Nielsen Sports releases key global sports marketing trends for 2021

Nielsen Sports has released a report on the changing value of sponsorship in 2021.

Across Nielsen clients, on average 15% of brand marketing budgets is allocated to sponsorship but is often not measured in relation to direct sales.

The report found that live and virtual sporting experiences are merging. Even when fans gradually return to live events, these virtual upgrades will be retained, with further investment into broadcast innovations expected.

According to Nielsen Fan Insights Report, 53% of fans say they are more likely to consider brands that enhance the way live sports are viewed at home. The rights holders who are actively strategising and planning for a hybrid world of merged live and virtual experiences will thrive in this new era.

As audiences spend more time at home media consumption habits are changing. Digital channels, ranging from streaming platforms to social media, are increasing their share within the sports media mix, requiring consistent metrics and methodologies to measure sponsorship value across all media types.
The use of streaming platforms, social media, mobile devices and other technologies continue to grow, their role in sponsorship agreements and assets creation will become more prominent. Given the number of different channels, increasing consumption and the various combinations of brands, platforms, target audience, content, a unifying measurement system is needed. This will ensure value grows, help de-risk sponsorship investments and result in more sustainable sponsorship strategies.

The role of esports within the sports sponsorship offering is another evolution. There was significant claimed growth in esports viewership in 2020, with 16% of global respondents in Nielsen’s Esports Fan Insights Report indicating they were watching more competitive esports events.

There is also increased interest in playing video and mobile games. Esports sponsorship revenue has been increasing rapidly for years – growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of nearly 32% between 2014 and 2019; further growth is anticipated with esports revenues predicted to reach US$824 million by 2025.

Another key trend from 2020 which Nielsen Sports anticipates will continue is the voice of athletes and brands standing for communities of the future. Over the next three to five years, Nielsen Sports has forecasted that rights holders with an authentic sustainability agenda can expect up to an 11% increase in their sponsorship revenues

Of the top 20 global sponsorship brands by spend in 2019, the vast majority have made an active shift in their sponsorship and advertising messaging over the past five years. However, it is athletes more than sports organisations that are setting the agenda and feeling increasingly empowered to promote, highlight and campaign on social issues and causes close to their heart. The report shows that ‘advocacy posts’ drive 63% more engagement for brands.

According to the research, 95% of athletes with more than five million followers on Instagram advocated for causes on social media in 2020, collectively generating US$314 million worth of Quality Indexed media value.

This underlines the potential benefits for brands which partner with athletes prepared to take a stand or voice their opinion on a cause that resonates with fans. The series of major global events in the calendar over the next two years, including the Olympic Games and FIFA World Cup, are platforms upon which athletes can protest or highlight causes.

Research organisation WARC projected that global advertising spend in 2020 would fall by 8.1% – some US$49.6 billion – to $563 billion (WARC Global Advertising Trends Report). Inevitably, the decrease in advertising spend has a knock-on effect for sponsorship and rights holder revenue streams. As a result, several new and innovative models of sponsorship are being evaluated and trialed.


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