Sports sponsorship ROI takes the lead with social data analytics

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman January 28, 2016
Head of analytics Gabor Szalai uses Alteryx as a prototyping tool for new custom reports and user interfaces.

Piptook client Ricky Carmichael

Hitching your brand to the image of a well-known sports star or team can be a risky affair.

Just last week, reports emerged that sportswear giant Adidas is seeking an end its multi-million sponsorship deal with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), in the wake of a doping scandal. (On the other hand, Adidas continues to sponsor FIFA, world football’s governing body, hardly a model of probity and fair-dealing, by anyone’s measure.)

Either way, since sports sponsorship involves substantial risk, with massive sums of money changing hands, you’d expect brands to have a clear handle on the Return On Investment (ROI) they get from these deals.

But that’s not the case, according to a 2014 report from analysts at strategy house McKinsey. They reckon that, in the US at least, around one-third to one-half of companies don’t have a system in place to measure sponsorship ROI comprehensively. Throw social media into the mix, with sponsors increasingly expecting sports stars to build deeper engagement with fans and actively promote their brands online, and the picture becomes even more murky.

Piptook is a Bristol, UK-based start-up that aims to shed some light on the issue, through social media analysis, on behalf of both brands and athletes. It’s helped 15-times US national motocross champion Ricky Carmichael and his team RCH Racing, for example, to demonstrate the value of the team’s social media exposure to potential sponsors; to develop ‘athlete reports’ on the social engagement of new riders; and to educate riders on the team about how to improve their social engagement in ways that might appeal to sponsors.

At the heart of all this activity is the Piptook Insight Engine, a bespoke technology platform built by Piptook CTO Alex Tanner, which crunches social data provided by Datasift and Gnip, as well as data that comes direct from Twitter and Facebook.

Bespoke reporting

As an adjunct to the Engine, Head of Analysis Gabor Szalai is also using self-service data blending and analysis tool, Alteryx. In addition to a range of standard reports that brands and athletes using Piptook’s service can access, he explains, the company also provides more complex, bespoke reports on request:

In one situation, a brand we work with had a particular requirement for a specific event - it wanted us to build a network map that showed everyone engaging on Twitter around that event, but that flagged up those people who were watching the event live, at the venue itself, so it could reach out to them and reward them in person.

Alteryx is an essential part of our analytical capability when it comes to creating these custom reports. So in this example, we used it to transform data into the network-map format that could be visualised easily and shown to the client.

Creating new data products, he explains, is about testing new ideas, which typically involves incorporating new metadata, connecting to new services and creating new models. With a standard development-team workflow, that process can take weeks, he says.

But with Alteryx, I can take data from our platform, re-merge it, connect with new metadata and new services, remodel it and create new visualisations - and rapidly reiterate until I’ve got the product I need.

In other words, he uses Alteryx as a rapid-prototyping tool. Szalai says:

I know it’s not the most common type of use for Alteryx but it works really well for me. And some of the ideas created in this way, if they stand the tests of time and client interest, will make it back into our technology platform as the user interface.

One of Szalai’s biggest challenges as head of analytics is helping Piptook communicate its findings in ways that brands can act upon. Many of the companies with which it works lack the expertise to translate new insights on social engagement into strategies they can implement to boost sponsorship ROI.

Using Alteryx as a prototyping tool, he says, enables him to develop and test new user interfaces that visualise data in ways that are easy to understand for people who are not data analysts by training:

Piptook was born out of the realisation that the value of athletes as brand ambassadors isn’t only a product of their achievements in the sports arena. To put it simply, social athletes can often bring more to the table than podium athletes. Our job is to help companies quantify that value and make the best use of it.

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