PopSugar is bringing its annual festival Play/Ground back for a third year, and the business of the event is starting to take shape.
The women-focused media brand, recently acquired in an all-stock deal by Group Nine, started the weekend event in 2017, inspired by having its own brand activations at popular music festival Coachella. Lisa Sugar, cofounder and president of PopSugar, admitted it was a “big risk and a big investment” but said attendees see value in it and brands are increasingly interested in getting involved.
Revenue from sponsorships and brand activations at the event, which includes activities and a number of celebrity speakers (none of which have been revealed yet), have doubled year-over-year, with roughly 200 brands and advertisers participating last year. The momentum is expected to continue this year when the event goes live in June with at least 15,000 attendees expected.
“The first year was definitely an investment,” Sugar said. “Year two was a break-even and this year we feel like we’ll be making great money from it.”
PopSugar also hosts, or is involved in, other smaller events throughout the year, but Sugar said overall, the experiential part of the company’s business makes up about 15 percent of total revenue. The rest is mainly driven by advertising deals and affiliate marketing. When PopSugar was acquired, it was valued at $300 million. Assuming the value was calculated based on revenue, as PopSugar is a private company, annual revenue from experiential may be somewhere between $15 million and $25 million.
Whatever the revenue is, it’s expected to continue growing. Part of the appeal for Group Nine was PopSugar’s events business, along with its largely young female audience. So, Sugar is looking to do even more marquee events, albeit likely smaller than the annual Play/Ground, held in 175,000 square feet of space at Pier 94 in New York.
“There’s a community building around it; people on Instagram are already asking what the dates are this year so they can plan,” Sugar said. “As a company, we definitely see how we can do more of these, we’re capable of building off this Play/Ground intellectual property.”
How many more and what size is still a question, but Sugar said if the size was kept to 1,000 to 2,000 attendees and fewer advertisers, quarterly would be doable.
And more advertisers are open to doing experiential advertising for their brands. Play/Ground this year is expanding into topics like sports and gaming, along with sex, health, money and tech, while keeping up with popular areas like beauty, fashion, food and wellness. There is also a retail pop-up with a number of brands that is fully shoppable during the event, which has proven popular with shoppers and brands.
“That’s what’s so exciting, we’ve built this place that brands are really enjoying,” Sugar said. “There is an education process though as well, because bands don’t see a technical return on investment like they would with a banner ad.”
The event’s expansion into sports and gaming is driven by both advertiser opportunity and reader data, Sugar said. Gaming is a growing area for media and tech as it advances into accessible AR/VR modalities and it’s showing up a lot at events targeted at Millennials and Gen Z. PopSugar is tapping into that market a bit with its differentiated women-dominant audience. Sports is a more holistic move for the event, as it’s made fitness a major part since the beginning and interest in female athletes is growing with the popularity of the Women’s World Cup and stars like Serena Williams.
“Sports is becoming more of a mass pop culture interest,” Sugar said. “We want to make sure we’re part of that conversation.”
With every media brand still operating today throwing at least one event a year, many far more often, it seems possible that fatigue among consumers could set in. But apparently it hasn’t yet, nor has it for advertisers, eager to find ways to get more than a passing glance from consumers.
“It’s great if you can create a purpose for the event for the audience,” Sugar said. “If they feel it’s something they’re getting rushed through or it’s a bunch of clear advertiser product, then by all means we don’t need more of those. But if people are learning something, they’re getting more than a normal shopping center, it’s great. And we could do them all the time.”
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