World Market for Professional Sports

March 2021

This report looks at the global landscape of professional sports in 2021, from matchday performance and online engagement, to global sponsorship activity that continues to shift in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Key Findings

Safety strategies at the heart of the return of live attendances in 2021

Restrictions on large gatherings will continue to hinder the recovery of the sports industry. Mega-events such as the Olympics and Euro 2021 Championships along with domestic leagues, competitions and one-off events face difficult questions as to when and how to bring fans back to venues safely. Added emphasis on both marketing campaigns and technologies that can increase safety at the venue will aid in recovery efforts.

Partnership sales and global marketing teams face continued challenges – finding ripe country/category combinations is key

Companies headquartered in the US accounted for 16% of all sports sponsorship deals in 2020. Key markets in Europe include Germany, the UK, Italy and France. The leading categories for sponsorships are business services, retailing and automotive. Industry-specific headwinds driven by the pandemic ensure that 2021 will be a difficult year for partnership sales teams looking to win/retain sponsors that are likely seeing marketing budgets being squeezed.

Esports will continue to attract new partnerships

Few sports have attracted the same level of intrigue from sponsors in 2020 as esports. Sponsorship activity has historically been largely confined to categories related to gaming, yet this is shifting, with apparel and footwear and soft drinks players growing their presence in the sport as traditional media buying continues to move online.

Lifestyle brands and social activism

The widespread disruption of 2020 has seen the role of sports in society shift. Sports marketing in 2021 will be increasingly bolder, reflecting the social, political and health challenges facing fans rather than “just sport”. The evolution of sports properties into lifestyle brands is already well underway.


Key findings

Industry Overview

The state of sports in 2021
Scheduling challenges to extend into 2021 and beyond
Digital transformation in sports is accelerated in 2021
Winning/retaining sponsors: a key challenge for the year ahead

Sports Performance

Industry resilience in 2021 will be crucial
League resilience: an important factor for commercial partners
Top 10 leagues in Americas according to resilience metrics
Top 10 leagues in Europe according to resilience metrics
Top 10 leagues in AMEA according to resilience metrics
Beyond leagues: event success amid the pandemic

Sponsorship Landscape

Partnership sales: understanding partner-specific challenges
Majority of partnership activity emanating from the US
Business services dominates the sponsorship landscape
In North America, NFL reigns supreme
Business services a key sponsorship category in Western Europe
Football leads overall APAC sponsorship activity
In LATAM, apparel and footwear partnerships are most common
Main kit sponsorship globally dominated by banking and finance
Kit providers globally: Nike and adidas continue to lead the way
What to expect in sponsorship in 2021

Trends Shaping the Industry

Trends to watch in 2021
Fan confidence: clarity of communication for returning fans
Reinforcing performance with purpose
In women’s sports, the fight for equality intensifies
Increased focus on fan education amid return of live attendances
Going cashless in search of speed, efficiency and safety
Year-round engagement: less emphasis on season
Tapping into health-focused sports fans
Dealing with health issues head-on
Keeping sustainability at the heart of mid- to long-term strategy
Further capitalisation on intersection of sports and entertainment
From football team to lifestyle brand
Esports attracts sponsors from new sectors
US soccer footprint continues to deepen and challenge status quo
Gambling’s evolving footprint in sports
The future-proofing of sports


In 2021: is the best defence a good offense?


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