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How NFL Game Pass segmented data to reach the sales end zone


By Awards Analyst | writer

August 6, 2020 | 9 min read

Wavemaker was highly commended in the ‘Most effective use of data’ category at The Drum Digital Advertising Awards 2020 with its campaign for NFL Game Pass. Here, the team behind the entry reveal the challenges faced and strategies used to deliver this successful project…

The challenge

Online streaming service NFL Game Pass tasked Wavemaker to deliver a YOY growth in paid conversions of 73%. In addition to this, our conversions would only count on the paid-for subscriptions, which meant we had to get very granular in our segmentation of audiences to negatively match traits of the free product purchasers in our targeting.

Traveling more yards was the first challenge, the second was redesigning the team and tactics to help us be as robust as possible when implementing the plan, meaning we had to better understand our audiences and their performance throughout the season.

The strategy

We had to evolve our tech stack from being DSP and adserver reliant, to a setup which delivered:

• More granular micro-segment reporting to power budgeting.

• Real time data feeds to make faster decisions.

A dynamic creative optimisation platform to server the right messaging to the right person based on the data points collected on and offsite

We ended the 2018 season with a rudimentary audience framework. Previously our data segmentation was built using 12 basic audience segments. Moving into the 2019 season, we revolutionised our approach. We created “special teams” focused on better use of the existing NFL Game Pass tech stack and delved deeper into Adobe Audience Manager and Adobe Web Analytics, utilising all first party data signals and traits available to us.

Data sources from across the NFL network were scrutinised and tested - NFL CRM pools, fan site data, merchandise buyers, ticket purchases, etc. This revolution took shape in an audience framework which began by dividing our audiences into 4 broad buckets, or as we called them, macro segments. These included:

  • NFL based audiences.
  • Users interested in Fantasy Football.
  • External Partner integrations.
  • Game Pass specific data.

These marcro segments gave us the broad buckets for discussing audiences in a clear and understandable manner, as well as universal labels for analysing segments easily and quickly. In order to deliver on our challenging granular reporting and budgeting we had to get more niche. Our micro segments included (but were not limited to):

NFL based audiences

o Team fan (for all 32 teams)

o NFL shop purchasers

o Highlight watchers

Users interested in Fantasy Football

o Full Fantasy Football players

o Fantasy mini-game players

o Audiences interested in, but not signed up to Fantasy

External Partner integrations

o audiences engaging with creative

o Rezonence responders

Game Pass specific data

o site visitor

o Basket abandoner

Our micro segments allowed us to maximise our MVPs (most valuable players) – first party data. This sophisticated targeting solution led to 50+ unique segments, over 3x more than 2018. When we overlaid 17 market buckets, 6 languages, two DSPs and multiple creative variations, we generated 300,000+ unique variations and optimisation opportunities, compared to 250 the year before.

The challenge of managing this volume of line item data and optimising in realtime to deliver results required further advancements of the tech stack. We engaged a feed management provider and adopted a dynamic feed approach. The feed would be created and maintained by Ad Lib who worked with us to inject our audience segmentation and media buying strategy.

The feed was directly integrated to Campaign Manager which crucially, allowed us to report by micro segment within the ad server. Using a data pass back, the DSPs were able to seamlessly communicate information (such as audience segment, language, creative type etc.) back into Campaign Manager for reporting. This gave us a single source of truth for tracking all paid media.

With a fully developed strategy, we needed a way to visualise the data and learnings in real time for digital planners and buyers to act upon. We created a bespoke dashboard using PowerBI which showed all our audience and media performance by platform, partner, market, language, segment (including microsegment), creative and even keywords in search and compared this performance YOY and against target. The dashboard quickly became the quarterback of the entire season.

The campaign

Our strategy led to innovations delivered in three core elements:

  • How we activated the data.
  • How we personalised content based on data.
  • How we harnessed this data to influence our client’s business decisions outside of media.

