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Oct 25, 2000
Interview

Marketer Bobby Markowitz Reveals How sports.com Became the #1 Site for European Sports Fans

SUMMARY: No summary available.
This week, we thought we’d have a natter with Bobby Markowitz, Director of Marketing for sports.com, which, for the last year, has been the No.1 audited sports site in Europe...

Q: What are your current statistics for site visitors, registered users, and page impressions, etc.? How do you encourage visitors to become registered users?

BM: Our audited figures for June showed 2.7 million unique visitors, and 78 million page views. We’ve only been taking registered users since Euro 2000 (which started on June 1st), but we’re just short of 50,000 right now. We encourage people to sign up by offering things that would not be available to them otherwise – prize competitions, exclusive content, a newsletter three times a week (plus a separate competition newsletter), and so on. Thanks to a number of relationships we have, we’re also able to host live chats with sports personalities that are only open to members. Although the site’s aimed at five European countries, we’re finding at the moment that the majority of sign-ups come from the UK. It’s difficult to run competitions right across Europe because of the different gaming laws, so sometimes the incentive for non-UK users to join isn’t as great.

Q: What are sports.com doing to continue driving great traffic to the site?

BM: Well, we’ve had partnerships with companies such as AOL, Lycos, FT, and BT from day one, and we’ve subsequently built up relationships with similar operations in Europe – like Wanadoo and Voila in France, and Virgilio in Italy. These have brought us great traffic from the outset - after only 100 days we were the Number One audited sports site in Europe. Aside from this, we tend to concentrate our marketing efforts online, using creatives designed to appeal to the users of the sites they’re placed on. We’ll really only consider an offline marketing campaign when there’s an accompanying online drive. We advertise on the radio, for instance – with Virgin, Capital, and so on – but there’s an online tie-in. Capital Radio, for example, provide us with audio content: Premiership scores, and some programmes which are exclusively produced for sports.com.

Q: How did you gear your marketing to the recent Olympics? What were the results like?

BM: The Olympics was a great opportunity for us to step-up our general marketing a gear or two, and overall we were very successful. We also ran our first pan-European campaign in partnership with the various MSN sites (.co.uk, .ie, .fr, and so on), and in France we were the official Olympics site. We had our five highest page view days ever during this period.

Q: What marketing campaigns have worked best for you? What hasn't worked so well, and why do you think that might be?

BM: Overall, we’ve found that the best campaigns are the long- running ones that encourage users to come back to the site on a regular basis – to check the status of something, for example. In December last year we ran a ‘Team of the Century’ vote at the site, asking visitors to select their dream teams made up of the top players throughout the century. Several radio stations and print publications picked this up, and suddenly it became very popular. We created lots of content to complement the vote – mock ‘Match Centres’ [game summaries] for some of the greatest games of the century – and we even produced some tie-in merchandise. We got half a million votes in total – we only wish we’d been taking registered users at the time!

Our Virtual Athlete campaign, which we ran during the Olympics, was not so successful for us. We tried to encourage users to come to the site and train up our animated virtual athletes from scratch. We were aiming for something exciting and different but, with hindsight, we did it too soon – it was too high in bandwidth for a lot of users, and it didn’t look good in a lot of cases (in fact, it didn’t work at all on NT platforms). We’d still consider doing something similar further down the line, but we’d put more thought into it beforehand.

Q: What are you doing with WAP at the moment? What about broadband?

BM: Well, like a lot of people, we’re still experimenting with a lot of elements of WAP. We’re lucky because we already provide the sort of content that works well on WAP devices – in fact, we recently discovered we’ve been voted Number One WAP site in the world. A lot of what we’re doing so far is predominantly text-based – graphics still don’t appear all that well – and we’re marketing it through our existing partnerships. We’ve also set up some WAP content distribution partnerships with people like Carphone Warehouse and mviva.com. Our logo always goes out with the WAP content we provide in this way. We’ve also been taking advertisers on our WAP site. During the Olympics, for example, Emirates Airlines ran a competition with us to drive traffic towards their WAP site. The prize was a 1st class ticket to Sydney – a clickable Emirates logo and text link took users to the WAP contest page, which then sent users to the Emirates site for registration. 14.7% of users clicked through to the contest page, and there was a 10% conversion to registered users.

As far as broadband goes, we’re big believers in audio on the Net and that’s what we’re concentrating on. Most people can handle audio content now. We’re not so sure about video yet – while we’d love to be providing video content, we’re not sure everybody’s ready for it yet, particularly while the majority of people are on dial-up. Ultimately, if users have a hard time with access, you end up having a hard time making revenue, as some of our US counterparts have found.

Q: How does marketing to the UK differ from marketing to other parts of Europe?

BM: There are three main things to consider when it comes to marketing to Europe: language barriers, differing legalities, and differing privacy rules. While, broadly-speaking, our marketing in different countries is similar – we focus generally on online marketing in all five countries, for instance – we have to bear these things in mind. What we don’t do is try to force our successful UK marketing strategies on our other European marketing departments. We have teams of local staff in each country (how else could we hope to offer the best local content?) so they’re in the best place to make the ultimate marketing decisions. At the end of the day, though, the same rule applies wherever you are – your marketing needs to be a call to action, and give people a reason to come to your site in order to succeed.

Q: What are you currently doing to promote online loyalty at sports.com? Have you conducted any user surveys? What have you learned from the results?

BM: Well, there’s nearly always a team element in the field of sport. So, when we started taking registered users in June, we created the concept of ‘The Team’ at sports.com. We like to make registered users feel like they’ve become part of ‘The Team’ – we refer to them as ‘Team Players’ at the site and we reinforce this by providing the extra content I mentioned earlier. We’ve been very proactive in conducting user surveys – in fact we’ve just completed a big Net Poll survey. The results have been very interesting – we’re perceived to be a combination of a headline site and a community site. That pleased us because, while we already knew we were leaders in the sports news field, we’ve only been working on the community side in recent months. The results have proved to us that it’s worth us building on the community element even further. Making more people feel part of the team will give us value AND reach – two very important elements! We also discovered that sports.com users represent 11% of the total e-commerce spend in the UK – worth knowing, since we’re always developing our own e-commerce offering.

Q: Which of sports.com’s revenue streams are most successful? How do you envisage the balance changing in the future?

BM: The lion’s share of our revenue comes from advertising and sponsorship deals, followed by content sales. Because we’re one of only two sites in the UK who own their own scores content, many of the people we sell it to are actually our direct competitors. The third biggest revenue stream for us is e-commerce. We’ve been putting a lot of work into this area recently, looking towards a higher return. We’ve been localising online sales for each country, so it’s now possible for people in Italy to shop in Italian, and pay in Lire, for example. We’re continuing to strike up deals, too – we’ve just become the only place where ‘adidas’ products are available online, for instance. We’re always exploring new revenue streams, and we think we’ve come up with some, but I’ll have to tell you about that at a later date!

Q: What are the biggest mistakes you see online marketers making at the moment, and what advice would you give?

BM: The biggest mistake I see is wastage, particularly in online marketing. People waste the impression by using creative that doesn’t work, or that hasn’t been designed to appeal directly to the users of the site it appears on. I’ve also seen a tendency to focus more on visitor numbers and page impressions, than on revenue. Without revenue, you’re nowhere – regardless of how many visitors you have. My advice is that people always have an online tie-in to accompany their offline marketing, giving people a real reason to visit. That’s what’s worked best for us. Then, once you’ve got people to your site, take advantage of the visit. Remember that first impressions really count – make sure that there are no broken links, for example, and make sure your pages are relevant to the type of user you’re trying to attract. Get them addicted, and make them come back!
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