per The Athletic— you can bet companies are crunching numbers to figure out whether these investments are actually worthwhile

Within the last decade, AI has made it easier for brands, broadcasters, and leagues to nail down the value of jersey logos and in-game advertisements, like on-court billboards.

  • Companies that specialize in this tech can help brands get a better sense of what they’re buying, like how often a Nike swoosh was seen by a viewer, or how much stadium screen time an advertiser’s out-of-home inventory got during a game.
  • Meanwhile, leagues and broadcasterscan usethis data to help justify the cost of these sponsorships.

One company, Eon Media, uses AI to watch a broadcast game feed + evaluate the “exposure ROI” of in-game sponsorships. It worked with Team USA cycling, swimming, and ski and snowboard teams during preliminary rounds ahead of The Olympics.

Here’s what Eon Media measures:

  • Where the branding is and how much space it takes up, whether on a court, an athlete’s uniform, or otherwise within view of audiences.
  • How long that brand is actually seen + if it’s a cluttered shot or a clear image.
  • A breakdown of costs—in other words, how much a particular logo sighting is worth.

Brands have long known there was something to be said for partnering with a franchise as miserable as the Philadelphia 76ers (😢). Fans love their teams, and maybe some of that love will rub off on Wells Fargo or StubHub, the 76ers' sponsors. This type of offering gives advertisers hard data to determine what was seen and for how long, making it easier to draw apples-to-apples comparisons between sponsorships and standard commercial breaks.

Under the (AI) microscope

Eon Media obtains the cost of individual sponsorships from its partners, which are usually either broadcasters or leagues, then tells advertisers what they got in return.

The company will evaluate sponsorships for the USA swim team during NBC’s broadcast of The Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, all “without having anybody manually dissecting that information. This is all done through our solution automatically,” Ashish Agrawal, Eon Media’s cofounder, told Marketing Brew. It’s “not an estimation, it’s precise. I’m talking frame by frame.”

Eon Media’s measurements also give marketers a sense of what’s performing well—and what could be better.

  • Example: If Team USA Swimming wanted to prove to Speedo that an athlete’s swimming cap is actually the world’s wettest billboard, it could do so with Eon—showing that the cap’s logo gets seen X number of times, in full view or partially, throughout a broadcast. Or, it could recommend placement on a podium, poolside signage, or even a different side of the cap if data shows that the logo might get more airtime there.
  • If the swim team can prove these sponsorships are worth the investment, there’s an incentive for brands to seek partnerships outside The Olympics, Agrawal told us.
Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.

“Being able to combine and have a real ROI picture of the true return on that sponsorship, how it was integrated into the broadcast, the camera angles, at all those different layers...being able to capture all the nuances in a very accurate and precise way is pretty game-changing from the client perspective,” said Jenna Kurath, head of Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator, a program that counts Eon Media as a member.

Crowded court

There are a few players in this space. In fact, it’s a “pretty crowded marketplace, to be honest,” said Matt Balvanz, SVP of analytics and innovation at sports marketing consulting firm NVGT. Balvanz and his team work with companies like Eon Media on behalf of their clients.

Although people can train a computer to follow a logo during a broadcast, few can put the resulting data into context, said Balvanz.

Balvanz said metrics and ratings company Nielsen is one of the largest players in the space, as are Relo Metrics and MVPindex, both of which see an opportunity to establish measurements for the sports sponsorship industry, like what Nielsen has done for linear television ratings.

“We would like to be a currency...there is no standard in our industry right now,” said Sam Kilgore Huston, MVPindex’s VP of insights and strategic services. Although it declined to provide specifics, MVPindex is working with Toyota, an Olympic sponsor, to measure its exposure value for this summer’s games.

Both Relo Metrics and MVPindex say they can include social media in their exposure awareness metrics, using AI to sift through various platforms to find their respective clients. Remember that patch on Antetokounmpo's jersey? Well, say Antetokounmpo has an incredible dunk one night and it goes viral on Twitter. That Motorola patch is getting extra exposure.

“It’s like gold mining, right? The value of knowing that is to have a holistic understanding of the value of your sports sponsorship,” Brian Kim, Relo Metrics’s CEO, told Marketing Brew. “You want to add up all the pieces of the pie to say, ‘If I'm putting $5 million into my Motorola patch, here’s how much value I’m getting back.’”

And if those metrics are clearer than the famously opaque stadium naming rights deals—more money will come into the space.

Kim said younger companies that might be “cash-rich,” or “startups that need to think about branding and exposure,” might shy away from sponsorships, since historically, there hasn’t been much data to quantify their impact.

“Now, they can invest because they're going to have data to back up the decisions they're actually making,” he explained.

It’s still unclear what Eon Media’s biggest differentiator is, or whether it’ll take the industry by storm, but Agrawal said his tech can operate without a brand or broadcaster inputting a data set. “We just need the feed,” he said.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.