In the 2021 edition of Euromonitor International’s Global League and Club Indices, European football teams continued to dominate the global sports landscape, with Manchester United leading the charge. NFL and NBA franchises, notably Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Lakers, outperformed competitors commercially in the North American market.
Despite standout performances from the above, sports properties globally continue to face growing pressure to retain and win sponsors as companies tighten the strings of marketing budgets and place greater scrutiny on how they measure return on investment. In this challenging landscape for sponsors and investors, equipping themselves with benchmarking tools that use a data-driven approach to identify top performers across professional sports has never been more essential.
What does it take to top the rankings?
The leagues and teams that score highly in the indices all have certain traits in common. They think innovatively when it comes to fan engagement. Performance on the field naturally draws attention - this means strong competition in the league and a high win percentage for top teams. They have been less impacted by pandemic restrictions and have been able to rely on a strong macro and social economic landscape in order to maximise commercial potential even during what has been an extremely challenging time.
One major challenge facing global sports properties is how to win the next generation of sports fans and ensure engagement with global fanbases that does not dissipate when the season ends. As attention shifts online and traditional revenue streams are threatened, sports properties more than ever need to be focusing on digital innovation as a major strategic investment for the future. For instance, social media has allowed sports properties to sustain and further expand their reach during the pandemic, providing the opportunity to leverage their growing online fanbase as a strong asset for potential investors.
Besides growing emphasis on digital engagement, exposure to live audiences remains an important feature in a sports property’s commercial attractiveness as it allows sponsors to maximise their exposure and impact during games. With varying season schedules and pandemic restrictions globally, some league exposure to live audiences and viewers at home has been impacted, limiting reach for sponsors that traditionally rely on professional sports as a key part of their marketing mix. Nevertheless, even during the thick of the pandemic in 2020, the majority of top 10 leagues ranked in The League Index were able to play over 70% of their games, with live audiences at some capacity.
The heritage of sports teams or leagues is another important factor in determining commerical resilience throughout the pandemic. Sports properties that boast strong cross-generational heritage will be able to leverage this on digital media and at live events in order to tell meaningful stories that will keep fans connected and engaged. Competitive performance of a sports property also needs to be nurtured in order to keep fans excited and entertained, whilst at the same time ensuring sustainable growth. The Club Index saw six Premier League clubs rank in the top 10. While Manchester United relied on a vast fanbase to outscore league competitors, Chelsea's on-pitch performance elevated the club's ranking in 2021 to seventh place, following its Champion's League title win and a strong win percentage in the Premier League.
In North America, top NFL and NBA teams rely on strong on field/court performance coupled with favourable economic conditions among key ingredients for their success. Understanding fully the economic and demographic environment where sports properties operate is crucial to forecasting potential for future growth. Over the last two years, it cannot be overstated just how important economic strength, solid business foundation and sustainable socio-demographic environment has been for a sports team or league that is looking to recover quickly from the commercial setbacks brought about by the pandemic.
Importance of a data-driven approach for strategic planning
While there is no perfect approach to measuring commercial potential, one factor is evident; the pandemic has forced the industry to think more broadly about what constitutes commercial performance and future potential. Alone, the metrics considered above provide value, however when combined they provide a holistic and robust outlook of global sports properties that can inform strategies for stakeholders across the industry.
To learn more about Euromonitor International’s benchmarking tools for sports properties and investors, head to our on-demand webinar: Measuring Disruption and Recovery in Professional Sports