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Hookit’s brands on the rise in 2021

Roger Breum, director of marketing at spontech specialist Hookit, delves into the company’s vast trove of social media data to select 20 brands that are receiving most growth in digital value from their various sports sponsorships.

1 March 2021 Hookit

Despite the pandemic, sports properties were still able to drive US$7.9 billion in sponsorship value for brand partners through their social media channels.

Though total posts by sports entities and the interactions on those posts were down across the board in 2020 compared to 2019, the world of sports continued to grow, adding over two billion new social followers.

When it comes to value for brands, Covid-19 and the global sports shutdown beginning in March 2020 had a significant impact, causing an estimated loss of over US$600 million in sponsorship value. While there was a meaningful impact to the value, sports entities were able to pivot many activations to social and digital last year as “make-goods” for in-person activations that couldn’t happen due to the pandemic.

These make-goods contributed to an overall 8.3 per cent rise in sponsorship value generated through deliberate brand promotion in 2020 over 2019. Going forward, we expect this industry trend to continue, where social media rights and activation will be a top priority for brand marketers and sponsorships.

The data gathered for this article is from social and digital channels, including Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Twitch, VK, Weibo, and YouTube. The study focused on nearly 8,000 brands sponsoring major professional sports leagues, teams, and athletes. Through computer vision and advanced machine learning, every post by those sports properties and individuals was analysed to identify deliberate promotion of any brand by direct mention, hashtag, or keyword in the text of the post as well as brand logos within the images and videos.

These branded posts were then analysed to evaluate post quality and brand value for the associated brand(s) and summarised to come up with the data included below. The date range for this data was 1st January 2020 to 31st December 2020.

The sports industry has had to pivot to digital sponsorship activations during the pandemic

Trends in 2020 and what to watch for in 2021

Overall, global apparel giant Nike once again dominated all brands in terms of sponsorship value received from the sports ecosystem with over US$470 million in Adjusted Ad Value (AAV). Apparel & Accessories brands combined to be the number one industry in sponsorship by value received. The top five industries (Apparel & Accessories, Financial, Automotive, Beverage, and Travel) accounted for 58 per cent of the total sponsorship value created across the entire sports ecosystem. Get the full report on The State of Sponsorship in 2020 by Hookit here.

However, the focus of this article is on the brands outside the top 50. Instead of naming the biggest brands sponsoring the biggest sports properties, we analysed which brands saw significant gains in 2020 but still aren’t at the top of the sports marketing pyramid yet. For example, gambling brands saw significant gains over 2019, with many more than doubling the number of sports properties promoting their brand and growing the value received from sports partners by over 130 per cent as a category.

That’s not to say that apparel and accessory brands are all in the top 50, as newcomer Gymshark is quickly rising among brands in sports thanks to partnerships with boxers like Ryan Garcia. Competitors Titleist and TaylorMade Golf both made significant strides in AAV received. While seven brands from the gambling sector made the 'on the rise' list, other brands like BT (telecommunications) and Nivea (personal care) stood out above the competition in their sector.

UK-based brand BT is standing out in the telecommunications sector

Methodology for choosing the brands ‘on the rise’

The brands selected as ‘on the rise’ were chosen using several criteria when examining their sponsorship data in 2020 and comparing it to 2019. To start, the total sponsorship value received (AAV) had to be over US$1 million to show the brand is a significant player in the world of sport but, as mentioned above, any brand in the top 50 by AAV was not considered.

In addition, each brand had to see an increase in AAV in 2020 compared to 2019 AND had to move up in the ranks compared to other brands. So, if a brand ranked 100th by AAV in 2019, it had to rank at least 99th by AAV in 2020. Finally, to choose our finalists, we used several additional metrics, including the growth in number of sports properties promoting the brand, the growth in number of posts about the brand, and the change (increase) in how well the brand was promoted by the world of sports.

Below, you will find our list of 20 brands ranked by their AAV growth, or percentage increase in AAV seen from 2019 to 2020. With each brand, you’ll find key metrics and a brief explanation of why that brand was chosen.

Brands on the rise

1. BioSteel Sports

AAV Growth: +431%

Posts: 464 (+167%)

Top sport by AAV: Basketball

AAV Rank: 725 (+747)

Note: In December 2020, BioSteel inked multiple deals to become the official sports drink of NBA teams and has deals in place with some of the best young talent across sports, including Patrick Mahomes, Gleyber Torres and Eugenie Bouchard.

