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Study: Sports teams generate more than €2.1bn from digital assets in 2021

Premier League creates most digital value at €613m, according to Horizm report.

31 March 2022 Ed Dixon

Getty Images

  • Manchester United have highest digital value at €209m and were most active
  • NHL boasts most valuable fan with an average VPF of €1.10
  • Twitter ranks as most valuable social media channel across all competitions

Top sports leagues and teams have created more than €2.1 billion (US$2.3 billion) from digital assets in 2021, according to a study by digital inventory platform Horizm.

‘The Digital Value of Fans’ report found that 30 per cent of total sports digital value came from US sports.

In terms of efficiency in generating value, the National Hockey League (NHL) led the way with an average value per fan (VPF) of €1.10 (US$1.23). That put it ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and the National Football League (NFL), which both managed a VPF of €0.96 (US$1.07).

Major League Baseball (MLB) teams dominated in terms of performance per post, accounting for 15 of the top 20 places. Formula One teams also performed strongly, taking four of the five remaining spots. English top-flight soccer club Leeds United completed the top 20.

Horizm’s report also analysed an ‘Elite Teams’ category, which covered teams with a following between two million and 20 million. US franchises dominated here, making up 18 of the top 20 for efficiency – the ability to generate value on a per capita basis. Leeds United and Spanish soccer club Athletic Bilbao were the only non-US teams. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the most efficient in this category, finishing ahead of MLB’s Atlanta Braves and fellow NFL franchise the Buffalo Bills.

Horizm noted that only the NFL had 100 per cent of its teams on social media giant TikTok, which has enjoyed a surge in popularity over the last few years. The NHL had 96.8 per cent and English soccer’s Premier League had 91.3 per cent of its teams on the short-form video-sharing platform. In contrast, Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A only had 70 per cent of their teams on TikTok during 2021.

According to the study, the Premier League boasted the most digital value of any league with over €613 million (US$684 million) generated across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube in 2021. This was more than Spain’s LaLiga and the National Basketball Association (NBA) combined – the two leagues pulled in €337 million (US$376 million) and €237 million (US$265 million), respectively.

On the audience front, Horizm reported that Paris Saint-German (PSG) added the most fans in 2021, gaining 28.7 million, enough to put the French soccer outfit ahead of Manchester United which gained 22.4 million.

PSG’s annual growth was 33.3 per cent compared to Spanish giants Barcelona’s 6.3 per cent. Manchester United’s fanbase grew by 16.2 per cent compared to Serie A’s Juventus’ 3.7 per cent. Horizm said these statistics exemplified the appeal of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined PSG and Manchester United from Barca and Juve respectively over the summer.

The study also suggests that, despite Ronaldo’s larger digital following, Messi’s impact may be larger in terms of creating new digital fans.

Horizm reports that Real Madrid and Barcelona have the biggest digital followings in sport. Real’s 282 million followers meant they pipped LaLiga rivals Barca’s 278 million to take top spot. ‘This of course could all change with Barcelona’s Spotify deal’, Horizm adds.

English and European soccer clubs also dominated Horizm’s ‘Global Brands’ category, which covers those with an audience of 20 million and above and is made up of 28 teams across four sports. Manchester United came out on top by creating €209 million (US$233 million) in value from their digital assets this past year, €32 million (US$36 million) more than second placed Barca.

On a platform by platform basis, Twitter was deemed by Horizm to be the most valuable of social media channels across all competitions, accounting for 36 per cent of the €2.1 billion generated. This was closely followed by Instagram with 34.1 per cent and Facebook with 27.5 per cent. YouTube and TikTok, however, only accounted for 2.3 per cent combined.

”Our report shows that the digital channels of elite sport are a multi-billion dollar opportunity; one that, increasingly, we are seeing right holders and brands looking to embrace,” said Horizm chief executive Pedro Mestriner.

“The growing digital audiences of teams and leagues represent a huge well of revenue potential, one that is still largely untapped and for sponsors, looking for greater ROI on their investments, digital sports content offers them much higher levels of engagement compared with standard content – engagement they are now able to secure outside the confines of traditional sponsorship agreements.”

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