From social media to sponsorships, sporting institutions worldwide are facing a technological boom, and savvy fans have more demands than ever about how their fan experience should be.
While the pandemic added a great sense of community to fan groups worldwide, a more digital- and content-focused approach to sports marketing became the order of the day for engaged users worldwide.
From second-screen experiences and NFTs to crypto, the metaverse, and women's sports, we identified seven major trends that sports marketers should look out for in 2023 and beyond.
When gameday comes around, fans worldwide only have one thing on their mind—their team.
The matchday experience has evolved in recent years thanks to social media, with teams turning press conferences, line-up announcements, and match events into content creation opportunities.
40.7% of global sports fans now stream live sports through digital platforms.
And the fans lap it up. From retweeting a line-up to blasting highlight reels in-stadium before a match, the matchday experience (especially for live sports) has become a barometer for engagement and reach worldwide.
Viral, topical content doing the rounds is a great bridge-building exercise between clubs and fans.
The Nielsen Sports Report found that 40.7% of global sports fans now stream live sports through digital platforms. Nielsen also found that sports viewership has become a multi-screen experience—with 47% of sports watchers simultaneously interacting with other live content, a 5% increase in 2020.
For every matchday, there are ten times as many non-matchdays, and the hype train is always ready to leave the station. Sports institutions worldwide have cottoned onto this, producing content around previous and upcoming events in equal distribution.
The Nielsen Sports Report estimated that 39% of global fans watch non-live content related to a live sports event.
39% of global fans watch non-live content related to a live sports event.
The key is giving fans what they want—which is everything. In the Premier League in particular, clubs’ Twitter feeds are regularly updated with non-matchday content, including “On This Day” throwbacks, training pictures, youth fixtures, and even birthday messages to former players.
Sports institutions now have their own internal 24 hour news cycle and a captive audience—expecting more non-matchday content to be informed and to engage with their favourite teams between matches.
Diego Pinzón, Director, Digital Media and Content at Atlanta United FC said: “Little by little, I predict that sports will see additional or second-screen content dominating over a live match, and fans are going to be in the driving seat when it comes to generating content that even competes with big sport media organizations.”
This is a fascinating trend because it leans on the so-called “third space” theory—shared, digital spaces that are accessible from remote physical locations.
It means football fans from Australia can live chat with fans in Europe on Twitter while they watch their team play. The NBA Discord server has more than 147,000 members.
The sports industry exemplifies the massive potential of digital spaces, especially on matchday. Live blogs and online chat functions have turned fandom into a deeply social experience, with instant reaction podcasts and live broadcasts increasingly popular.
If clubs themselves can harness the power of “dual-screen” entertainment sooner rather than later, fans will be deeply grateful—and more engaged than ever.
The Amazon Prime series All or Nothing has documented entire campaigns for well-known football clubs like Arsenal, Manchester City and Juventus; New Zealand’s “All Blacks”; and NFL franchises including the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams.
These documentaries are the first modern media that shine a spotlight on the inner workings of the sporting world, from dressing room tellings-off to interviews with executives, managers and players.
It’s not just Amazon producing sports documentaries—other notable sports documentaries include Formula One: Drive to Survive and Sunderland ‘Til I Die, which were both made in partnership with Netflix.
There are a number of benefits for the institutions involved: the content is cultivated to make the subjects look good; its demand creates column inches for publications; and there will be a vast library of clips (and meme templates) for social media.
Every major sports institution would jump at the opportunity to market themselves via an Amazon documentary, so expect more of them in the coming years.
The most expensive NFT in the world is a digital statue of LeBron James, which sold for a whopping US$21.6m.
And with bitcoin.com reporting that football giants Real Madrid and Barcelona have made a joint trademark application to offer their own cryptocurrency wallets, it’s clear that crypto and the metaverse is attracting the attention of the big boys.
Meanwhile, market research and consultancy firm Market Decipher found that NFT sports collectibles are expected to witness exponential growth of 38% during the ten years from 2022 to 2032:
The Sports Trading Cards market was estimated at USD 12,927.3 million in 2021 and is forecast to reach a market value of USD 49,373.2 million by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 13%.
Deloitte’s 2022 sports industry outlook noted that individual and season tickets will evolve into usable products in the coming years, “turning what was once a simple piece of paper into a dynamic product.”
Sponsorships are essential revenue streams and marketing strategies for sports clubs. The Premier League’s ‘big six’ alone generated $1.2bn in sponsorship deals in the 2021/22 season (the other fourteen teams’ sponsorships were worth a combined $300m), for a total sponsorship revenue of over $1.5bn.
All good? Not quite.
Betting remains a controversial industry for sports institutions, with ongoing questions around ethics and gambling addiction.
In 2021/22, nine of the 20 Premier League team’s main shirt sponsors were in the gambling industry.
According to The Times newspaper, Premier League clubs are set to agree to a voluntary ban on “front-of-shirt” betting sponsorships in the future; in 2021/22, nine of the 20 Premier League team’s main shirt sponsors were in the gambling industry. A further nine Premier League clubs had sleeve sponsors from the betting or gambling industry in 2021.
This is a trend that the sporting world is already trying to set straight. In the US, the NFL has limits on the number of TV spots they will sell to sports betting companies, and the NBA isn’t allowing sportsbooks to advertise on their teams’ jerseys.
If sports institutions are beginning to take stronger stances on who and what they are willing to be sponsored by, it will be interesting to watch the rise of “ethical” sponsorships in the coming years.
The Nielsen Group found more than 2,250 publicly announced esport sponsorship deals globally in 2021 (compared to 1,785 in 2020). In the same period, the female esports fan base grew by 19%.
Meanwhile, women’s sport as a whole is gaining serious traction. The Drum reported that in 2022, more than 15 million viewers watched women’s sport January and March to watch women’s sports in the United Kingdom–nearly triple the amount compared with 2021—while the EA Sports’ FIFA 23 is set to add women’s clubs to the roster for the first time.
TJ Adeshola, Head of U.S. Sports at Twitter, said: "One of the encouraging trends is the growth of the women’s sports community and how it is driving an outsized impact on sport. You are already seeing how the NCAA [the National Collegiate Athletic Association] has launched gender-differentiated social handles.In 2022, female sports will continue to drive the industry forward, which will help increase the overall affinity for the sport. They will likely take a few big, bold swings within the greater sports community, which will result in it rallying around them."
So there you have it, our predictions for the trends that will dominate 2023 and beyond.
From blockbuster TV series to complex financial products, it’s clear that sports marketing isn’t just about tapping into the “game day” experience anymore. Fans rely on their favourite sporting institutions to deliver a consistent yet varied flow of engaging online and offline content, to be enjoyed on any device, at any time - and any place they choose.
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