Originally created 04/24/04

Nielsen finds a way to measure impact of stadium signs



NEW YORK -- Nielsen Media Research will begin measuring how many times TV viewers see sponsorship signs at sports stadiums, a move that could lead to greater use of such advertising.

The company's test run during last Friday's Yankees-Red Sox game found that viewers saw FleetBoston Financial Corp.'s name - painted on the Fenway Park dugout and on fences - 84 separate times.

During the broadcast, Fleet's name was visible 7 minutes, 22 seconds, Nielsen said.

Use of sponsorship signage is common in sports, from the signs painted on baseball outfield walls to the emblems emblazoned on NASCAR race cars and driver uniforms. During exhibition play in Tokyo last month, the Yankees wore patches for a Japanese electronics company on their right sleeves and batting helmets.

The involvement of Nielsen, which has a monopoly on television ratings, will help determine a value for these sponsorships, said Neal Pilson, a sports television consultant and former CBS Sports president.

"There will be a greater focus on who controls the signage, because the signage is going to become currency," Pilson said.

There is now a service that measures the visibility of sponsor signs, but it doesn't have the authority of Nielsen, he said. Nielsen converts these sightings into "impressions," similar to the calculation used to set TV commercial rates.

Nielsen will begin its service in a limited fashion this summer, with a full launch expected in the fall.

Industry experts are mixed on how much value a quick flash of a company's name has, as opposed to a crafted, 30-second commercial message, he said. Still, Nielsen expects it will have more to measure as time goes on.

"A lot of sponsors who have been afraid to put their toe in the water, now that they have this measurement, they may come forward," said Barbara Zidovsky, Nielsen's senior vice president of sports marketing.

The sponsorship messages have become increasingly sophisticated. For instance, TV viewers of baseball games often see rotating signs on stadium walls behind home plate that aren't actually there; they are inserted electronically for TV.

Nielsen's measurements might help drive up the costs of these sponsorships. If a Ford sign is painted on the wall at Fenway Park, for instance, can that be counted as an advertisement in the New York TV market when the Red Sox play the Yankees?

"It will not cause any major dislocation," Pilson said. "It's just going to create a different bargaining chip between the team, the league and the sponsors."