The State of Sports Marketing Entering 2021

Despite the pandemic, sports properties were still able to drive $7.9B in sponsorship value for brand partners through their social media channels. Though total posts by sports entities and the interactions on those posts were down across the board in 2020 compared to 2019, the world of sports continued to grow, adding over 2B new social followers. When it comes to value for brands, COVID-19 and the global sports shutdown beginning in March 2020 had a significant impact, causing an estimated loss of over $600M in sponsorship value. While there was a meaningful impact to the value, sports entities were able to pivot many activations to social and digital last year as “make-goods” for in-person activations that couldn’t happen due to the pandemic. These make-goods contributed to an overall +8.3% rise in sponsorship value generated through deliberate brand promotion in 2020 over 2019. Going forward, we expect this industry trend to continue where social media rights and activation will be a top priority for brand marketers and sponsorships.

The data gathered for this article is from social and digital channels, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Twitch, VK, Weibo, and YouTube. The study focused on nearly 8,000 brands sponsoring major professional sports leagues, teams, and athletes. Through computer vision and advanced machine learning, every post by those sports properties and individuals was analyzed to identify deliberate promotion of any brand by direct mention, hashtag, or keyword in the text of the post as well as brand logos within the images and videos. These branded posts were then analyzed to evaluate post quality and brand value for the associated brand(s) and summarized to come up with the data included below. The date range for this data was 1st January, 2020 – 31st December, 2020.

Trends In 2020 & What To Watch For In 2021

Overall, global apparel giant, Nike, once again dominated all brands in terms of sponsorship value received from the sports ecosystem with over $470M in AAV (Adjusted Ad Value). Apparel & Accessories brands combined to be the #1 industry in sponsorship by value received. The top 5 industries (Apparel & Accessories, Financial, Automotive, Beverage, and Travel) accounted for 58% of the total sponsorship value created across the entire sports ecosystem. Get the full report on The State of Sponsorship in 2020 by Hookit here.

However, the focus of this article is on the brands outside the top 50. Instead of naming the biggest brands sponsoring the biggest sports properties, we analyzed which brands saw significant gains in 2020 but still aren’t at the top of the sports marketing pyramid yet. For example, Gambling brands saw significant gains over 2019, with many over doubling the number of sports properties promoting their brand and growing the value received from sports partners by over 130% as a category. That’s not to say that Apparel & Accessories brands are all in the top 50, as newcomer Gymshark is quickly rising among brands in sports thanks to partnerships with boxers like Ryan Garcia. Competitors Titleist and TaylorMade Golf both made significant strides in AAV received. While 7 brands from the Gambling sector made the On The Rise list, other brands like BT (Telecom) and NTT (Technology) stood out above the competition in their sector.

Methodology For Choosing The Brands ‘On The Rise’

The brands selected as “On The Rise” were chosen using several criteria when examining their sponsorship data in 2020 and comparing it to 2019. To start, the total sponsorship value received (AAV) had to be over $1M to show the brand is a significant player in the world of sport, but as mentioned above, any brand in the top 50 by AAV was not considered. In addition, each brand had to see an increase in AAV in 2020 compared to 2019 AND had to move up in the ranks compared to other brands. So, if a brand ranked 100th by AAV in 2019, it had to rank at least 99th by AAV in 2020. Finally, to choose our finalists, we used several additional metrics, including the growth in number of sports properties promoting the brand, the growth in number of posts about the brand, and the change (increase) in how well the brand was promoted by the world of sports.

Below, you will find our list of 35 brands ranked by their AAV Growth, or % increase in AAV seen from 2019 to 2020. With each brand, you’ll find key metrics and a brief explanation of why that brand was chosen to be among the Brands On The Rise.

Brands On The Rise

BioSteel Sports

AAV Growth: +431%
Posts: 464 (+167%)
Top sport by AAV: Basketball
AAV Rank: 725 (+747)

Note: In December 2020, BioSteel inked multiple deals with NBA teams to be the “official sports drink” of the team and has deals in place with some of the best young talent across sports, including Patrick Mahomes (NFL), Gleyber Torres (MLB), and Eugenie Bouchard (WTA).


Secret Deodorant (P&G)

AAV Growth: +377%
Posts: 459 (+289%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 747 (+680)

Note: Top posts promoting Secret all came from individual female athletes (rather than teams or leagues) and were focused on Secret’s support of the NWSL Challenge Cup and Secret’s Super Bowl LIV ad.


