Sponsors in Elite. Consolidation of a Change
10 Jan 2022   ·   

Marketing specialists claim that from 2022 it will no longer be useful to plan sports sponsorship taking the fans as a benchmark. This is because of a change the pandemic has accelerated: the relationship of the public with the teams, sports and sports events. Today, only 25% of the population claims to be followers of a team. The proportion goes up to 50% when considering the ones who follow a specific sport instead of a club. But it only occupies the mass percentage of the old fans, 80%, in the general category of sports fans.

It reflects the change in the way to understand leisure in our societies. Decades ago, the most predominant sports in a specific country were one of the favorite leisure activities. This was eased by the fact that older generations had fewer offers. Among the youngest not only does streaming or video games prevail, but also the very technology turns the event into something more sophisticated, and that forces the sports event to compete with other options apart from adapting to the new forms of consumption. 

This change is already reflected in the established trend in sports sponsorship. We see it in the kind of sponsorship companies, in content creation, in athletes as brands in brands and in the increase in the importance of female athletes.

New Actors in Technology

Among the 10 sponsors that invest the most, we only find one that responds to the new fan model. The top part still belongs to sports clothes and sporting equipment manufacturers: Nike and Adidas are in the top, and Puma is on the rise. They are followed by banks and tourism-related companies. Behind them, there are food companies linked to the consumption in live events and in retransmissions: Heineken, Monster and Red Bull. Finally, in tenth place, Nintendo.

The presence of video games and consoles manufacturers is interpreted as the choice for leisure consumption made by the new generations. There are also some new actors from the tech industry that are emerging quite strongly. This year companies linked to cryptocurrency had closed important deals: FTX, an investment company on those assets, will sponsor for the first time the MLB league; platform will do it with UFC wrestling league; and Coinbase with NBA. 

The Importance of Sponsored Contents

Content creation is as important as tech companies due to its affinity with the new forms of consumption. In 2021 the effort to increase posts on social networks has been considerable: clubs have doubled athletes and tripled leagues, but the results were not that positive. The estimated cost per sponsorship in each post made by the teams is $1600, increasing up to $4400 in the case of leagues. 

The number is one more proof that the classic model is still alive. If we take the value of global sponsorship, the distance is shorter. The five major leagues with higher sponsorship income are NBA, Formula 1, LaLiga, UFC and NFL added $1338M for this concept. The top five sponsored teams were FC Barcelona, Manchester United, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Arsenal with $828.3M.

The Athlete as Brand Beyond the Club

Even though there are still four football players who create more value as a personal brand, for the first time Conor McGregor, a mixed martial arts wrestler, is close to one of them: Sergio Ramos.  The rest of the list is even more important, where the same cricket, basketball, baseball, boxing and motor racing athletes appear: Virat Kohli, LeBron James or Lewis Hamilton. New generations not only follow the athlete more than the club, but also choose the sport for their leisure time if the experience is satisfying, and it is not important for them if they have only one modality of choice.  Footballers’ income for sponsorship is close to Neymar’s $28M, and the rest of sports to the boxer Ryan Garcia $13.2M.

Female Sports

The interest of the new public in female sports is not reflected yet in the final numbers since the incomes are still smaller. But the number of interactions and followers shows great progress.  Like Alisha Lehman, footballer, who obtained 221% more interactions and 117% more followers. Hailie Deegan, in motor racing, got 30-83%. The tennis player Naomi Osaka got similar numbers with 23-58%.

The Challenge to Face

A tendency that shows up on the horizon and worries the sports industry is the commitment of the new generations to social causes. It has already been seen in the movement Black Lives Matter and racism in 2020 with the stand taken by Nike.  At that moment, it could be solved with a simple stand change. But in the future, it will not be so simple to approach the growing concern of Z and Alpha generations for climate change.  Today there are 250 sports sponsorship deals in the world linked to polluting companies: 31 with Toyota and 29 with Emirates. The latter is in the top 10 of sponsors.

The speed at which companies must become sustainable will have to adapt to the speed at which new generations of fans become adults with purchasing power, since they may not want to relate to clubs or sports that could be held responsible for worsening climate change.

Even though the future of sports sponsorship is laying out, it has already started to be written.


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