Sports Marketers’ Guide to TV Audience Data (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of The Sports Marketers’ Guide to TV Audience Data. If you work in the sports and marketing industry an understanding of how TV audiences are tracked and how to use this data is vital.

In Part 1 of this Sports Marketers’ Guide to TV Audience data I wrote about the value of TV exposure for brands, the importance of having accurate data and how audience data is collected around the world. Part 2 will dig into the types of audience data that are collected and how to interpret this information.

Once you understand how the data is collected, it is important to understand how the data is presented and reported in the media. When a sponsor or rights holder use TV audience data you need to know what you are looking at and what the number means, because the odds are that the person presenting the information will not know. There are three types of audience data commonly used in sports marketing:

Types of TV Audience Data

Average Audience
Certainly the most commonly used, quoted and promoted type of TV data is the average audience, however all averages are not equal. TV audience is tracked every minute during the broadcast of a sport event. The audience at each minute is then added together and divided by the number of minutes – pretty simple average calculation. However, is the audience tracked during the full broadcast or just the playing time? Is half-time included? Clearly the audience is the highest during the playing time of the sports event, and most sponsors only receive exposure during the playing time (via playing strip or stadium signage) so you should ensure your average audience is ‘whistle to whistle’. This provides you with the average audience of a particular match. Therefore, using this datapoint you can work out either of the following:

– AVERAGE average audience – dividing the sum of the average audience from each match during a season by the number of matches. For example if 3 matches have average audiences of 6m, 8m and 12m viewers then the average average audience of these 3 matches is 8.6m.

– CUMULATIVE average audience – the most popularly used stat in relation to TV audience data especially by sports rights holders. This takes the average audience of each match and adds them up over a season. Therefore for the same 3 matches above the cumulative average audience is 26m.

Peak Audience
Average audiences consider the TV viewership over the course of match or broadcast but because TV audience data is captured every minute we can also present the Peak audience during a match. Clearly the audience varies during a TV broadcast, usually slowly increasing from kick-off to half-time, dropping at half-time and then increasing. The increase in TV audience during the second half is determined by the level of Competitive Balance in the match. If a strong team scores three goals in the first half against a weaker, less popular team, most neutrals and non-committed fans will change channel and the audience will drop. However if two equally matches teams are involved in a competitive, close scoring match, the audience is less likely to wane. Peak Audience informs us of the point during a match when the TV viewership was at it’s highest. For example in a cup final this could be during the first half, a penalty shoot-out or when the cup is presented to the winning team. This data can allow sponsors to understand the TV audience at key times during the match and would allow them to plan use of signage or activations during the match to achieve maximum impact. This datapoint and the reverse of Peak, the ‘Lowest Audience’, also allows you to understand the variation of audience over a match or the ‘Range’. When an audience for an event is cited, always check if this is in fact the Peak audience. For a simple example, if a 3 minute broadcast had minute-by-minute audiences of 3, 6 and 5 then the average audience would be 4.6 and the peak audience would be 6.

Reach Audience
The final and most confusing form of TV audience data concerns the reach of a TV broadcast. This is the actual number of viewers that a broadcast of a sports event attracts. The reason that Reach audience is confusing is because the definition of ‘Reach’ can differ massively. How long does a viewer have to watch a match for in order to be classed as someone that has been reached by the broadcast. If a viewer watches the match for 1 minute, when your stadium signage is not visible, do you really want it to be reported upon under reach audience? Therefore, the common minimum viewership has been established a a ‘3 minute reach audience’. In order to be counted towards the reach audience of a broadcast a viewer has to have watched at least 3 minutes of the match. 5 minute reach audiences are also commonly used. Whether you watch minute 1, 45 and 90 of a soccer match, as long as you watch 3 minutes you will be counted in the reach audience of the broadcast. Reach audience there for adds up the total number of viewers that have watched a minimum of 3 minutes of a broadcast. This will clearly be a large number, much bigger than the Peak and Average audiences above. To demonstrate the global appeal and massive audience of a competition such as the English Premier League the reach audience of each match can be added up for all matches during a season to demonstrate a huge global reach. But are these interacts valuable for a sponsor?

The final confusing datapoint in relation to reach audience is the ‘POTENTIAL Reach Audience’ of a broadcast. This is not the actual audience recorded during and after a match but is the potential reach i.e. the total number of households or people that COULD potentially watch a sports broadcast. This is sometimes referred to as the Broadcast Reach or footprint. This is often the number cited by major sporting events predicting audiences in the billions. Events such as the FA Cup Final, SuperBowl or event World Cup Final might have a potential reach audience of 2 or 3 billion but would only actually achieve a reach audience of 500m, a peak audience of 100m and an average audience of 80m.

The Myth of F1’s Massive TV Audience
As major sporting bodies and teams compete for TV media deals and sponsorship, claims over TV audience and the popularity of broadcasts are often exaggerated or manipulated. With an understanding of how TV audience data is gathered and the types of data available it is possible to unpick and dymistify these claims and understand where value lies. For example, the Formula 1 governing body often claimed TV audiences of in excess of 600m. Without understanding TV data, this was often covered in the media and believed by sponsors, as the audience for each race, or even the audience over a season. However, the devil is in the detail. F1 were reporting the seasonal reach audience – the number of people broadcasts of F1 races actually reached during a season. However this was not the industry standard of 3 or 5 minutes per race. To be counted towards the F1 reported audience a viewer had to watch 15 minutes of race coverage during a season. This could be 15 minutes of one race, 2 mins in 8 races or even the last 5 minutes of 3 rain delayed races when the viewer was actually tuning in to watch their favourite soap opera. In more commonly used terms, the F1 should have been reporting average audiences of 40-50 million per race or cumulative average audiences of around 400m, certainly not 600m per race.

When using TV audience data – make sure you know what the data is claiming to represent.

Part 3 of of this guide to TV audience data for Sports Marketers, covering how to use and utilise TVdata in sport will be published shortly.