Hummel

AAV Growth: +315%
Posts: 9,060 (+369%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 396 (+435)

Note: Hummel saw a major spike in value in early September 2020 when several players moved teams, including global star James Rodriguez joining Everton, where Hummel is the kit supplier. As a kit supplier, it is no surprise that 72% of AAV for Hummel came from teams in 2020.


Fun88

AAV Growth: +281%
Posts: 3,791 (+490%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 153 (+207)

Note: While the top post by AAV for Fun88 came early in 2020 by Kobe Bryant on Weibo celebrating the Chinese New Year, 8 of the top 10 promoters for the Gambling brand came from the English Premier League. Through field board and other exposures, 96% of Fun88’s value came from logo exposure while only 4% came from deliberate text promotion.


Ineos

AAV Growth: +253%
Posts: 6,827 (+155%)
Top sport by AAV: Motorsports
AAV Rank: 93 (+133)

Note: In early 2020, Ineos announced a partnership with the Mercedes F1 team that saw the Ineos logo added to the car and driver’s uniforms. Later in the year, the partnership expanded with Ineos taking an ownership stake in the team. Combined, Formula 1, Mercedes F1 team, and Lewis Hamilton generated 80% of the value for the global conglomerate.


32Red

AAV Growth: +238%
Posts: 5,888 (+314%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 353 (+314)

Note: As the jersey sponsor of Derby and Rangers FC, 32Red received nearly 4,000 posts promoting their brand from just these two teams. 


Macron

AAV Growth: +208%
Posts: 32,649 (+287%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 121 (+128)

Note: While success on the field is important for sponsors, it also opens new doors for the brands to receive sponsorship value. For example, Lazio’s run to make the Champions League Round of 16 led to logo promotion of Macron by UCL when posting about Lazio. Though Lazio posted 6x more promoting Macron than the UCL, the UCL generated more total AAV for Macron in 2020, an opportunity that only comes by partnering with successful teams.


Parimatch

AAV Growth: +203%
Posts: 3,305 (+2,278%)
Top sport by AAV: Fighting Sports
AAV Rank: 254 (+215)

Note: Parimatch’s partnership with the UFC propelled the brand up the ranks in 2020 as the UFC was one of the first sports to restart after the global COVID shutdown. However, the brand was only deliberately promoted in 2% of posts, leaving room for Parimatch to improve and continue rising among brands in sports.


Unibet

AAV Growth: +198%
Posts: 14,600 (+247%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 90 (+103)

Note: While Global Football is still the dominant sport in driving AAV for Unibet, the gambling brand saw a 45% increase in AAV from American sports properties, including value generated across the NFL, NBA, NHL, & MLB. Look for this expansion to continue as more states legalize sports betting.


Can-Am Off-Road (BRP)

AAV Growth: +140%
Posts: 4,949 (-1%)
Top sport by AAV: Motorsports
AAV Rank: 377 (+195)

Note: Though selling a very different product to a different consumer, Can-Am Off-Road pursued a similar athlete-first strategy as Secret Deodorant. The BRP subsidiary received over 70% of its AAV from athletes, mainly from drivers Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, and Brian & Hailie Deegan.


BT

AAV Growth: +122%
Posts: 5,729 (+69%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 197 (+110)

Note: BT benefitted from having their BT Sport logo included in posts clipped from their broadcast. However, that wasn’t the only way the brand saw increased promotion with over 20% of their value coming from deliberate text promotion, many of which were direct ads through athletes like Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold, or Gareth Bale.


Rockstar Energy

AAV Growth: +94%
Posts: 14,840 (-16%)
Top sport by AAV: Rodeo
AAV Rank: 83 (+29)

Note: Rockstar Energy’s top sport being Rodeo is an example of an athlete partnership penetrating a league sponsored by a competitive brand (Monster Energy). One post with over 59M video views drove the majority of value for Rockstar from Professional Bull Riding, highlighting the impact one key moment can have for an athlete and their brand partners.


Nivea (Beiersdorf)

AAV Growth: +92%
Posts: 1,360 (+196%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 288 (+87)

Note: In contrast to P&G’s Secret Deodorant, Nivea focused its partnerships on sports organizations, receiving 97% of its sponsorship value from teams and leagues. An area of potential growth for Nivea comes from the platforms the brand is promoted on. While 86% of its AAV came from posts on Facebook and Instagram, less than 50% of the posts promoting the brand happened on those two platforms.


