The Brave New World of Sports Sponsorships

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It’s finally happening. Live sporting events are welcoming back fans on a limited capacity basis and marketers are encountering the brave new world of sports sponsorships. The live sporting event activity may take quite a while to ramp up to its former level. In the meantime, your clients have big decisions to make about how to incorporate new sponsorship opportunities into their media mix.

The North American sponsorship industry is worth $24 billion. Historically, the largest investors in sports sponsorships have been financial services, technology, automotive and telecom companies. After a 37% drop in spending last year, 2021 may look different. 

For example, WARC analysts noted that marketers took advantage of the steep drop in traditional media prices in 2020. They shifted marketing budgets from sports sponsorships to traditional media formats like TV and print. Marketers will likely return to sports sponsorships, but they will do so using new formats and strategies.

Social Media and Social Justice

Marketers also paid close attention to the social justice initiatives that swept across the country in 2020. Going forward, brands will continue to look for innovative and unique ways to connect with consumers who are fans of major sporting events. This shift may mean aligning with individual athletes who champion positions on social justice issues that a brand cares about. In fact, when athletes speak out on a social issue, people listen. Sponsors of very popular athletes who post their stance on social media can count on a 63% increase in engagement versus “other social content,” reports Nielsen.

Esports Sponsorships

Globally, Kantar says sports sponsorship in 2021 will reach $50 billion globally. Analysts expect some of that sponsorship spending will go to sports with no in-​person spectators. During the pandemic, consumers became more engaged with esports events. The League of Legends 2020 World Championship, for example, drew a record number of viewers. Nielsen analysts see the sponsorship revenue growing from $347 million (2019) to $842 million (2025).

Sponsorships mean big bucks for sports teams and advertisers that buy into these opportunities can count on a decent ROI. At least half of sports marketers get 3% of their revenue from sponsorship investments. And 16% of sponsorships drive 5% of revenue for marketers. Football accounts for 36% of sponsorship market and basketball for 17.84%.

Brave New World of Sports Sponsorships

Despite the dominance of major sports in the sponsorship market, there is a place for less popular sports and small marketers. To succeed, your clients must consider the variety of media formats covered in a sponsorship investment. Local events may still rely on stadium signage, stadium naming rights and TV. But consumers are increasingly turning to streaming platforms, social media and mobile devices to find out more about their favorite teams and athletes. In addition to the games, they’re eager for content about coaches and the personal lives and struggles of the players. Brands that can creatively pitch sponsorship ideas will generate consumer attention and an impressive ROI.

You can help your clients decide who to target with their sponsorship investments. Check out the AudienceSCAN profiles available in AdMall from SalesFuel. The profiles contain valuable data on the media formats that are most influential on sports fans. 

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.