Ep. 16: Marketing To The Evolving Sports Fan with Brad Friedman

Ep. 16: Marketing To The Evolving Sports Fan with Brad Friedman

In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.


Brad Friedman, Founder and CEO at Fanserv, joins Rob Cressy to talk about marketing to the evolving sports fan via advertising. How has fans love of live sports affected the way brands engage fans with them using digital advertising? Why is there a gap between the sports industry and the general marketplace when it comes to the way media is purchased? Brad and Rob also give a peek into their entrepreneurial journeys to share wisdom on the importance of discipline, consistency, vision and self confidence.


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Rob Cressy: (00:04) Welcome to the Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy and joining me today is Brad Friedman, founder and CEO at FanServ. Brad, super excited to have you on the show.

Brad Friedman: (00:30) Yeah, likewise Rob. I think you had me at Bacon. So excited to be here.

Rob Cressy: (00:35) See, it's always a great foundation when someone says you had me at bacon, I'm like, congratulations. You are my type of person. Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?

Brad Friedman: (00:49) Yeah, sure. Like you said, founder and CEO at FanServ and FanServ is actually the pivot within the pivot of a startup that began with team apps. And so you're working directly with some NHL and NBA teams to develop the mobile app. And this was about 10 years ago now. But we pivoted into ad tech and fan service is a live ad server. We use sports data and audience data to deliver a better ad, something that we saw from a team perspective in the market that we thought that we could improve on. That was the problem that we were going after. I'm excited to say after a few years of pursuing that and growing that side of the business, we're making some traction and just excited about what's next.

Rob Cressy: (01:43) What we're going to talk about on today's show is engaging fans. But before we do, so the conversation we were having before we started to record was straight fire and I think it actually can provide a lot of value for someone by looking at both your journey and my journey and what we talked about was the path to success is not linear. It's a roller coaster and we have to be disciplined and consistent in what we do and when we do. That's what we're most in flow and have the best opportunities to succeed. And I want to see if you can expand on that a little bit.

Brad Friedman: (02:23) Yeah. I call it the 1700 things I've learned as a startup, but again, that path from A to B is never a straight line. And being disciplined, being consistent, not getting too high, not getting too low, are just sort of invaluable traits that you learn over time. Certainly things that you read about and if you pay attention to, I don't know whether that's like a Tim Ferris entrepreneurial type or even the best in class CEOs, it's that same message that you hear and over again until you, for me at least, until I lived it, until I saw the either the ramifications of getting too low or the same ramifications of getting too high. You sort of find that even keel, one foot in front of the other. That marathon mentality I think has certainly helped me a lot in in this journey.

Rob Cressy: (03:25) And I think it's something that you can hear and read and see, but you have to live through action. And it's something, as I look at my journey over the last seven years, that what I did is I knew it was going to be a roller coaster ahead of me and I didn't know what to expect, but I knew that I had to control the things that I could control. So what I did is I was like, all right, let me reverse engineer the success habits and mindsets of the most successful people out there. The CEOs, the people who have built businesses that I want to be like. And then from that, I have to take action on it because sometimes you have to hear something 800 times before you're like, Oh, maybe I should get up early and read or meditate or workout before it finally hits you. But I think that's the key to consistency and discipline: there's so much noise out there of do this, do this, do this. But until you start actually living in action for some of these things. And I know a lot of what we're going to talk about, I hope that people take action on the things they hear on these podcasts because we do this to help others.

Brad Friedman: (04:32) Definitely, definitely. And not beat yourself up for not getting going right away. Like you said, sometimes you have to hear something 800 times before you really get it before you sort of like, Oh, I know. And whether it's, you know, starts and stops or whether it's this aha moment, Oh, I get it. I get it internally. Now I understand what that means. Don't beat yourself up over it because we're all on this journey. And that's one thing that I've found, it's not smarts that wins the game, it's not talent necessarily that wins the game. You know, it's the heart and effort and to your point about taking action that inevitably wins the game. And so keep at it and the next day is always a new day. As a startup where a lot of times whether it's cashflow or clientele or product or you know, things not just going the way that you expected them to go, you have to be like, okay, tomorrow's a new day. Let's get after it, let's keep going. Those are the things I said that I feel like the advantages in life and the things that really pay the tremendous amount of dividends. Just as an internal sort of mechanism of measurement.