Sunoco

AAV Growth: +86%
Posts: 2,553 (-3%)
Top sport by AAV: Motorsports
AAV Rank: 645 (+154)

Note: Unlike most other brands that received the majority of their value on Instagram, Sunoco saw 57% of its AAV come from Facebook. Multiple factors impact this including the volume of posts by platform, in this case, Facebook received 32% of the posts, and the audience of the sports properties promoting the brand. The top promoters of Sunoco include NASCAR & NHRA, both of which have the most followers on Facebook.


Titleist

AAV Growth: +84%
Posts: 5,586 (+15%)
Top sport by AAV: Golf
AAV Rank: 326 (+82)

Note: Showcasing the value of major events, Titleist was able to capture the attention of golf fans around The Masters. 10% of the value generated for Titleist during the entire year of 2020 came within +/-3 days of the Masters.


Valvoline

AAV Growth: +82%
Posts: 4,350 (+119%)
Top sport by AAV: Cricket
AAV Rank: 318 (+65)

Note: Proving that a brand doesn’t have to stick to endemic partnerships, neither of Valvoline’s top 2 sports by AAV were motorsports. Cricket and Global Football combined to generate 70% of the total sponsorship value for the oil brand. During the IPL season, from early September through mid-November, Valvoline saw a significant rise in average weekly sponsorship value. The week after the Hyderabad Sunrisers, of which Valvoline’s logo appears on the jersey, were eliminated from the playoffs, the value generated for the brand dropped by 90%.


Ladbrokes

AAV Growth: +80%
Posts: 1,956 (+23%)
Top sport by AAV: Darts
AAV Rank: 422 (+115)

Note: Though the majority of promoters for Ladbrokes are from Global Football or Rugby, Ladbrokes is a title sponsor of multiple Professional Darts Corporation tournaments, including the Ladbrokes UK Open which ran in early March, 2020. The week of that tournament, Ladbrokes received 3x the AAV than any other week during the year. As the PDC has gained 22% more followers since then, look for value coming from the niche sport to continue to increase for title sponsors like Ladbrokes.


Rocket Mortgage

AAV Growth: +75%
Posts: 2,117 (+100%)
Top sport by AAV: Golf
AAV Rank: 289 (+67)

Note: Though the PGA Tour was the top partner for Rocket Mortgage in 2020, esports organization 100 Thieves shot up the list of partners, generating the 4th most value for Rocket Mortgage in 2020, 3x more than the organization did in 2019. Look for more out of this partnership and others in esports for Rocket Mortgage in 2021.


cbdMD

AAV Growth: +75%
Posts: 2,896 (-15%)
Top sport by AAV: Fighting Sports
AAV Rank: 416 (+108)

Note: cbdMD pursued multiple sponsorship angles in 2020, including naming rights for World Surf League’s XXL Biggest Wave Award, a logo sponsorship on the mat at Bellator MMA fights, and multiple partnerships across Nitro Circus. Though the brand received fewer promoted posts in 2020 than in 2019, the average promotion quality of the posts about the brand increased in 2020.


TaylorMade Golf

AAV Growth: +74%
Posts: 2,792 (+2%)
Top sport by AAV: Golf
AAV Rank: 406 (+101)

Note: TaylorMade Golf’s best week of promotion is typically around major events. However, the brand was able to capitalize on the early COVID quarantine trend of branded challenges, getting top sponsored athletes like Gareth Bale and Rory McIlroy to participate in the #TMbouncechallenge. The two posts by those athletes alone racked up over 5M social engagements. Keeping in touch with the pulse of social media like this can earn a brand favor among consumers and a boost in AAV.


Etoro

AAV Growth: +73%
Posts: 2,304 (+106%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 251 (+68)

Note: Etoro’s AAV saw significant seasonal impact, averaging $15k or less per week in August when the Premier League was not playing, then jumping to an average of over $50k in AAV per week by mid-September once the new season started.


BodyArmor

AAV Growth: +57%
Posts: 2,258 (+78%)
Top sport by AAV: Fighting Sports
AAV Rank: 135 (+32)

Note: As the Official Sports Drink of the UFC, BodyArmor benefitted from the early return to live events from the MMA league. 99 of the top 100 posts by AAV for BodyArmor in 2020 were related to the UFC partnership. The only post in the top 100 not MMA-related was an old video of Kobe Bryant’s final goodbye as a Laker shared by the NBA on the 4th anniversary of his final game. In that speech, he wore a BodyArmor towel around his shoulders.


AIA Group

AAV Growth: +56%
Posts: 6,782 (+49%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 59 (+14)

Note: Key moments can drive significant value. For AIA Group, the jersey sponsor of Tottenham Hotspur, when Gareth Bale was introduced as joining the team, the fan engagement on those posts drove 2x as much value as any other week during the year.


