Influencer Sponsorship sportsbiz

Trends in the sports sponsorship business in 2024

February 19, 2024

The OpenSponsorship marketplace currently has over 19,000 athletes, 50% managed by sports agencies and 50% are athletes direct doing over 10,000 deals with brands like Walmart, Footlocker, ESPN, Fanduel and 100’s more. As a result, Ishveen Jolly, the Founder, gives her view on the current state of the world of athlete sponsorship.

Sports sponsorship, already a $66B industry globally, is expected to grow to $108B by 2030. In this article I will give my view of what’s changing in 2024. My perspectives rely heavily on our company, OpenSponsorship’s, focus on the athlete sponsorship space, and working mostly with US brands and agencies. I am sure there are other global evolutions that I have not considered, please don’t mind.

We believe 2024 will be the strongest year yet for the “business of sports world” in realizing the value and need for better valuing the athletes and influencers in their network. Social media has meant that athletes are able to speak to and influence fans directly – these same athletes often have larger followings than the teams and leagues they are part of. We are already seeing and will continue to see leagues, teams, events, brands, streaming platforms, and media companies all trying to figure out their strategy to better leverage the athlete at the heart of their marketing strategy vs. being an afterthought or just a non-active part of the narrative. 

The Rise of the Athlete Influencer

The concept of the athlete as merely a sports figure is becoming increasingly archaic. Athletes are evolving into multifaceted influencers with significant social media followings and personal brands that extend far beyond their sports achievements. This evolution is reshaping the sports sponsorship landscape, as brands seek more personalized and authentic ways to connect with audiences. In 2024, I predict a surge in direct partnerships between brands and athletes, leveraging the athletes’ personal stories, values, and social platforms to create more resonant and engaging campaigns. I also predict more partnerships between the other bodies within sports and the athletes – an athlete won’t just play for a team, they will also be paid as a brand ambassador (for example). This shift necessitates a more nuanced understanding of athletes’ influence and how it can be harmonized with brand objectives to create impactful collaborations.

When testing traditional social media influencers vs Athlete influencers in the same campaign, brands have seen their Athlete partners get upwards of 2.5x higher engagement rates and reach an average of 23% more of their followers per social post.

Convergence of Sports and Entertainment

The blurring lines between sports and entertainment offer unprecedented opportunities for sports sponsorships. The power of NFL Star Travis Kelce dating music superstar Taylor Swift brought a supposed staggering $332 million in marketing uplift to the NFL. This was of course a very fortunate example for the NFL, however it goes a long way to exemplify the potential of these cross-industry partnerships. In 2024, I anticipate seeing more collaborations, where musicians, actors, and other entertainment figures play significant roles in sports-related marketing campaigns. The key will be to create authentic, seamless integrations that resonate with the diverse interests of global audiences, thereby amplifying the reach and impact of sponsorship initiatives. 

The Power of Original Content

The demand for original content—ranging from documentaries to podcasts—about the sports world is rising. Following the success of series like “Drive to Survive,” there’s a clear appetite for behind-the-scenes looks at the lives, challenges, and triumphs of athletes. This content not only humanizes athletes, making them more relatable to fans but also opens up new avenues for sponsorships. Brands can become part of these narratives, associating themselves with the inspirational, motivational, and often untold stories of athletes. In 2024, I envision an increase in brand-sponsored original content that not only entertains but also adds value to the audience’s experience, thereby deepening the connection between the brand, athletes, and fans. I see this evolving to what’s current with brands actually commissioning unique educational / relevant content from athletes to host on their own websites. We will see original content being placed closer to the point of purchase to drive real ROI. Brands through athlete sponsorship can become their own media companies. 

A Focus on ROI

Sponsorship has been under pressure for the past decade to show tangible ROI and this trend will continue in 2024. Brands no longer feel comfortable spending millions of dollars without being able to track and then display ROI metrics to stakeholders. The increased social media deliverables in deals is helping to achieve this with brands being able to see actual numbers relating to views, engagement, click-through rates, and even sales if tracked via UTM. In 2024, we believe ROI tracking will ensure that the sponsorship industry growth continues. 

Marketing campaigns with Athletes have already started producing ROI for brands. Fans of Athletes are 164% more likely to purchase a product after an Athlete they follow mentions it. Additionally, this phenomenon is leading brands to see upwards of 7x ROI on marketing campaigns with Athletes. 

In Closing 

2024 holds immense potential for the sports sponsorship industry, driven by the rise of athlete influencers, the convergence of sports and entertainment, the increasing importance of original content and a focus on ROI. As we navigate this evolving landscape, the key to success will be in creating authentic, meaningful partnerships that leverage the unique strengths of athletes, entertainers, and content creators. By doing so, we can unlock new levels of engagement, reach, and impact, setting new benchmarks for what successful sports sponsorships can achieve.

While there is a wave of brands headed to work with Athletes, there are still limitless opportunities for brands to collaborate with Athletes of all sports, age groups, location, and much more!

Influencer Sponsorship sportsbiz