As 2021 accelerates toward completion, the TMR staff has compiled 10 sports business trends to keep an eye on for 2022.
The 10 trends we’re watching (listed randomly) with a little breakdown for each below:
- Partnerships as Equity Investment
- Fintech Abounds
- Streaming Everywhere
- Newsletter Convergence
- Hispanic Engagement
- Fantasy Becomes Reality
- Health & Wellness
- Tech on the Bench and In the Broadcast
Partnerships as Equity Investment
What NWSL expansion club Angel City FC is doing with partnerships long before taking the pitch for a single game is incredible. That they are doing it using the Angel City Sponsorship Model (ACSM) with at least 10 percent of each partnership’s value directed at specific community organizations or populations is flat-out inspiring. Just today in fact, Crypto.com became the team’s latest founding partner (right), joining other brands such as DoorDash (largest jersey partnership in NWSL), Birdies (sleeve partner), Cedars Sinai, Gatorade, Heineken, Jane Walker and Klarna.
What a perfect way for a brand to be “authentic” in supporting a consumer’s home team, not just as a sponsor, but in impacting underserved local residents.
Measuring not just brand awareness or engagement for ROI, but including true social impact in a deal? That’s a three-way win.
Somewhat overlooked this past year, as areas like sports gambling and Fintech make the regulatory rounds, but the recreational/medicinal areas for Cannabis and CBD tied to sport sponsorship should start taking root in 2022 (pun intended). We have seen everyone from former NBA’ers like Al Harrington to longtime embracers of the “Devil’s Lettuce” such as Snoop Dog find their way into the space.
As more states adopt legal policies, and the FCC clears the way for broadcast integration (no limits on streaming by the way), watch for the cannabis dollars to flow more freely. Especially for those brands who will stay away from anything inhaled and rely on areas like gummies and other edibles for health and wellness.
The latest projections show legal sales in the U.S. are now tracking for $51 billion annually by 2025. Time to get into the market.
Clean out your closet, those old kicks may have more value now than ever before.
From sneakers to NFT’s to artwork refashioned as trading cards, the collectable business has never been hotter or more volatile. Are old school ticket stubs more valuable than new era visual highlights? Who owns Steph Curry’s record breaking shot? How many people can buy a Brady-to-Gronk pass? With Fanatics swooping in and swiping deals with the four major leagues, can a company like Topps rebound and keep growing their artist collections recreating iconic baseball cards?
What’s coming next and how much will consumers in a digital economy pay for content that is virtual, not physical?
We have written a great deal about Crypto sponsorships, and in the past few days saw quite a bit more action. Yesterday saw Monumental Sports and FTX inking a four-team deal (Capital City Go-Go and the Washington Capitals, Mystics and Wizards) and this morning we learned of the aforementioned ACFC/Crypto.com tie-up.
While many thought sports gambling would be the No. 1 cash cow, it has been areas of Fintech, from blockchain to STEM to even areas like responsible and educational finance, that are really becoming this generation’s version of investment banking and retirement planning spending.
Whether it is a bubble or not remains to be seen, but Fintech is blowing up faster than most would have predicted, and is making budgets grow in a tight sports economy looking for new dollars.
As a wider demo becomes more attune to virtual wallets and casual investing, this new, flush-with-cash category will continue to expand.
In 2021, ESPN‘s Manningcast elevated the Megacast to a new level, while Nickelodeon’s NFL partnership gave us NFL Slime Zone. Both, which among other things, took football to a messy, but fun place. And most importantly, both were hits with key demos.
With the evolution in audience measurement, custom streaming channels will continue to grow into 2022 as brands see the value and the ROI of niche audiences following big events. We have PylonCam and Home Plate Cam now, but soon we will be able to access that directly.
The Wizards stream games in four languages, what’s to stop teams from broadcasting in six or eight?
We will see stats specific streaming channels as well as everything the casual gambler will want to watch, all with low latency (as 5G becomes more available) and all very trackable and marketable. We aren’t there quite yet, but expect to see more hyper-local tests of targeted on-demand streaming broadcasts coming soon.