Rob Cressy: (05:53) And what has helped you learn that self confidence because it's not an easy thing. Because comfort is comfortable, but I always like to say, get comfortable being uncomfortable in walking towards the fire. But guess what? It is not easy when you're like, Oh, let me take a five minutes of cold showers for a month straight and see how that feels. But guess what, that hardens you to get used to discomfort, but you mentioned self confidence in having a vision and what can you sort of share with us based on your journey that might be able to help us?

Brad Friedman: (06:31) Yeah. It comes completely unexpected.The things that we had been working on as a team for a year and a half didn't seem to be getting traction in the market. Every conversation that we were having, whether it was a potential customer or a potential investor, whoever we were chatting with was always: that's a great idea. You know, that's fantastic. That's interesting. Which is, again, I've got a whole chapter on that's interesting. The misnomer of "that's interesting" for people that say that know we were getting such positive feedback, but we weren't really getting traction in the market. I think that it was about a year and a half, almost two years into it where I had that aha moment of, wow, all of this effort that we've put into the product, all of this effort that we put into the marketplace, nobody else has been able to do what we're doing. And I think it was a bigger company that had two years earlier, said, Oh, we'll build this out, we'll build this out. And then came back to me after having not built it out and said, Hey, you know, could we use you guys? Oh yeah, of course. That's great. We'd love to help you out. So it's those types of things that along the way, you have these daily aphorisms of let's go one foot in front of the other. Build it better and keep going. But you know, to have that sort of realization was a huge moment of all right. You know, we've got something and let's keep at it.

Rob Cressy: (08:30) Yeah. And for me, I'm very disciplined and routine-oriented because I want to be in control of what I can be in control of. Well, the way you build self confidence is staying aligned to your goals. So I write down my goals twice a day and read them. I read something that I created. It has the consistency to my dreams, but then at the same time, gratitude in journaling these things to build this positive mindset that you have. Because I truly believe that having a positive mindset is one of the biggest things you can do towards success because of what it will do for your relationships, for your energy, plus your own self confidence in the way that you can say, listen, let me create a process that allows me to boot myself up every morning that says, no matter what happened yesterday and what monsters may lie ahead today I'm going to say, you know what, boom, here's the things that I'm grateful for. Here's the things that I'm going after. Now, boom, let's go kick ass.

Brad Friedman: (09:36) I love that. And again, that's something just in the short time that we've been, that we've been chatting and connected like that is inspiration. I'm not disciplined, admittedly. Like I lack in the discipline and it's something that I am constantly trying in this process of being more mindful of adding things to the daily routine. I do have a schedule and then I do work on things, that I'm good at. I know I'm good at that and I'm good at this. Uh, staying positive, like you said. People make mistakes. I make mistakes. We're all in this together. Mindset has certainly helped quite a bit. So there are a few of those. If that list is maybe, you know, 10 things that you want to do, I know that I do three or four really well and I know that there are probably six or seven that I'm in need of working on that I'm aware of. But you know, again, it doesn't happen. Those things don't happen overnight.

Rob Cressy: (10:48) Exactly. And the reason why I wanted to talk about this is these fundamentals are just as important to business and being forward thinking and being successful as everything that we're going to talk about, about being forward thinking with technology and engaging fans. So let's start with this about the evolution of engaging fans because the way that fans are marketed to or engaged has changed from pre-internet to social to where we are now. So give us some insight in sort of your mindset on the evolving fan.