2. Secret Deodorant (P&G)

AAV Growth: +377%

Posts: 459 (+289%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 747 (+680)

Note: Top posts promoting Secret all came from individual female athletes (rather than teams or leagues) and were focused on Secret’s support of the NWSL Challenge Cup and Secret’s Super Bowl LIV ad.

3. Hummel

AAV Growth: +315%

Posts: 9,060 (+369%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 396 (+435)

Note: Hummel saw a major spike in value in early September 2020 when several players moved teams, including global star James Rodriguez joining Everton, where Hummel is the kit supplier. As a kit supplier, it is no surprise that 72 per cent of AAV for Hummel came from teams in 2020.

4. Fun88

AAV Growth: +281%

Posts: 3,791 (+490%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 153 (+207)

Note: While the top post by AAV for Fun88 came early in 2020 by Kobe Bryant on Weibo celebrating the Chinese New Year, eight of the top ten promoters for the gambling brand came from English soccer’s Premier League. Through field board and other exposures, 96 per cent of Fun88’s value came from logo exposure while only four per cent came from deliberate text promotion.

5. Ineos

AAV Growth: +253%

Posts: 6,827 (+155%)

Top sport by AAV: Motorsport

AAV Rank: 93 (+133)

Note: In early 2020, Ineos announced a partnership with Mercedes F1 that saw the Ineos logo added to the team’s car and driver’s uniforms. Later in the year, the partnership expanded with Ineos taking an ownership stake in the team. Combined, Formula One, the Mercedes F1 team and Lewis Hamilton generated 80 per cent of the value for the global conglomerate.

6. 32Red

AAV Growth: +238%

Posts: 5,888 (+314%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 353 (+314)

Note: As the jersey sponsor of Derby and Rangers FC, 32Red received nearly 4,000 posts promoting their brand from just these two teams. 

7. Macron

AAV Growth: +208%

Posts: 32,649 (+287%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 121 (+128)

Note: While success on the field is important for sponsors, it also opens new doors for the brands to receive sponsorship value. For example, Lazio’s run to make the Uefa Champions League round of 16 led to promotion of Macron’s logo whenever official competition accounts posted about Lazio. Though Lazio posted six times more promoting Macron than the Champions League, the competition generated more total AAV for Macron in 2020, an opportunity that only comes by partnering with successful teams.

8. Parimatch

AAV Growth: +203%

Posts: 3,305 (+2,278%)

Top sport by AAV: Fight Sports

AAV Rank: 254 (+215)

Note: Parimatch’s partnership with the UFC propelled the brand up the ranks in 2020 as the UFC was one of the first sports to restart after the global shutdown. However, the brand was only deliberately promoted in two per cent of posts, leaving room for Parimatch to improve and continue rising among brands in sports.

9. Unibet

AAV Growth: +198%

Posts: 14,600 (+247%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 90 (+103)

Note: While soccer is still the dominant sport in driving AAV for Unibet, the gambling brand saw a 45 per cent increase in AAV from American sports properties, including value generated across the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB. Look for this expansion to continue as more states legalise sports betting.

9. Can-Am Off-Road (BRP)

AAV Growth: +140%

Posts: 4,949 (-1%)

Top sport by AAV: Motorsport

AAV Rank: 377 (+195)

Note: Though selling a very different product to a different consumer, Can-Am Off-Road pursued a similar athlete-first strategy as Secret Deodorant. The BRP subsidiary received over 70 per cent of its AAV from athletes, mainly from drivers Ken Block, Travis Pastrana, and Brian and Hailie Deegan.

10. BT

AAV Growth: +122%

Posts: 5,729 (+69%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 197 (+110)

Note: BT benefitted from having their BT Sport logo included in posts clipped from their broadcast. However, that wasn't the only way the brand saw increased promotion with over 20 per cent of their value coming from deliberate text promotion, many of which were direct ads through athletes like Marcus Rashford, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Gareth Bale.

11. Rockstar Energy

AAV Growth: +94%

Posts: 14,840 (-16%)

Top sport by AAV: Rodeo

AAV Rank: 83 (+29)

Note: That Rockstar Energy’s top sport is rodeo is an example of an athlete partnership penetrating a league sponsored by a competitive brand (in this case Monster Energy). One post with over 59 million video views drove the majority of value for Rockstar from Professional Bull Riders (PBR), highlighting the impact one key moment can have for an athlete and their brand partners.

