Ahead of the Super Bowl, AdGooroo sought to examine paid search activity in the sports merchandise retail category, which primarily consists of branded sports jerseys, hats and other items for professional and college sports teams.
However, upon examining share of U.S. Google desktop text ad clicks on 1,489 of the most popular sports team- and merchandise-related keywords from January through December 2016, we saw a wider range of industry categories competing on the keyword group than just sports merchandise retailers.
Specifically, we found ticket sellers and colleges and universities figured prominently among the 13,951 advertisers who spent $59.6 million sponsoring the keyword group last year.
Fanatics a Dominant Player
Overall, sports merchandise retailers led on the 1,489 sports merchandise- and team-related keywords in 2016, as dramatically illustrated by online retailer Fanatics, which specializes in licensed sports merchandise and has partnerships with all of the major U.S. sports leagues.
Fanatics dominated the keyword group in 2016, accounting for close to a quarter (24.9% ) of all clicks on the 1,489 keywords we studied via both its own sites (Fanatics.com, FansEdge.com, SportsMemorabilia.com) and those it powers (MLBshop.com, NFLshop.com, Store.NBA.com, Store.NASCAR.com, etc.).
Major League Baseball’s Fanatics-powered retail site MLBshop.com took the top spot in the ranking with a 6.9% click share, followed by Fanatics.com (6.5%), and the Fanatics-powered National Football League retail site NFLshop.com (5.3%). Fanatics’ other sites at the top of the ranking include FansEdge.com and Store.NBA.com, which it powers for the National Basketball Association (both with a 2% click share), and Store.NASCAR.com (1.3%).
(Interestingly, we were surprised to find Major League Baseball’s e-Commerce site topping the ranking vs. the NFL’s site, considering football is widely thought to be the most popular sport in the U.S. According to a recent Kantar Media SportScope study, in fact, 53% of American adults identify as football fans compared to just 36% who identify as baseball fans.)
Big Ticket Advertisers
We found a total of 233 different advertiser sites sponsoring the sports merchandise and team keyword group who had the word ‘ticket’ in their URL, strongly suggesting that sporting event tickets are, in fact, what they are selling.
Ticketmaster, for instance, features prominently among the top advertisers on the keyword group in 2016, capturing 10.6% of all clicks in our sports merchandise keyword group during the year between its main site Ticketmaster.com (4.4% click share), its fan-to-fan marketplace site TicketExchangeByTicketmaster.com (4.4% also) and its TicketsNow.com site (1.8%).
Less obvious is the fact that Major League Baseball sites were also heavily sponsoring the keyword group to sell game tickets last year. In all, 22 official MLB team sites, including Yankees.MLB.com, RedSox.MLB.com and Royals.MLB.com, hawked tickets via the 1,489 sports team and merchandise keywords we studied, totaling 11.9% of all clicks on the keyword group.
Together, Ticket Master and Major League Baseball ticket sites alone accounted for 20.7% of total clicks on the keyword group last year.
The simple reason ticket sellers are prominent in our study of the sports merchandise category is that keywords featuring the names of professional sports teams and universities, without any merchandise-related modifier included such as ‘jersey’ or ‘hat’, are among the top paid search keywords for both ticket sellers and sports merchandise retailers. In fact, the terms ‘redsox’, ‘yankee’, ‘denver broncos’, ‘alabama football’, ‘kc royals’ and ‘chicago cubs’ were some of the most clicked keywords last year within the sports merchandise keyword group we studied.
The Old College Try
Just as professional sports team names were among the most clicked terms in our keyword group last year, we also found the names of universities and colleges, including ‘villanova’, ‘arizona state university’, ‘university of miami’ and ‘penn state’.
The inclusion of these terms makes sense for sports merchandise retailers given the popularity of college sports in the U.S. But it also means that colleges and universities will be competing on these terms as well.
In total we found 752 websites advertising on the sports team and merchandise keyword group that had a .edu domain suffix. Two of the most clicked universities in the study included VillanovaU.com and ASUonline.ASU.edu, which had a 1.3% and 1.2% click share, respectively.
However, when we examined the corresponding ads that a dozen or so educational institutions were running, we found that they were not promoting their sports team merchandise or sports tickets, but instead encouraging prospective students to apply to their degree programs.
All in all, the appearance of universities and ticket sellers in AdGooroo’s study of the sports merchandise retail category provides another example of the unique nature of paid search advertising, where companies in dramatically different industries—with different purposes—can end up directly competing with each other for limited space on the search engine results page due to their sponsorship of the same keywords.
Note: The findings of this study are limited to U.S. Google desktop text ad activity on the 1,489 keywords cited above from January through December 2016. Advertisers may have sponsored additional keywords that, if measured, would alter the findings of this study.