Brad Friedman: (11:27) Yeah, it's a great transition because where we started was with the mobile app, team apps. And so this was the early days. We actually built an app, a Blackberry app, if you could believe back in the day right before it went off the cliff. But we built an app and you know, I tell this story all the time. The first season that we had it, we'd walk around and there was no wifi in the building. So you talk about fan experience on the app here we have this mobile app, you know, Apple, Android, everything starting to take off. Uh, that piece of fan engagement was starting to solidify, but it wouldn't work in the arena. And so the team president will walk by every night, look at me, look down at his phone and just sort of shake his head and walk off in another direction. Wouldn't say anything, just look at his phone and started to shake his head and discuss. Well, at the end of the year we looked at the stats and wouldn't you believe it that, you know, the stats showed raising water level, a retention rate was through the roof. Unlike most apps that were out there, we had a repeat users were at 80%. The spikes during game day are still true today. I mean, it's part of the reason why we built what we built with live sports engagement because that is where 80% of your traffic's coming from. And so to go from a technology standpoint where we were ahead of the curve maybe on infrastructure or user behavior, but you still had this fan engagement that propelled us to where we're at today. I mean, this is like I said, one of those fundamentals where fan interest and engagement is massive and that's the opportunity that I think we're all chasing from.

Brad Friedman: (13:08) Whether it's your brand or marketer or beyond the team side as a publisher. That engagement is still true today. And I think what getting back to this sort of the path that the slow path of adoption. The things where people are comfortable is still selling sponsorship, sponsorship sales hasn't changed in the 10 years that I've been in the business. The 20 years that I've been doing research on it, right? You're still selling the boxes, you're still selling the broadcast, you're still selling the vanity play with your name at the arena. Like those are the things that really haven't changed because they haven't had to because those sales people haven't had to be uncomfortable in the market. Again, it's not this sort of the year of mobile, but I think that those times are changing. Like it does feel different, I'd say in the last couple of years with streaming and cord cutting, with the new arenas that have popped up and sort of how they're designed around whether it's that millennial next generation fan or the fluid fan, depending on your point of view. But there's certainly a different atmosphere entering as that have allowed and I think forced the hand of some of those sales teams to reconsider how they're packaging their inventory, and that for us is a great opportunity.

Rob Cressy: (14:37) Yeah. I mean, I think it comes down to experience where we have so many choices for what we do with our time and money and what does a sporting event going to do to elevate said experience. And at the same time it's a great thing that you said about there was no wifi in the arenas because guess what, numerous times on this podcast we have talked about, one of the biggest challenges there is is the lack of wifi connectivity in arenas. Like I still go to events right now and I can't get on Instagram to share a story of during the game and that is just a huge red flag of like how was that possible and how are people supposed to sell sponsorships into something. When my mind immediately says, listen, if you're going to be selling the sponsorship, you need to integrate online and offline and I want to do this in an activation that actually hits home because so much of sponsorship is vanity.

Rob Cressy: (15:31) Like I think of people who sell sponsorships for conferences and they're like, we'll put your banner up somewhere in the conference and then throw your logo in the booklet that we have and I'm like, that is trash. You know how many times I have got a brand relationship be like, man, did you see that brand logo in the book? No, you want something that stands out and you can do so much more with less. When you don't have more, when you don't have these gigantic budgets, just say, all right, if we want to make our name in the market, what do we do? You've got to be creative. You've got to be more one-to-one because we know what actually works or what moves the needle. And in so many of these selling sponsorships is just vanity and large and the accountability just isn't there.

Brad Friedman: (16:19) Right, right. It's a fundamental flaw in that sales process. And it's funny because you know, a lot of the view from a programmatic perspective, like a lot of the media that's bought now is moving in this direction where, you know, even on TV side where you know, you can buy on the bid and you can buy on the exchange. But there's such a huge gap between where sports industry is as a whole. And you know, where the general marketplaces and that gap is just because of being comfortable and not having to change. There's no rush to change. And there's no real from either the brands that have been involved with sports for so long, whether that's Pepsi, Budweiser, Gatorade, all those types of new brands are like the sales teams. And so yet again, the fans, the audience are the ones that are changing that now, right? Where brands are seeing, Oh, I can't reach the audience that I want to in stadium as much as I'd like to, where I can't activate. And so what's next? And I think that's the opportunity for us to help bridge that gap, maintaining that fan engagement, maintaining those brand standards, maintaining all of the fundamental reasons why brands are part of the sports space, right? That likability the recall, but just furthering the best practices of what's available in media and ad technology today.

