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Inside Track

How Zoomph is Building a Better Way to Measure Sports Partnerships

Today, sports fans have many ways to follow their favorite teams and players. Choice is the name of the game. Between linear television and social media, fans can consume content about sports on their terms.

Sports teams have caught on to these trends. Five years ago, a single social media role was responsible for generating and publishing content about a team. Now, it’s not uncommon for a pro sports team to have an entire content and production team that covers the team all year, from preseason to postseason, churning out content that fans will happily engage with.

For a sports organization, the play is building long-lasting, meaningful relationships. However, the opportunity lies in leveraging brand sponsorships that show tangible value.

Zoomph understands that very well. With a strong foundation in social media, Zoomph has built a powerful analytics platform that tracks sponsorships, ROI, media-value exposure, and audience behavior.

Zoomph likens sports organizations to media organizations and understands that the strongest partnerships involve tapping into authenticity to build connections with fans. From a ballpark ad placement to a logo on a social media video, Zoomph can provide insights that help move the needle for both the team and rightsholders.

We recently had an in-depth conversation with James Ho, VP of Operations at Zoomph, about how their platform works, how sports organizations are evolving into media and entertainment brands, and the implications for sports.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
Give me the elevator pitch. What is Zoomph, and what are you solving for right now?

James Ho – Zoomph
Yeah, it’s a great question. So Zoomph is a sponsorship and advertising measurement platform. We provide near real-time ROI analytics to sports teams, brands, and agencies.

For any brands spending money on sports sponsorship or advertising in the sports realm, we focus on measuring that ROI across their social and digital channels and their broadcast channels.

For folks who aren’t familiar with it, it’s like watching a game on TV, and you see all the different signage for sponsors in the background of the game and all the other LEDs—we capture and measure all of that. We provide clients with reporting from a dashboard. We also offer insights and consultation since we’re the “experts in that data.”

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
Who’s the ideal customer or consumer of your product? There are four distinct audiences. Who are the perfect consumers of your product?

James Ho – Zoomph
The categories would be rightsholders in the sports space. That’s primarily teams, leagues, or even athletes or agencies representing athletes. Some sports agencies provide consultation, research, insights, or representation for athletes and teams.

We work with brands that outsource their sports marketing work through agencies and go to brands directly.

For brands spending money on sports sponsorships, we often help them check their partner’s homework.

If you’re a brand like Chase and work with the Golden State Warriors, they’ll give you end-of-season reporting. You want similar data that allows you to check what they said is true and ensure the ROI aligns with expectations.

The specific people we work with span folks working in sponsorship or partnership departments, social-digital departments, and anybody working in strategy or insights, business analytics, and business intelligence.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
Was there a single pain point that the founders had a lightbulb moment where they realized they were building something unique? What is the narrative arc of the origin of Zoomph?

James Ho – Zoomph
That’s a really good and complex question.

Zoomph wasn’t always a sponsorship and ad measurement tool. When I started in 2015, we were a platform designed mainly around social digital activations. If you’ve ever been to a game and you look on the Jumbotron, and they had an activation where you’d take Instagram selfies and get those on the screens, that’s where we started.

Over the years, we started getting into basic social media analytics, which evolved into audience analytics. About four or five years ago, a client came to us and said, “Hey, your tool inherently is good at organizing social content. We need help organizing all of our sponsored social media posts. So when we post on Instagram, and Ford sponsors it, we need help organizing that into a bucket and being able to report that back to them.”

That’s where it all started. It gradually evolved with the needs of our clients to do logo analysis, ad placement analysis, asset analysis, or study different LEDs and sponsorship locations in any given arena.

That was the first three or four years of our sponsorship measurement or ad measurement journey.

Over the last 18 months, we have made a big push in measuring linear broadcast or television broadcast. All our clients ultimately need this measurement for TV, social, and digital, all in one platform.

Historically, you went to different vendors and got different tools. Then, you get different methodologies, particularly when providing valuation on all the other sponsorship assets.