12. Nivea

AAV Growth: +92%

Posts: 1,360 (+196%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 288 (+87)

Note: In contrast to P&G’s Secret Deodorant, Nivea focused its partnerships on sports organisations, receiving 97 per cent of its sponsorship value from teams and leagues. An area of potential growth for Nivea comes from the platforms the brand is promoted on. While 86 per cent of its AAV came from posts on Facebook and Instagram, less than 50 per cent of the posts promoting the brand happened on those two platforms.

13. Sunoco

AAV Growth: +86%

Posts: 2,553 (-3%)

Top sport by AAV: Motorsport

AAV Rank: 645 (+154)

Note: Unlike most other brands that received the majority of their value on Instagram, Sunoco saw 57 per cent of its AAV come from Facebook. Multiple factors impact this, including the volume of posts by platform – in this case, Facebook received 32 per cent of the posts, and the audience of the sports properties promoting the brand. The top promoters of Sunoco include Nascar and the NHRA, both of which have the most followers on Facebook.

14. Titleist

AAV Growth: +84%

Posts: 5,586 (+15%)

Top sport by AAV: Golf

AAV Rank: 326 (+82)

Note: Showcasing the value of major events, Titleist was able to capture the attention of golf fans around The Masters. Ten per cent of the value generated for Titleist during the entire year of 2020 came within three days of the showpiece tournament.

15. Valvoline

AAV Growth: +82%

Posts: 4,350 (+119%)

Top sport by AAV: Cricket

AAV Rank: 318 (+65)

Note: Proving that a brand doesn’t have to stick to endemic partnerships, neither of Valvoline’s top two sports by AAV were motorsports. Cricket and soccer combined to generate 70 per cent of the total sponsorship value for the oil brand. During the IPL season, from early September through mid-November, Valvoline saw a significant rise in average weekly sponsorship value. The week after the Hyderabad Sunrisers, whose jersey carries Valvoline’s logo, were eliminated from the playoffs, the value generated for the brand dropped by 90 per cent.

16. Ladbrokes

AAV Growth: +80%

Posts: 1,956 (+23%)

Top sport by AAV: Darts

AAV Rank: 422 (+115)

Note: Though the majority of promoters for Ladbrokes are from soccer or rugby, Ladbrokes is a title sponsor of multiple Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) tournaments, including the Ladbrokes UK Open which ran in early March 2020. The week of that tournament, Ladbrokes received three times the AAV than any other week during the year. As the PDC has gained 22 per cent more followers since then, look for value coming from the niche sport to continue to increase for title sponsors like Ladbrokes.

17. Rocket Mortgage

AAV Growth: +75%

Posts: 2,117 (+100%)

Top sport by AAV: Golf

AAV Rank: 289 (+67)

Note: Though the PGA Tour was the top partner for Rocket Mortgage in 2020, esports organisation 100 Thieves shot up the list of partners, generating the fourth most value for Rocket Mortgage in 2020, three times more than the organisation did in 2019. Look for more out of this partnership and others in esports for Rocket Mortgage in 2021.

18. CbdMD

AAV Growth: +75%

Posts: 2,896 (-15%)

Top sport by AAV: Fight Sports

AAV Rank: 416 (+108)

Note: cbdMD pursued multiple sponsorship angles in 2020, including naming rights for the World Surf League’s XXL Biggest Wave Award, a logo sponsorship on the mat at Bellator MMA fights, and multiple partnerships across Nitro Circus. Though the brand received fewer promoted posts in 2020 than in 2019, the average promotion quality of the posts about the brand increased in 2020.

19. TaylorMade Golf

AAV Growth: +74%

Posts: 2,792 (+2%)

Top sport by AAV: Golf

AAV Rank: 406 (+101)

Note: TaylorMade Golf’s best week of promotion is typically around major events. However, the brand was able to capitalise on the early Covid quarantine trend of branded challenges, getting top sponsored athletes like Gareth Bale and Rory McIlroy to participate in the #TMbouncechallenge. Two posts by those athletes alone racked up over five million social engagements. Keeping in touch with the pulse of social media like this can earn a brand favour among consumers and a boost in AAV.

20. Etoro

AAV Growth: +73%

Posts: 2,304 (+106%)

Top sport by AAV: Soccer

AAV Rank: 251 (+68)

Note: Etoro’s AAV saw significant seasonal impact, averaging US$15,000 or less per week in August when the Premier League was not playing, then jumping to an average of over US$50,000 in AAV per week by mid-September once the new season started.

Roger Breum
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