Rob Cressy: (18:11) Here's the unique thing that you may not know why I think it's important. My background before I started my company was digital advertising sales. So I saw early internet up to social, and one of the reasons why I left the industry, so I'm on the publisher side. I was working for a publisher that was getting 500 million ad impressions a month and it was like, we were selling based on demographic. I was the only salesperson. And the reason why someone would come and buy from us is because we could hit the baby boomer demographic. But then guess what happened? Everything started to go from desktop to mobile. So I was watching our ad inventory shrink. And then here comes programmatic. And for those who don't know a programmatic is, it's really the ability to aggregate audience across the entire internet and be able to target it however you want. So now me the publisher sales guy, when the number one thing I'm selling against was the demographic that we have now these programmatic companies are coming along saying, Oh, you can buy that baby boomer demographic across the entire internet, not just this website. And guess what happened? We went from getting a $15 CPM, so cost per thousand impressions all the way down to like $2 and 50 cents. So the ad inventory is shrinking. The CPMs that we're getting is shrinking. And the reason why you would come to me directly as a publisher is shrinking.

Rob Cressy: (19:42) And I'm like, my goodness, this is not a good thing. So when you look at the entire publishing and media industry, I was so uniquely in a situation where I experienced the entire thing myself and got out before the thing crashed because now you just started seeing publishers everywhere who are like, how do you combat this? Because we're making a third of the revenue that we did one or two years ago. So let's throw more high impact ad units on the websites. So now when you lay it on a sports website, here's a giant truck from the Toyota Tundra that goes across your screen and you're like, dude, I don't care. I want to see this score of the Clippers Lakers game. And then you've got that. So that's not the right answer. So let's segue this into what can be done to better target these sports fans.

Rob Cressy: (20:38) Because I believe it's important for people to understand the media side of things because it's part of our lives every day. We don't click on banner ads. Mobile doesn't monetize very well from a display side of things. That being said, it's not going away because we all use the internet and websites on a daily basis. So the publishers have to say, how do we monetize but create a good fan experience? That's why you've seen companies like the athletics say, Hey, let's go for a subscription model. We'll go without advertising revenue, but we'll do it this way. But then on the brand side, you say, listen, all we want to do is get in front of the sports fan and say, Hey, can we show you something that you think we think you might like because you live in Chicago and you'd go to Chicago bulls websites. So we would love to let you know about this amazing Chicago Bulls hat that you might dig.

Brad Friedman: (21:31) Yeah, no, you're right. It seems so simple. It's so simple. Knowing, again, you're a Chicago bulls fan because you went to the standings and you've checked tickets and, and you're looking for a hat. Those are easy flags to set and sort of identify. So this is now it's, we've got a bulls fan and he's in Chicago. When you look at delivery, you have so many options now on buying in this automated fashion. And so I can create a site list that is not only national in scale, but targeted again by location.

Brad Friedman: (22:26) I can also mix in your local papers local. And then the last element that again is so critical for us is the live data and the live sports data. And so knowing again that there's a home game scheduled, looking at the fan behavior in the hour or two hours before the game. The bars start to fill up, what hotels people are staying at, sort of the rise and fall of that who's actually in the arena and capturing those mobile IDs. Like really trying to understand the data aspect and putting it in the context of that team targeting, because all sports are local, right? And it's gotten like with what Facebook's done, it can be out of control a little bit and I think you're going to see this, the pendulum always swings, right? And so your point about the publisher, you went from $15 down to $2 and now it's probably back up to like six or seven, right? The pendulum is always swung between advertisers and publishers in this ad tech market. And now the pendulum swinging on this data privacy side. And so, you know, gotta be sort of really mindful of what you're accumulating as far as indicators of what that fandom is or what that fan affinity is. But again, doing that tastefully gives us the ability to serve a better ad in the moment where it's most relevant.

