Data, Digital and Disruption: Reflections on IEG 2016

By Kristen Pelachyk with Jake Jones, Two Circles and Matt Rogan, Two Circles and ESP Properties Apr 25, 2016

Data, Digital and Disruption: Reflections on IEG 2016

Disrupt, the 33rd annual IEG Conference, brought together rightsholders, brands and key industry stakeholders to discuss and share the methods and tactics being employed to get ahead in our rapidly changing sponsorship landscape.

Although it’s an impossible task to capture the richness of four days of challenging debate and mind-stretching content, we have aimed to capture our reflections of the key themes of the event.

Let’s start with a story.

One of us had a pizza (we were in Chicago, after all) on the second evening of the event with the global sponsorship director of a brand that has newly agreed to a deal with a Formula One team. To cite him:

“I heard 90 pitches in four months. Only one of those said to me, ‘We don’t understand your business, but we do understand your audience. We can tell you all about how they interact with our sport. And we have some key insights to offer you that we believe offer a trigger point we can use to drive your sales, using digital as the primary lever for this.’ ”

Three months later, they had a deal.

This story encapsulates many of the key themes we heard at IEG 2016. In particular, we heard countless examples of the fact that brands are now looking to rightsholders to provide deep and credible relationships and interactions with specific customer audiences—not just inventory that puts them in front of those audiences.

They expect to do so in a world in which digital is the new normal and data the enabler of such a hyper-personal relationship.

The volume and substance of the conversations in Chicago around those themes was, of course, gratifying for us to hear, as 11 months ago we launched ESP Properties to help rightsholders take advantage of these seismic shifts in the marketplace. This is accomplished through a customer-led, data-driven approach that takes brand partnerships beyond a volume CPM play based on the size of the audience reached, into a more productive relationship based on delivering meaningful content and personalized marketing delivered directly to distinct, high-value audiences. Of course, this is predicated on true understanding of the reasons and motivations behind their passions.
Let’s make this real through some examples: 

MasterCard tracks customers’ digital footprints to identify key passion points, e.g., music and shopping. It activates its “Priceless” campaigns against specific key demographics, evaluating financial return using proprietary algorithms built by the five analytics companies it has recently acquired.

CIBC created a 24/7 “war room” around the FIFA World Cup to respond to fans in real time and track engagement against key customer segments even though Canada didn’t have a team in the event.

UBS’s digital profiling of its wealth management client base and their interests has led to the creation of new highly targeted owned content channels. By 2018, UBS will produce 40 video interviews with Nobel laureates in economics to drive its positioning home to this discrete and highly valuable audience. has a $0 marketing budget. Instead, it focuses on data, technology and social media, employing a chief hacking officer and a single social engagement expert.

Avaya’s sponsorship strategy is “not about B2C or B2B.” It’s all “B2P—business to people.” Avaya looks to understand customers at an individual level and deliver direct and tangible value to them.

Marriott used social tracking tools to identify Orange Is the New Black superfans in New York City so that it could activate before the program’s new season started and drive loyalty among a Millennial group of new customers with high potential lifetime value.

This is no longer about buying 18-35 ABC1s on a CPT basis. Brands we heard from at IEG 2016 were focusing on quality of interaction and razor target to a single customer. They evaluate with data science, not exit surveys.

Successful rightsholders are disrupting themselves to respond to this challenge. This is less about scale than a mindset to do what Lesa Ukman described as “remain in constant beta.”

Food Network’s South Beach Food and Wine Festival launched a comprehensive iBeacons activation last year with Delta Air Lines to attract specific attendees of interest to Delta to unique culinary experiences.

Detroit Red Wings leverage their CRM/data group as one of eight departments included in its integrated sponsorship sales model.

Premiership Rugby in England have developed a data-led technology stack that enables it to micro-target partner campaigns based on current brand preferences of fans in partner categories. 

WhoSay is able to triangulate celebrities, rightsholders and brands to create “premium content + targeted distribution = great performance.”

Ultimately of course, this changes our notion of what “premium content” entails when positioning sponsorship opportunities and securing brand partners. In a world of selling interaction, not inventory, rightsholders and sponsors alike are challenged to rethink their content strategy to deliver depth for specific audiences rather than a big-bang one-size-fits-most approach. Fortunately, technology enables this to be possible without materially impacting spend levels.

This new normal initially requires bravery. Accenture shared with us the real internal challenges in building a B2B sponsorship culture based on evidence not instinct. Dean Kamen, serial inventor and founder of FIRST, perhaps put it best when he said, “When you’re told your idea is nuts, that’s the time to run with it, otherwise it’s just some incremental change.”

We heard countless stories during the conference of properties and brands gaining competitive advantage by being willing to learn, test, fail and try again. By being brave enough to disrupt themselves, they discovered (and then delivered) new sources of value for customers, and in doing so, themselves.

Digital is the new normal and data is the enabling force of the disruption it can drive. The CEO of one ESP Properties’ client put it best when he said to us over coffee: “In just twelve months, the hot topics of this conference have changed beyond measure. It’s incredible really.’’ As ESP Properties approaches our first birthday, our opportunity to reinvent the future of sports and entertainment feels more real than ever.


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Himanshu Tyagi 7/6/2017 5:43 AM
Very well written putting all the main points of 33rd annual IEG Conference in a framed manner.

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