We want to watch how we want, when we want and where we want.
Rumors abound of a sale of The Athletic to the New York Times. We’ve seen SportTechie sold to Sports Business Journal. This week The Water Coolest was acquired by Barstool Sports. Axios keeps growing their hyper-local newsletters. Why? Engaged subscriber bases are very valuable to bring to brands, and custom content is a huge driver of continued growth.
Marc Stein left the Times for Substack, Andrew Brandt just relocated from Sports Illustrated to an eponymous custom newsletter, Mike Tannenbaum officially launched The 33rd Team, all joining a bevy of other authors and content creators trying to develop revenue streams from a passionate audience.
It works if they have a database that is unique and valuable, and it’s that following which big media companies, particularly sports gambling platforms like FanDuel and DraftKings, will seek to acquire at a quickened pace in 2022.
It remains the largest emerging part of the American population, as well as a segment that loves sports, yet “Hispanic” or “Latino” consumers remain an afterthought. That should keep evolving in 2022 and we point to a few areas of hope.
First, was the announced launch of LaVida Sports by Chicago’s TeamWorks Media with an investment of $10 million to develop a better POV around all forms of content. The second was For Soccer Ventures acquisition and expansion of Alianza de Futbol, the largest Hispanic soccer program in America, with 30,000 players and 300,000 attendees. Brands like Ford and Allstate have literally bought into the platform, and more should be following.
As they are the youngest, fastest growing and most content-consuming demographic — one that has $1.5 trillion of buying power — LatinX audiences must become a top priority.
Fantasy Becomes Reality
One of the biggest eyebrow raises this past year was the launch of Zed Run and virtual horse racing, where millions of dollars were spent on horses — from breeding to training to racing — that literally did not exist. They are all in a virtual world. As the data and the security becomes more robust, we look for this area of “virtual sports” to really blossom, with brands and media companies investing in it.
We saw more of this growth this past year. Both Marquee Network and NBC Sports Boston launched programs tied to the great questions of sports for games that never happened…if Drew Bledsoe doesn’t get hurt how do the Brady-less patriots fare…what happens to the Chicago Cubs if a certain superfan never touches a foul ball, etc. Both RSNs have partnered with data and results from venerable gaming brands, such as Strat-o-Matic.
The thought here is that as this area of virtual gaming becomes more and more reliable, look for betting brands to see a large window for fan engagement, one which is safe and reliable and fun, even if the games are in our minds and our devices, not on the field.
Health & Wellness
Who would have thought Clorox would have its own partner category just two years ago? However all areas of health — from wearables, to safe-and-secure testing, to the still-evolving endorsement area around mental health and preparedness — are expanding and expounding.
Big Pharma has the dollars, and the competition for consumer engagement is rising faster than ever.
Tech on the Bench and In the Broadcast
Late this past Spring, ShotTracker and Playfly Sports tested live stat data feeds with the New Mexico High School Basketball Championship with great fanfare. You could instantly track and measure in game performance for elite high school players, much in the same way the company does for men’s and women’s basketball at over 60 NCAA Division I schools.
More importantly, that data, including speed up and down the court, shot distance, heat-mapped shot charts, etc., has made its way into broadcasts and onto smart phones in arena with sub second latency. We have also seen this more and more in NFL broadcasts lately, as another player in the space on the NBA (and NFL side) Second Spectrum, has started to work the visuals and data into some NFL broadcasts on CBS (anyone notice RomoCam?).
Look for more of this integrated visual tech coming as connection speeds and broadcast data speed up, making these cool visuals even more sponsorable for fans tuning in.
And finally, five topics that will remain on the front burner in ’22:
- Prioritization of Pandemic Pivot pinpointed; potentially poops out?
- Name Image Likeness (NIL): evolution or revolution?
- NCAA Implosion?
- Sinclair says Bye Bye Bally’s?
- Death of Dictator Coaches?