Brad Friedman: (24:02) And that's the Holy Grail really for what the digital ad space has brought and then you partner that with your typical, traditional brand. They just came out to say, Hey, our two years where we were all digital, that was a mistake. I don't think that anybody that has their senses is saying do everything on the digital platform. Even though the direct consumer brands, dollar shave club and those, even they had some TV spend and they had some brand campaigns that were going. If you want to think about just sort of your fundamentals in advertising, have a brand message, have some direct response, have a nice media mix in terms of how you're getting that out into the general public, use what's available, use the best practices that are available. And if you're looking to reach a sports audience, be in the moment, right? Tell a better story. If that's the option that you have, why would you not take that? Right? Why would you go and be lazy being in your comfort zone, right? And just produce some static creative and say, here you go. And then have that be the thing that represents your brand. That's not a win for anybody. It just, from a common sense perspective.

Rob Cressy: (25:30) You know what ads drive me bananas is the stuff you see brands promote on Twitter. And I'll give you an example. So the Yankees came back from down for two against the Astros and a brand promoted, I believe it was like a two run hit that happens to the Yankee is tied up for four. Yes. When we saw this ad two days ago, which was three days after the Yankees lost that game. So they're promoting this awesome moment of a game. The Yankees lost after the fact, and I see it all the time on Twitter and it blows my mind because that's a conscious decision. Someone is lazy and says, Oh, let's do this. And then they move on. Me as a sports fan, I'm like, how in the world are you promoting something from a game that the team lost? I was like, there was no positive brand awareness. And if anything else, I actually believe it's a negative brand affinity because I say this brand doesn't get it because if this is what they're targeting to me as a sports fan, if I was a Yankees fan, I would be pissed.

Brad Friedman: (26:41) Yeah. The traditional sports model from a fan perspective is that you're most interested in your team winning. And then secondly, your rival losing, right? You're due cheering against your rival almost as hard as you're cheering for your team to win. And when somebody steps on your team and sort of disrespects them in an old school way, you're just like, forget you. I like that. I totally get that. So again, if you're going to tell a story, and there's no barrier to entry on being able to tell that story. It's just being, yeah, that's almost being lazy. That's egregious in terms of the air there. But, you know, you tell a better story, be part of the conversation, whether it's on social platforms or whether it's in, like I said, where we sit in, in more of like a traditional banner and video display elements.

Brad Friedman: (27:36) You know, we're trying to give our clients the ability to connect and serve a better ad. One of the focuses that I've always had is client first. And I think if you're disciplining that, good things happen, right? And so, whoever that client's agency or was that didn't help them with that Twitter ad, like shame on them, right? Cause you're always looking out for your clientele and doing the best by them. And that's again, like one of those golden rules that I think is important.

Rob Cressy: (28:24) As I wrap this up here, here's the thing that I want people to take away from this is when we talk about brands and agencies that are lazy, guess what? That is the reality of the marketplace. But that's where the opportunity is for each and every one of us to excel and stand out and be different by doing things the right way. No one is going to reward you for doing things the correct way. But no, when you rinse and repeat day after day doing things the correct way, you will succeed. And that is your invisible vantage.

Brad Friedman: (29:00) Absolutely. 100%. Execute, execute, execute, rinse, wash, repeat. Those are all great idioms in terms of that approach and you know, certainly something that I think over the long term, your clients are gonna appreciate and they're going to they may not come out and say you're the best thing since sliced bread, but when they they send the check for your invoice, that's when you know, things are going right.

Rob Cressy: (29:28) Brad, I really enjoyed this conversation. I have a feeling we could jam for about another hour. Where can people connect with you?

Brad Friedman: (29:37) Anytime, LinkedIn, Twitter, my primaries. I don't do much else than that. LinkedIn primarily. And then of course on the site, fanserve.com check us out and I'd be happy to go further with anybody that wants to reach out and have a conversation.

Rob Cressy: (29:54) And as always, I would love to hear from you about this episode and here's what I want to know. Can you tell me one brand you have had a positive experience with recently and why was it. You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms at Rob Cressy.


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