Industry Technology

The Remarkable Rise & Crumbly Demise Of Third-Party Cookies In Sports

You’ve heard of third-party cookies, right? No, not those tasty cookies we eat. We’re talking about digital trackers found crumbling across the internet. Third-party cookies became the most commonly hidden, intrusive files on the internet over the past three decades. But now they’re going away.

Today we’ll explore how the demise of this widely accepted technology will affect the sports industry.

Half-Baked History

Cookies were invented in 1994 at Netscape, the company behind one of the first ever web browsers. By using cookies, websites could track user behavior, remember user preferences, and provide tailored experiences for each visitor.

The technology inevitably helped improve user experiences across the internet. However, within just a few years, advertisers learned they could build their own type of cookies that tracked visitors across multiple websites.

This is when third-party cookies came out of the oven; they were developed to track users’ activity across multiple sites and target ads accordingly. They surpassed everyone’s expectations and soon became incredibly popular among advertisers.

Remarkable Rise

Whether aware or not, every seasoned sports executive has witnessed the undeniable growth of third-party cookie usage over nearly thirty years. Look no further than at the advertising networks leveraged daily to target fans across digital media.

digital ad spending

Ever since their inception, third-party cookies have been a popular tool for companies to learn more about their consumers by tracking user behavior (i.e. Google Analytics) and deploying targeted advertisements across multiple mediums. They are commonly used to amplify the reach of targeted ad campaigns, build user profiles, and track user activity.

Crumbly Demise

Over the past few years, there’s been a sea change. Consumers started becoming more aware of how third-party cookies could be used against them that the digital ad industry and governments started to listen. Soon came stricter regulations being implemented regarding use and storage.

Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that over 90% of internet users are aware of third-party cookies and 88% of users are concerned about the way their data is used by companies. Furthermore, according to the research, 85% of users think that companies should be required to get permission from users before collecting data about them.

Reality Bytes

In response to the privacy and security concerns, several popular web browsers like Safari and Firefox have phased out third-party cookies already. Google announced it would stop allowing third-party cookies in Chrome in 2022 but has since delayed the move until the end of 2023 – likely due to its massive market share in the space.

ad blocker usage

On top of that, many consumers are now using ad blockers to prevent tracking behavior and dodge personalized ads all together.

As a result of these factors, brands across the world are looking for alternative ways to leverage consumer data.
Now leagues, teams, and media companies focus on gathering zero-party data, collecting first-party data, and building loyalty programs to identify fans across all mediums.

Direct Relationships Matter

Regardless of how you choose to collect fan data in the future, it’s all going to come down to creating direct relationships and getting a fan’s consent.

When a fan shares how they feel, even if you don’t know their name or contact info, you’ll find yourself gathering what we call zero-party data.

Zero-party data is information that is willingly and proactively shared by consumers. This fascinating type of data can include preferences, interests, behaviors, and other personal information that the consumer willingly provides through surveys, feedback forms, preference centers, and other interactive tools.

Transparency Builds Trust

When you ask your fans to share information, be transparent about what you’re going to do with it. Your organization will build trust while giving them the opportunity to opt-in and share how they feel – an opportunity most fans are delighted by.

Just as zero-party data provides a more complete picture of a fan’s sentiment and interests, the same can be said for first-party data you collect from a fan you’ve already connected to Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Either can be used to personalize fan experiences and improve the overall customer journey.

Both types of data are considered to be very valuable for companies because of the accuracy and reliability of the information thanks to a direct relationship with the consumer. A trusting fan who opts into a community and shares information is priceless in our industry.

Rewards Earn Allegiance

Sports organizations can bridge the gap between zero-party and first-party data by incentivizing fans for participation. The chance for rewards such as badges or winning unique experiences will increase the odds of a casual fan registering with your organization directly.

Look no further than NASCAR Fan Rewards or PLL Nation, an in-app experience recently launched by the Premier Lacrosse League. These are impressive examples that other sports leagues and teams can learn from.

NASCAR Fan Rewards

The more you lean into zero-party data and first-party data, the quicker you can forget about third-party cookies controlling performance of sales. It may have worked for a while, but digital advertising was also a line item that added up and skipped out on direct relationships with fans.

Ask Your Fans How They Feel

Now that third-party cookies are almost extinct, sports organizations need to develop direct relationships with fans that build trust and earn loyalty.

An era of transparency has begun; a period where loyalty is earned between customers and companies alike. This could be the very thing we need to keep the internet fresh, safe and secure for our fans.

We can grow sports more than ever before by building trust, incentivizing participation and giving our hardcore fans the rewards they’ve clearly earned.

It all starts with ignoring third-party cookies and directly asking your fans how they feel.