Firstly, our data strategy was consistent across not only display, but also Social and Search, allowing us to activate this audience data consistently in all our core channels. Typically, destinations with AAM would be server-to-server, pushing audience segments into DSPs from programmatic activation. However, we went beyond this to utilise the data in Facebook Business Manager and Search Ads 360 using first party data as seed audiences to identify individuals more likely to purchase NFL Game Pass.

We worked with Adobe to create specific pixel-based destinations which pushed the data into these channels. This gave us a consistent data approach and audience segmentation across all three of our core channels. This data link was particularly useful across social, as it gave us access to data outside the walled garden, meaning we could target our bespoke audiences when they were consuming social.

Our second core element which drove innovation was our use of personalisation. As mentioned, we deployed a feed-management solution in order to facilitate the large quantity of audiences we had built. This solution allowed us to truly personalise creative messaging across all our audiences i.e. delivering a creative featuring Lamar Jackson to someone who we know is a Baltimore Ravens fan or up-selling the paid version to audiences who signed up to the free product. In the case of Search, we partnered with Mporium/7th Minute to dynamically change search ads based on real time game singles (touchdowns, score lines, injuries etc.)

These tactics completely changed our audience’s interaction with Game Pass and has been one of the biggest contributing factors in this season’s results. It’s moved us away from a very linear approach to creative messaging to something that is truly dynamic.

Finally, and perhaps one of the most unique elements of this season, was our ability to harness all the data our campaign produced to help inform decisions around the Game Pass product itself. At the start of the season we discovered a large proportion of consumers in Mexico and Brazil were converting with the free product which was hindering NFL’s ROI. We therefore negotiated to optimise the product landing page to shrink and, in some markets, remove the free product at the start of the season, when the life-time value of the consumer is highest, delivering maximum ROI for the product. The free product was then re-introduced after the first month.

A key to our success has been the commitment of the team working game days (weekends and nights) to ensure budgeting, delivery and targeting are being maximised during crucial windows for the product. Working in shifts from 2pm – 8pm and 9pm – 2am (GMT), we’ve supplied the resource and human touch the client has needed week in, week out on Sundays. Whether it has been pausing team specific audiences, upweighting market budgets or delivering real time performance data, this season would not have had the success we’ve achieved without the team working behind the platforms.

The results

All of this amounted to us over-delivering on target for the season as we generated an 80% increase on conversions YOY, 7% up from our target. From our core platforms, Search accounts for 65% of total conversions, social has 4% and programmatic brings in 23%.

Programmatic display conversions have accounted for much of the growth this season, with a 57% increase in paid conversions to date and a reduction in CPA by 14%. Social performance exceeds this with a 78% increase in paid conversions to date and CPA decreasing by 48%.

Our dashboard solution allowed us to provide micro-segment reporting on a weekly basis meaning we could effectively optimise budgets. This was also enabled by our consistent data approach and audience segmentation across all three of our core channels.

Our dynamic creative solution enabled us to ‘ladder up’ free product purchases to paid product consumers through retargeting relevant messaging and can be attributed to almost 8% of total conversions.

“Wavemaker has gone above and beyond to ensure Game Pass can grow and deliver success this season. Their audience-led approach took advantage of the wealth of data available to us and deciphering it into a strategy to generate value and tangible learnings. Their dedication to working on weekends and pro-active approach with optimisations has been instrumental throughout the season” - Sam Jones, CEO, Game Pass International

This project was highly commended at The Drum Digital Advertising Awards 2020. To find out which Drum Awards are currently open to entries, click here.

Technology Digital Advertising The Drum Awards

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We believe there always is a better way to grow. We positively provoke growth for our clients by reshaping consumer decision-making and experiences through media, content and technology. The Wavemaker way is globally consistent. Fuelled by the world’s most powerful consumer data, we understand where and how marketing can intervene decisively to help brands win more sales. Our 7,000 people across 88 markets have the deep knowledge, confidence and courage to provoke growth for some of the world’s leading brands and businesses. We are a part of GroupM, WPP’s global media investment management company.

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