Why Advertisers Should Tap Into the Opportunities With Live Sports and Events

Live events present an opportunity for advertisers to reach broad, engaged audiences. StackAdapt sat down with Ben Elliott, Senior Account Manager, Programmatic Operations at SpotX to do a deep dive into this burgeoning opportunity for advertisers.

What are the opportunities for advertisers in live sports and events?

Ads can be highly targeted leveraging intelligence from large pools of viewership data to help advertisers reach fans that have cut the cord and are consuming live sports through their preferred streaming service, rather than traditional linear TV.

At a high level, how is this executed?

Programmatic advertising offers bidding on live inventory in real time, through automated, real-time auctions. Advertisers can purchase live impressions in NBA, MLB, NHL games—to name a few—within seconds. Ads are dynamically served full-screen across multiple devices in an efficient, simple and brand-safe manner.

What is the difference between CTV and OTT and how does this work for live sports and events?

SpotX defines connected TV (CTV) as a device that enables an end user to stream content through their television. This can be the Smart TV itself, like a Samsung Smart TV, or a device you plug into the TV to enable streaming capabilities like a streaming stick or gaming console—including a Roku device, Apple TV or Amazon Fire TV Stick.

SpotX defines over-the-top (OTT) as broadcast-quality content streamed across all devices. For example, you are watching an NBA game through your Sling app on your phone or desktop.

Targeting both CTV and OTT is important because in some scenarios, the users on desktop and mobile devices are just as valuable, still fall within the desired audience, and can increase delivery of campaigns while maintaining desired KPIs.

Looking at sporting events broadcasted on traditional TV vs. digital—what is the difference between app bundles vs. networks and shows?

Buying based on the app bundle vs. networks and shows is the distinction in how digital-first advertisers traditionally buy versus how linear TV advertisers buy. Both define the environment the ad is going to play in. For most mobile app environments, such as gaming and social apps, the app bundle provides sufficient information to understand the ad placement.

Similarly, traditional linear TV buyers look at a menu of networks and shows and pick the environments they want their ads to run in. Streaming applications combine these views of the planning world which is why at SpotX, we’re working with both sides of the programmatic industry to support passing additional content fields.

What is the difference between Programmatic Guaranteed (PG) and Event Packages?

Event packages are a curation of multiple publishers and events—could be narrowed down to specific leagues or events such as March Madness, for example. When creating event packages, you are buying based on the audiences that view the event.

For PG, more often than not, you are buying based on impression goals. Without being able to guarantee impressions with live sports, buying event packages tends to be a better alternative and does not jeopardize campaign delivery.

What are some best practices for running ads in live sports and events?

There are a few best practices that I would recommend:

Not using programmatic guaranteed, frequency capping and allow/block lists.

It’s necessary to recognize that with live sports, scale isn’t guaranteed, and the timeframe is finite. With a capped number of ad breaks and an unknown amount of viewers, it’s important to reduce additional targeting to improve delivery. 

Buying by event packages.

Buying by event packages means buying the NFL season vs. week 5 of the Denver Broncos. This becomes especially important if the client does require a specific impression goal.

If you buy by creating packages consisting of multiple similar events (NHL, MLB, NFL, NBA, Shark Week, etc.), you have a better chance of serving out those impressions over a longer stretch of time. You can get into a bind if you buy by a specific game and fail to meet the goals with no backup options available. 

Let the supply source control dayparting.

SpotX has the ability to implement dayparting at the deal ID level, which eliminates DSPs and advertisers from needing to constantly make manual adjustments around the hours of the event. Based on league schedules, we can determine the specifics of start and end times and add automated dayparting rules to your campaign.

If you are looking to target shoulder content surrounding a specific event, we can work with the publishers to understand when that shoulder content begins and ends, through what channels or networks, and set dayparting rules to narrow down to that audience. 

Send all creatives ahead of the event so it can be approved by the publisher and uploaded.

Creative approval is extremely important with these events and it is highly recommended that the creative is sent to SpotX ahead of the event. If the network has upfronts for a specific brand during the live event, they will prohibit running competitive brands in the shoulder content or during the event itself to honour competitive separation. It’s easier to get the creative approval process locked in during the days leading up to the event vs. the night before or day of. 

Be device agnostic with your campaigns.

Being device agnostic increases scale, and therefore delivery. Users have various preferences on how to tap into the content, so cutting out sports fans on desktop or mobile can be a missed opportunity. We can certainly target connected TVs only, but there are campaigns where the desired audience can be found on desktop and mobile devices and are valuable to include in your plan, in order to increase scale and reach.

What are some of the challenges and how can advertisers best overcome them?

Advertisers should be aware of:


Forecasting can be challenging since total opportunities is the number of viewers multiplied by the number of ad breaks. In linear and video on demand (VOD), media planning teams can reference historical data and generate accurate estimates of the total number of opportunities to expect.

In live sports and events, the number of viewers isn’t always known in advance and can vary between type of event, time of day, etc. With the continuous rise in streaming, it can be difficult to use historical data to predict viewership. Therefore, advertisers should use estimates as directional forecasts.

Advanced Planning

Providing the creative in advance and sharing all campaign details helps supply sources like SpotX ensure successful campaign execution. With advanced planning, SpotX can also build out custom event and live sporting packages based on updated league events and inventory access. 


Underdelivery is important to keep in mind, especially if you are only targeting the few hours of the actual event itself. As mentioned, in these scenarios, you are consolidating reservations and upfronts as well as programmatic competition into a tight window. Underdelivery can occur and it is wise to have backup options to serve the remaining impressions on shoulder content after the event or VOD content related to the event.

How does VOD work for live events and ad placements?

For sports, this is essentially the vMVPD or network allowing users to re-watch games or watch previously aired pre- or post-game analysis. The campaign is set up to target the live content but video on demand acts as a safety net in scenarios where you don’t serve out a desired number of impressions. You can still target the relative audience and won’t sacrifice KPIs while having backup options to meet your desired impressions.

For events such as Shark Week, VOD allows users to go in and watch episodes at their leisure on their connected devices. The user is still tapping into the event, but it is not during the live broadcast.

What are some upcoming and current opportunities for live event advertising?

There are several to consider, including:

  • MLB
  • NBA
  • NHL
  • Shark Week
  • MLS
  • PGA
  • US Open (tennis)
  • Horse Racing
  • NCAA Football
  • NFL

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