Gymshark

AAV Growth: +53%
Posts: 2,613 (+103%)
Top sport by AAV: Fighting Sports
AAV Rank: 120 (+27)

Note: With partners across boxing and functional fitness, Gymshark was able to ride the wave of at-home workouts gaining popularity during the global COVID lockdown. Now with a strong foothold, especially in fighting sports, look for the brand to continue to expand its sponsorship footprint in 2021.


Toyo Tires

AAV Growth: +53%
Posts: 4,930 (+16%)
Top sport by AAV: Fighting Sports
AAV Rank: 71 (+12)

Note: To highlight the growth that Toyo Tires saw, their partnership with UFC encompasses the the presenting sponsorship of the #UFCHonors. From 2019 to 2020, the sponsorship value received by Toyo in that campaign increased by nearly 7x.


Hankook Tires

AAV Growth: +53%
Posts: 6,981 (+14%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 82 (+9)

Note: 41% of AAV for Hankook came from UEFA Europa League in both 2019 and 2020. However, one of the partners generating the biggest increase in sponsorship value for the Tire brand was Real Madrid, increasing their AAV generated for Hankook by over 3x what it was in 2019. 


Carabao

AAV Growth: +52%
Posts: 4,844 (-5%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 187 (+34)

Note: The Carabao Cup is coveted by every team in English football, giving the sponsoring brand exposure to every fan base across the competition. With moments of value early in the year when the semi-finals and finals were played, the majority of AAV for Carabao was generated in September and October in the early rounds of the most recent tournament. The tournament sponsorship is responsible for 75% of the value generated for the energy drink brand.


Hugo Boss

AAV Growth: +40%
Posts: 2,999 (+66%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 300 (+22)

Note: 10% of AAV for Hugo Boss in 2020 came from a single post from Real Madrid that garnered 8M engagements. This paid partnership post with Hugo Boss doesn’t feature the Boss logo anywhere in the post, but is a series of incredible goals over the years from Real Madrid. The lesson for other marketers here is to focus activations on the most engaging content from sports partners.


Total

AAV Growth: +40%
Posts: 10,594 (+100%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 110 (+12)

Note: As the title sponsor of the Total Africa Cup of Nations, 2020 could have been a down year for Total, having received 40% of its AAV in 2019 from the event. However, a new sponsorship with Brazilian football club Flamengo more than made up for that lost AAV. Putting these together in 2021 should be quite beneficial for the energy company.


Sportpesa

AAV Growth: +38%
Posts: 3,828 (+57%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 150 (+32)

Note: Timing can be everything for brands focused on logo exposure through field boards. Two posts during the global COVID lockdown by the EPL and Liverpool showcasing highlights from past moments on the pitch in which Sportpesa’s logo was featured in the background racked up a combined 24M video views.


NTT Group

AAV Growth: +33%
Posts: 5,888 (+30%)
Top sport by AAV: Motorsports
AAV Rank: 477 (+39)

Note: While NTT saw good AAV growth in 2020, the growth in MAV, or potential sponsorship value, was even higher for NTT, indicating that the brand is expanding their sponsorship footprint, even if they aren’t being promoted in the best way by partners. The next step is to work with partners to position the NTT brand in the best way when they are being promoted.


IWC Watches

AAV Growth: +31%
Posts: 617 (-13%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 446 (+8)

Note: Even with partnerships with top athletes like Tom Brady (NFL) and Lewis Hamilton (F1), IWC received only 4% of AAV in 2020 from athletes. 


Goodyear

AAV Growth: +27%
Posts: 16,604 (+53%)
Top sport by AAV: Motorsports
AAV Rank: 236 (+5)

Note: A new partnership in 2020 with the WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup accounted for ⅓ of the AAV growth for Goodyear. Increased promotion by the NBA also was a significant contributor to the rise in AAV for Goodyear.


JPMorgan Chase

AAV Growth: +24%
Posts: 1,602 (+30%)
Top sport by AAV: Tennis
AAV Rank: 194 (+7)

Note: The rise of women’s sports in 2020 helped boost JPMorgan Chase, which saw the WTA generate 5x more sponsorship value for the bank in 2020 than in 2019.


Visa

AAV Growth: +17%
Posts: 7,703 (+21%)
Top sport by AAV: Global Football
AAV Rank: 140 (+4)

Note: Visa saw strong growth in 2020 even though the Olympics were pushed back a year. As a TOP sponsor of the Olympics and a broad supporter of Olympic athletes, Visa can expect strong value growth over the next 2 years with back to back Olympics happening.



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