Thoughts on Sports in 2021

Lona Price Jones
Lona Price Jones
Jan 5, 2021

Spring 2020 marked the beginning of huge change to the sports industry. The changes that occurred were not unknown – or new to sport; social justice and athlete activism, digital innovation, and pressures to create new revenue streams. What occurred was the intensity, urgency, and the speed of which these shifts arrived.

I have thoughts on four areas as to what we could potentially expect for sport in 2021. Mainly – I hope for a brighter year.

Non-endemic diverse partnerships – including shorter term

Data will continue to unlock opportunities for both brands and sports organisations. Segments and sectors fans engage with and what products fans have a higher propensity to buy or be interested in will become further evident. With sports deeply embedded in fashion and music, partnerships will further diversify and open new opportunities for all.

Dependent on how confident brands or organisations are with budgets, shorter term partnerships may be the answer. Short-term partnerships allow a foundation to be built ahead of large, longer-term partnerships and investments. I note, short-term partnerships should be just as well thought out in their objectives as long-term ones.

An important aspect to shorter-term deals is, the flexibility and creativity a shorter term deal can allow both parties. Currently, Arsenal and Chelsea have landed short-term deals with Hasbro. Rightfully timed during the Christmas period. As the understanding for data grows – partnerships like these could occur any time of year.

 

Athletes in society

We saw incredible movements and statement made by leagues and athletes alike in 2020. In the past – athletes would be scorned, written-off and even removed from sponsorships if they stepped ‘out of their lane’. Now, it is realised – this is a part of something bigger.

Athletes know their platform and they are going to use it, and rightfully so. Marcus Rashford, Sir Lewis Hamilton, LeBron James, Naomi Osaka and Megan Rapinoe are only a few examples.

Athlete owned platforms go far beyond the regular sports fan, but to communities and those marginalised. Brands have seriously had to look at their values, brands have had to listen and engage very closely with their audiences. A benefit that will have a great, long-term effect.

Brand associations built around players have the potential to define a fan’s relationships with their favourite athlete. Something we are bound to see more of in the year ahead

There are a number of points embedded within the rise of the athlete in society…

Athlete Driven Content

    • Athletes are not only the most valuable asset on the court or pitch, but also off. Therefore, teams need to support, be open and give their players the chance to do their own thing. It will pay off. There is no stopping the rise of player content in 2021. 
    • Examples include: Ben Foster, Matisse Thybulle, Cam Newton, WNBA and WSL players.

 

The Young Ones

      • NCAA’s Division I, NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) rules come into play on August 1st, 2021. College athletes could start to actually promote via their NIL athletically and non-athletically through related business activities. This is bound to become a competitive space as brands and sports increasingly try to capture a new, young audience – it is will be interesting to see who acts first. There are many aspects to the rule change which continue to be debated. However, it is a step in the right direction,
      • Marcus Rashford, Naomi Osaka, Lando Norris, Alphonso Davies, Hollie Doyle, LaMelo Ball, Jake Paul, Fernando Tatis Junior – are a handful of Gen Z athletes and stars who have diversified and made their names known for all very different reasons this year. But what have all done that’s the same? Reached and attained new audiences through different avenues. Expect new names in 2021 to do the same.

 

Agents and Support Teams

    • We expect more from athletes than ever. The pressure is immense. An athletes role comes with many different facets now. Social, brand partnerships, social cause campaigns, contract negotiations, training and performance. Athletes, for both their mental and physical health need to have the right people around them with diverse strengths and skill sets.
    • Therefore, the traditional agent and representation model will increasingly evolve. It has undoubtedly developed, but as athletes take on more and utilise their platform for incredible causes or new markets. They will need people to be by their side and support them in numerous ways.

 

Broadcast

I mentioned in my previous blog post the importance and opportunity to really make something of the broadcasting experience. To build it not only with TV screens in mind. But with digital and social in mind too.

Mid-December FOX NFL began to capture content and broadcast on 8k cameras. Fondly called “The Megaladon”, the handheld Sony DSLR camera produces images so clear they almost appear – unreal. Not only is the quality of such imagery amazing – but it almost puts you in the game itself. As if you’re interacting with players.

I don’t see such angles as novelty – I see this as an opportunity to change the delivery of sports broadcast and social content.

Women’s sport and women in the front office

On face value – women’s sport was in a very tough place this year. Dig deeper and look at the finer details, big things are to come. It may not be crystal clear, yet the foundations are there.

In 2020, the NWSL saw US TV audiences grow at 500% YoY, and we saw newcomer Atalanta Media formed.

The FA Women’s Super League saw incredible international signings. Attracting some of the world’s best women’s football talent. Take a look at this statistic for example…

Brands are beginning to wake up and step up. Vitality, Glossier, and Budweiser announced partnerships and sponsorships. Furthermore, it won’t be at all surprising to see private equity enter the women’s sport ring. It is said private equity firm, Bridgepoint has approached the FA. Private equity I see to be the next step for women’s sport to naturally take.

Thank you for reading and there we have it! 2020 was certainly a roller coaster. I look forward for what is come and writing more in 2021!

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