The company that measures television ratings is turning its attention to a new arena — arenas themselves. Starting this summer, Nielsen Media Research will begin measuring how many times television viewers see signs in stadiums.
It's a move that some say could redefine the way companies advertise during the big game.
When the Boston Red Sox beat the New York Yankees at Fenway Park last month, it was FleetBoston Bank that hit a home run. That's because during the game, broadcast by Fox, Fleet's name and logo was displayed on signs in various locations around the ballpark.
And those signs were front and center on the television screens of fans at home for more than seven minutes, appearing exactly 84 separate times in all, according to Nielsen. For the first time, the company best known for tracking television ratings is now measuring how often fans on television see ads in stadiums.
"What we're really saying — which we've known for some time — is that this signage has value," says Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports and now a sports television consultant.
The question now is: Just how much value? Pilson says Nielsen's new system will help figure that out, much the way Neilsens television ratings help set the value of commercials.
"Nielsen is now creating a currency so that the value of the signs can be more easily negotiated," said Pilson.
Signs promoting products are commonplace in sports. And while the ads might not resonate as much as traditional commercials, experts say they are still an effective way to reach a wide audience.
"It still is important,” said Karen McCallum, an ad buyer with McKee Wallwork Henderson. “And still a $26 billion business."
And it’s a business that McCallum says could see some big changes, especially when it comes to control.
"That's one of the most important ramifications of this measurement,” she said. “Because now, who controls the sign is critical. So the team certainly stands to benefit from that, as does the stadium."
Kevin Adler, who consults companies on sports sponsorships at Relay Sports Marketing, agrees.
"Of all the parties that have the potential to benefit from really quantifying the value of signage and exposure, the properties have as much to gain as anybody because it makes it a much more tangible sale for them," he said.
But since the networks control the broadcast, experts say they're the ones who could really benefit.
"Interestingly enough, the networks may down the road have the electronic capability to black out certain signs — to obscure them or to cover them with other signs," said Pilson.
Advertising can cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year for a prime position. And some say it may go even higher as a result of Nielsen's measurements.
One thing is certain: Expect to see more signs pop up as their value becomes better defined.
“Now there is credible, empirical, third-party evidence,” said McCallum. “And (advertisers) will be able to measure impressions and compare it to their overall media plan. So it will impact this positively."
Nielsen will begin the measurements in limited fashion this summer, with a full roll-out slated for the fall.