So, over the last 12 to 18 months, we’ve been evolving the offering and building a television broadcast solution. We just hosted a webinar about this a week ago.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
You’re following a similar storyline I’m seeing from some of the other companies in our cohort. Mobii comes to mind—there’s a shift happening where we’ve gone from linear to multi-device, second screen, social media content, and things like that. Creators and teams are doing dynamic stuff with sports content. Now, the pendulum is swinging back to broadcasters, realizing there is an opportunity to capture all these eyeballs and insights and return to where the platform is. Is that something that you’re noticing?

James Ho – Zoomph
Yeah, it’s really interesting.

Pre-pandemic, linear broadcast measurement was the primary thing our clients needed.

Because there were no live events on television during the pandemic, many sponsorship makegoods needed to shift to digital-social because that’s the only thing they could do. Sports properties shifted content to social media. In-venue LED assets shifted to social content. Logos were put on all digital campaigns supporting at-home pandemic-related content, and people realized the value suddenly increased dramatically.

People understood it as valuable, but I think the pandemic caused a huge spike in its value as a sponsorship asset, and that just stuck.

When you go back to doing live events, visible TV signage and in-venue signage go back.

We measured social digital first and struck gold at a time when everyone needed a tool to measure all their social assets.

Everyone needs unified measurement.

We provide a lot of value in doing things better. We’re coming in with a fresh lens and trying to do things differently.

Sports properties are not sports teams. They are media and entertainment companies – James Ho.

The paradigm shift we talk about internally is that sports properties are not sports teams. They are media and entertainment companies. Whether they realize it or not, they are content production companies. Sponsorship and advertising are no different than any other television or entertainment product that sells ads and monetizes itself. That’s the way we look at them. We measure them with that lens or look at them in that way.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
That shift has happened in the last five years. With teams, you see this with property acquisition and real estate built around stadiums. The teams realize that to be a successful business, they have to start creating these little engines. One of these engines is content creation, and social media teams exist to tell the story all year round. There used to be one social media person hired for a team. Now, they have an entire production team.

James Ho – Zoomph
Exactly! Some teams have launched entire production companies that create their team content, but they also will do work for other groups and other teams.

Maybe it’s obvious, but these are different audiences. A certain group of people watching your games night in and night out, right on your local sports network. However, the “younger audiences” don’t watch games on television that much. Social digital channels are the only way to engage with them and keep them interested and connected to the team. And then also

And within those, you’ve got five or six different social channels, all with different strategies, ROI, and audiences. Sports is the medium to create content.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
Can you rate the success of things that get published or broadcast? How does Zoomph attribute success to your work?

James Ho – Zoomph
Our way of looking at it is specifically from a TV perspective on social media. We’re best in class on the social side in how we measure social media. We started as social media experts.

My background is in social media, marketing, and analytics. I didn’t know anything about television ratings until the last couple of years. Our thinking is improving the turnaround time for getting data and reporting.

That’s a big thing we’ve heard from the market across other tools and vendors – we just need a better turnaround.

The other thing we’re looking at is the sample size of the viewership ratings. If you look under the hood at all these tools that do the measurement, the biggest thing is understanding what is their sample of TVs and the traditional term of panels that they use to grab all the data, and come up with viewership number. No company out there has access to the viewership habits of every television in America, right?

The way to look at it is, is your sample size big enough? From there, is your methodology then from a valuation, and how do you look at logos?

Everyone is doing somewhat similar things as far as the way they look at logos, but providing something consistent that when I show it to you on a screen, can I say “do your human eyeballs recognize this?” The way we kind of look at everything is how does a human receive this? Yes, we are using computers and AI and high-end data processing to put all this together. But we focus on the human recall aspect to understand if you see this and how you received it.

The thing that I think is going to push and propel us forward, is to provide basic analytics and reporting – here is how many times your brand appeared on screen, the earned media value, duration and impressions – the base level things that everyone’s reporting.

The next step is providing actionable insight on that data and on that reporting. It’s one thing to know my sign on this particular location in the baseball park performs like X, Y, and Z over the course of 160 games. But, what can I do with information?

