Commentary

FanWaves brings ads to sports tweets

Updated: April 16, 2010, 4:01 AM ET
By Ryan Corazza | Special to ESPN.com

With athletes, teams and leagues gobbling up millions of Twitter followers, it was only a matter of time before a monetization service catered specifically to the sports world popped up.

[+] EnlargeRudy Gay
LayneMurdoch/NBAE/Getty ImagesMemphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay is one of the first athletes to sign on with FanWaves.

Enter FanWaves.

The service, which launched April 9, is the brainchild of Octagon Digital, the company behind Twackle -- a platform that now aggregates relevant and popular sports links from Twitter, which we've touched on in this space previously.

The Knicks' and Suns' official Twitter accounts are early adopters of the ad network, as are NBA stars Chris Paul and Rudy Gay, among others. The hook on FanWaves is a clever one: Instead of sending out sponsored tweets hawking products or brands that could feel impersonal coming from an athlete or team to fans, the focus of the network is on placing ads near the top of your browser on links that are tweeted by an account using FanWaves.

As an example: If Gay tweets a photo of himself via a link, the ad surfaces on top of the destination page once a user clicks through. Because banner ads and the like are present on a large swath of Web pages to begin with, it feels more natural, and keeps the advertising out of a follower's stream.

Coincidentally, Twitter on Tuesday unveiled its new advertising model called "Promoted Tweets." On Wednesday, I talked with Jim DeLorenzo, vice president of Octagon Digital, to find out more about FanWaves.

Benefits of keeping the Twitter stream ad free

"One of the things that our athletes and the agents that represent them were saying is, 'We don't want to insert an ad directly into the Twitter stream.' Because it's a very personal connection that fans feel they have with an athlete through Twitter," DeLorenzo said. "That's one of the reasons why it's so popular and why so many fans follow athletes on Twitter -- it feels like they have that direct connection.

"If all of a sudden an ad is inserted into that Twitter stream, it rubs a lot of people the wrong way. And the last thing that we want to do is have a team or an athlete or a league offend any of their followers or fans through ads that are pushed out through the system. As an athlete or a publisher, it's an option -- you can send them out straight through the stream -- but we advise them not to.

"That's why we focus more on our top-bar ad, which is the ad that gets inserted into the page that you navigate to when you click on a link within an athlete's tweet."

What's in it for advertisers?

"FanWaves presents an opportunity for the advertiser or the brand that couldn't afford to do an off-line sponsorship with a premier athlete or professional sports team -- ones that just don't have the marketing budget to do something like that," DeLorenzo said.

"But to do something on FanWaves, you're going to be able to have a much lower cost structure in place because they're still tweeting -- you're not asking them to do anything different than they're doing already. It's not quite the same relationship as if an athlete is becoming an endorser of a product.

"So I think this actually opens up the sports marketing world to a lot of sponsors who previously would not be able to associate themselves with that professional athlete or professional sports team."

How an athlete gets paid

"As an athlete or publisher, you get to set your rate card -- FanWaves doesn't dictate to you how much you're going to charge," DeLorenzo said. "Our system works on links that an athlete or team tweets out. So we say, 'Set your rate card on how much you want to charge per tweet with a link per follower.'

"It's dynamic based on the number of followers you have. It's a much more expensive cost associated with that guy that has the million followers as opposed to 1,000 followers.

"When the advertiser comes in and they want to spend $10,000 or $20,000 or $100,000 on a particular campaign and they're looking at different athletes, they will be able to choose an athlete and in real time see -- based on the number of followers this athlete has -- how much money you the advertiser wants to pay. And this is how long that campaign would run for … this is how many tweets you would get from that campaign."

Conflict with Twitter?

"Twitter doesn't have a problem with it that I know of," DeLorenzo said.

"Twitter just announced its own advertising network, which I think is great and makes a lot of sense for them. I don't think that what we're doing would in any way conflict with what they're doing. They're putting the ads within a Twitter search and we clearly are not even coming close to doing anything like that."

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.

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