2021: The summer of sports marketing


The summer of 2021 has been hotly anticipated by sports fans around the world, after most competitions were cancelled or postponed in 2020. Sport is unique in its ability to bring joy to billions of people across the world and, with fans hungrier than ever for the excitement of live sport, there are myriad opportunities this summer for advertisers to get involved and associate their brands and products with these positive, life-enhancing and emotional moments. 

There are a number of famous competitions and tournaments taking place this summer, each of which will attract millions, if not billions of eyeballs. They include the UEFA European Football Championship (a.k.a the Euros), its Latin American equivalent Copa America, golf’s Ryder Cup, various international cricket tournaments, Wimbledon Tennis and, of course, the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. Many athletes will be competing in front of fans for the first time in many months, which will, in turn, enhance the experience for audiences watching at home. 

Boosting media pricing inflation

Of course, sports sponsorship and advertising play a critical role in the marketing plans of many brands, and they will be relieved that sport has returned to our screens. As we explored in our Inflation Report earlier this year, media pricing was set to hit inflationary levels in much of the world in 2021; the busy sporting calendar will undoubtedly have contributed to the increase in pricing.  

There has been a high appetite for sports sponsorship and advertising opportunities as people and brands embrace the positivity that sport delivers; while we are still very much battling the Covid-19 pandemic, celebrating competition and sporting achievement allows us to hope for a future in which the pandemic is behind us. Naturally, media vendors are breathing a sigh of relief that sporting fixtures are back and that advertiser appetite is so high. NBCUniversal, for example, has secured at least $1.25bn in ad revenue for its Olympics coverage – matching the amount secured in March 2020 before the Games were postponed, and surpassing the previous record of $1.2bn for the Rio Olympics in 2016.  

Could smaller in-person audiences affect TV viewership figures?

The market is buoyant and broadcasters are confident that sporting events will attract large audiences, particularly because travel restrictions are still in place in many countries, so fewer summer holidays could boost viewer numbers.  

However, there are some questions about whether reduced in-stadium crowds will affect TV viewers’ experiences, and therefore audience numbers. Kantar found that two-thirds of US sports fans found sporting events without in-person fans during the pandemic less enjoyable than events at which there are live audiences. Could this lead to smaller-than-expected audiences? This is a particular worry for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, who have decided that only local fans will be admitted to the stands, which could affect the atmosphere. Indeed, there are some who doubt whether the Games should be going ahead at all given the ongoing pandemic.  

What will sport coverage and sponsorship look like in 2021?

The fact that more fans than ever are having to engage with sports from their homes has created opportunities for brands to enhance those experiences, particularly via mobile and digital platforms. Live sports broadcasting has been disrupted by digital, with the linear TV experience no longer the norm: 54% of global sports fans watch coverage or highlights online.  

Connected TV comes to the fore

With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that connected TV is playing an increasing role in media companies’ coverage strategies. Peacock will be playing a key role in NBCUniversal’s coverage of the Olympic Games, showing some of the most prestigious events including gymnastics and track and field on its free, ad-supported tier and live men’s basketball on Peacock Premium – a move that NBCUniversal is positioning as a ‘test and learn’ strategy. The addition of Peacock to NBCUniversal’s Olympics strategy, as well as other digital platforms, has allowed different, smaller advertisers to get involved, rather than just the very biggest brands as was traditionally the case. Indeed, 80 of the 120 brands who have purchased spots around Olympic programming did not participate in the 2016 Games. 

Discovery and Snap team up to deliver Olympics coverage to a younger audience

Another interesting digital development around the Tokyo Olympics is Discovery and Snap’s partnership. The two companies have teamed up to bring Olympics content and coverage from Discovery+ and Eurosport to Snapchat’s Discover platform in the form of the ‘Eurosport Olympics’ daily show, which will reach Snapchat’s more youthful demographic. The partnership covers the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the Winter Olympics in Beijing in 2022. 

Chinese brands are increasingly interested in the Euros

Meanwhile, it’s been interesting to see increased interest from Asian brands, particularly Chinese advertisers, in the Euros. Electronics company Hisense was the first Chinese brand to sponsor the Euros in 2016, but three more signed partnerships for this year’s tournament: Vivo, Alibaba-affiliated Alipay, and ByteDance’s TikTok. These companies will all be seeking not only to reach new, overseas markets with their brands, but also to build global prestige for their consumers at home. 

The summer of sport: a boost to recovery

The summer of sport is bringing a boost to many who need it after an extremely challenging 18 months: brands looking to re-engage their consumers on a meaningful, emotional level; media vendors seeking to boost their bottom lines and, of course, fans who are desperate for good news stories. The plethora of sporting tournaments and competitions this year and the money being poured into them by brands and consumers will no doubt have a positive impact on the global economy. It will by no means be an ordinary year, and there will be challenges for all involved in sports and sports marketing, but these events mark the end of a dark period and the beginning of a brighter future – and what better opportunity is there for advertisers than to be associated with that? 

Header image: Vasyl Shulga / Shutterstock

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