Our goal is to not only provide the base-level reporting, but provide a piece of information from that reporting that says, “Okay, your sign actually might be better placed over here based on the way camera angles work on a baseball television broadcast.” On the social digital side, something that we do quite a bit of is when you post this Instagram graphic or video, when you put a logo watermark on it, make sure you put a contrasting backdrop behind the logo so when the camera moves around, the logo doesn’t get faded away.

Those are like the types of things that we want to be able to provide that’s beyond how many impressions did you get? As the rights holder, what can we give you that provides more value back to your partner or even allows you to make money?

Another thing we do is take social content that isn’t sold yet that our teams are creating, and we help them predict or project what that value might be if they incorporated or partner into that Twitter series they’re already creating, and they’ll go to market, and sell that.

The general idea is providing the base=level reporting in a more timely way, what we think is a more granular and accurate way. The real kicker is providing that actionable insight on top of it – that’s our real goal. If you’ve been using a tool for the last five years, and you’re looking to make a change, it’s not good enough for us to just say, Oh, we did the same thing that other tool does. What do we do that’s next level? For us, that’s going to provide you the reporting, but give you something that you can make real decisions off of.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
That’s fascinating. And is this all available on your platform? What does it provide to the customer?

James Ho – Zoomph
It’s generally what the platform provides to the customer. There are always deeper levels of insights to provide. We also do habit insights group within the organization, which takes certain things to the next level because there are aspects like individual tweets or analyzing the output of a television broadcast in trying to determine what placements go where. It helps to have people that watch sports very regularly involved, the platform does it but we also provide something a little bit extra because we know some of these teams may not have time or resources internally to really do the deep dive stuff or next level insights. We live in this data – we scroll through Twitter and Instagram every day, we watch the same games you do if not more and try to offer a little something extra to most of our customers.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
That’s fascinating. Tripp Baltz, our director of research has been impressed by how Zoomp does research. You’ve mentioned insights, but what sets you apart? What do you hope to do with this research and insights? For example, I have recently read great LinkedIn posts from Zoomph about the impact of women’s basketball in real-time.

James Ho – Zoomph
On the women’s piece specifically, for us, it’s an important pillar to push forward. I think we have seen in the recent women’s basketball NCAA Tournament, the Caitlin Clark piece, and the WNBA Draft – the interest here is real. All we have needed is a little bit of information to prove it out. The research and the data show the impact that this vertical in sports has. From a monetization perspective, what what a lot of the women’s leagues need is opportunity, money, and visibility. The research that we do provides validation that the interest and the engagement are real.

If you’re a brand and you aren’t investing time, money, and resources here, you are missing out on an incredible opportunity from an audience perspective. A lot of women’s sports audiences are much more highly engaged than men’s sports audiences. Using the recent tournament as an example that has proved itself out when you look at your viewership and engagement between the men’s tournament and the women’s tournament. We have data on the value that Salesforce received just by Caitlin Clark being the number one pick and all the attention being drafted by the Indiana Fever with the jersey patch sponsorship.

There’s a picture on Instagram with Clark holding the jersey. I can’t imagine Salesforce was forced to renegotiate coming into the draft, but the value they’re getting far beyond exceeds what they are paying for their partnership deal with the Fever. We’ve got a lot of jokes internally where we hope the Fever renegotiated with Salesforce or are in a renewal with Salesforce because of the value they’re getting and the value they will be getting over the next few years with her, the team in general, and attention on the league will far exceed that.

A lot of our data and research provide market validation or validate things that we know to be true, but we just need the evidence.

We try to uncover things that people aren’t thinking about. Again, I go back to the way you put logos in different places or the way we find content that you aren’t thinking is performing that performs well. We help clients see things you’re doing that aren’t performing as well and suggest they don’t invest there. So there’s a lot of different areas.

I’m glad you brought up women’s sports because that topic is a really big focus area for us. We have a company t-shirt that says: “Support women’s sports. The data does.”

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
How do you watch sports events as a sports consumer and someone interested in sports through the lens of Zoomph?

James Ho – Zoomph
Good question!

Anyone who works at Zoomph, myself included, watches sports with a much different lens, particularly sports with a lot TV-visible sponsorship signage.

The NFL is probably the one sport where there isn’t enough TV-visible signage, given the way the cameras are and how big the stadiums are. I watch football as a fan and leave it at that.

