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Live Stream Marketing Strategies for Sports Services

December 07 2020 by William Merchan

Live-streamed sports are taking advantage of a captive audience as quarantined fans watch from home (the other WFH) this fall.

Sports broadcasting is slowly shifting toward digital, and in the next five years, global revenues from sports digital media rights will grow by 11.5%, according to eMarketer.

With this in mind, we’re curious to know how the top streaming sports sites have been advertising their services to hungry sports fans. Baseball, hockey, and basketball seasons are now wrapped for the year, and the NFL is in full swing, so COVID-fueled sports ad strategies have become increasingly apparent.

We’ve done our research on Hulu, ESPN+ and CBS All Access to see how they’ve been engaging sports fans over the last few months, and found three core live stream marketing strategies they are employing to reel in new viewers.

Athletes and influencers take the lead

What do Baker Mayfield, Peyton Manning, Damian Lillard, and social influencers have in common? They star in Hulu and ESPN’s digital ads, of course.

Hulu’s had great success with their Hulu has live sports campaign this year. Just as Pathmatics offers transparency into the digital advertising environment, Hulu’s offered similar transparency into their paid partnerships with the tagline “Hulu paid me to tell you Hulu has live sports.” The streaming site has spent over $96K on this Joel Embiid ad on sites including and in the last two months.

Hulu digital display ad - we have live sports!

One of Hulu’s top ads since October features a socially distanced, COVID-safe video creative with the likes of the NFL’s Baker Mayfield and Saquon Barkley’s head superimposed on an objectively not-athlete’s body. Hulu spent $451K on this ad since October after premiering on YouTube in September.

While Hulu hosts a series of athletes across digital ads, ESPN has employed an influencer strategy. YouTube comedian Scooter Macgrudgen stars in one ESPN+ ad that premiered on YouTube in early November. He created a TikTok style, 30-second ad where he represents different sports sitting around the kitchen table and having a conversation.

ESPN spent $31K on the ad, which promoted how the streaming service has original series, fantasy football tools, and more. Another ad from comedian and OG Vine star Trey Kennedy features a similar style where Trey operates a one-man ad as two people having a conversation about live sports. ESPN+ spent roughly $20K on the ad, which also premiered on YouTube.

Affordable and on-demand

The streaming competition is getting stiff in recent years, and the biggest streaming platforms know they need to offer competitive pricing and other deals to make their platform worthwhile.

The same goes for sports streaming ads. Pathmatics Explorer shows us that nearly every digital ad from CBS All Access — whether that’s an ad for kids shows, comedy lineups, or new dramas the platform is promoting — has a “try one week” or “try one month” free call to action on the ad.

For example, CBS All Access spent $22K on an NFL on CBS ad offering one week free in early October. The ad appeared on, Yahoo’s fantasy football site,, and others.

Similarly, Hulu and ESPN joined forces along with parent company Disney for a series of ads offering all three services for only $12.99 per month. We counted over 20 creatives between the two advertisers, featuring the trio bundle, with Hulu spending $293K on one version of a Facebook creative and ESPN spending much smaller amounts in the tens of thousands across a few days at a time in the last two months.

Viewers demand variety

While ESPN+ and Hulu have both maintained a concerted effort to advertise its live sports offerings in individual promotions, CBS All Access opts to promote its entertainment, news and sports offerings alongside one another.

In fact, while the platform does have a few NFL-specific ads from the last couple months, five of ten top desktop video ads from the platform feature live sports and new TV shows coming to the platform within the same creatives. All Access is all in on these ads, spending $3.4M on a desktop video ad featured on Yahoo from November 9 to 20.

In a similar fashion, Hulu also promotes digital ads that feature more than just its live sports streaming services. In another ad with Baker Mayfield, the platform touts viewers can catch 65+ channels with access to the “largest streaming TV library.” Take the ad below, for example, which we first caught in early October. Hulu spent nearly $33K on Facebook to promote its live streaming more broadly.

[EXT] Pathmatics_November blog_Sports-3

Live sports, couch-side

[EXT] Pathmatics_November blog_SportsHave you been persuaded to purchase a streaming service subscription from any of these digital ads? Let me know if these strategies worked on you. I’m at @williammerchan on Twitter and LinkedIn.

With many fans opting to watch from the comfort of their homes versus a bar, stadium, or tailgate parking lot, top sports streaming services Hulu, ESPN+, CBS All Access are connecting with fans in different but similar campaigns this fall.

About Author
William Merchan

William Merchan is a data science, marketing analytics, advertising technology and startup veteran. He currently serves as chief revenue officer at marketing intelligence company Pathmatics, where he is responsible for brand growth and awareness. Previously, William built products and grew teams at, MarketShare and Yahoo!. He holds a BS in Business from the University of California Berkeley and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern.

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