But when I watch basketbal or hockey, I see the game action but I notice every logo and every little activation. I will often wonder why that partnership exists or what a brand is. When I see a brand I’ve never heard of, I go look it up and see what they’re doing.

I probably know way too much about where brands are activated in certain arenas. I could tell you what logos are painted all around the Chase Center court for the Golden State Warriors. I do watch as a fan and continue to consume as a fan, but we always look at the different ad placements and how things get activated. In our internal Slack groups, we send funny stuff to each other about activations and what was really interesting. That just occurs naturally.

When I go to games all I see is the LEDs that are flipping logos around. I joke that I’m sometimes we’re bad people to watch sports with because all we do is nerd out or just like looking at how brands are sponsoring things.

I watch sports with too much of a business lens sometimes but it helps. Because we all watch so much sports, I know the viral moments in a game. The next morning if we get an email about a buzzer-beating three and a big partner’s LED sign was in the background, I can talk about the value.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
What are some of the big sports tech trends you watch as you work at Zoomph? AI is the one that comes to mind. For whatever trend, how do you evaluate it through the lens of Zoomph and make sure it is something the team thinks about but doesn’t get distracted?

James Ho – Zoomph
The tech trend that stands out daily is the emergence of live sports programming on streaming platforms, such as Peacock, ESPN+, MLS on Apple TV+, Thursday Night Football on Prime, etc.

Our initial focus for broadcast measurement was to resolve challenges that brands and rights holders face when reporting on traditional linear TV, utilizing new technology to overcome legacy vendors’ obstacles. We planned this given that linear TV is still a primary consumption medium for live sports and linear audiences are still key drivers for sponsors and advertisers in sports.

Now that we have the linear foundation covered, we’ve set our sights on streaming. This audience continues to grow, and almost every new league media rights deal incorporates at least one streaming partner. Part of the “new tech” evaluation process is, of course, understanding feasibility. In our case, is streaming data even accessible? Fortunately, through strategic data partnerships, we’ve already started. With the potential help of Comcast/NBC/Peacock through the SportsTech program, we’re laying the groundwork for a solution that isn’t yet available in the market.

In summary, we first evaluate the sustainability of the trend. In the case of streaming, it’s here to stay and only growing.

We also consider feedback from our clients when evaluating trends. We’re very fortunate to work with a wide range of teams, leagues, and brands, most of whom are quite sophisticated in leveraging data and technology and aren’t afraid to share emerging challenges and needs.

A recent example of this was the launch of Instagram Threads. The week it launched, we fielded dozens of questions about whether we could track it, as most of our clients initially seemed like they were going to begin activating the platform.

Our initial response was, “Let’s see if this sticks first before we up-end our product roadmap to try and track and integrate their content and data.” Within the next week or two, the initial excitement dissipated due to resourcing constraints and potentially existing strategies on Twitter/X. That’s not to say that Threads isn’t valuable or that there aren’t people creating engaging content there, but we haven’t seen anything in sports yet that has moved the needle. It hasn’t come up at all since that time.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
In four years of working with companies at SportsTech, this is by far the brightest and most accomplished class I have seen. We’re interested in learning more about why you applied and what you hope to accomplish with the program. Any insights you have to dive into this can help us better understand how to tailor our application cycles for other cohorts!

James Ho – Zoomph
We first met Comcast SportsTech through our collaborative work with Women in Sports Tech (WiST), founded by Marilou MacFarlane. Jenna Kurath had our CEO, Amir Zonozi, and other WiST partners join and guide past cohorts on lessons learned and advice for them to process and build from.

The shared understanding that diversity is an asset to winning gave us the foundation to grow our relationship. With Zoomph’s ambitions to process and value media at the highest level globally, it was a no-brainer to partner with one of the most robust media conglomerates in the world.

The opportunity to work with the vast network of partners and solve meaningful challenges media companies face with Comcast as partners give Zoomph an unprecedented advantage in delivering standardization across the industry for partnership measurement and currency.

Taylor Pipes – Boomtown
Fascinating chat – I appreciate it.

James Ho – Zoomph
Taylor, great meeting!

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