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Study: Endorsement and media deals for athletes up 20% in 2022

SponsorUnited report reveals 102% increase in brands buying sponsorships or media deals across NIL.

15 December 2022 Ed Dixon

Getty Images

  • MLB bags most deals with 3,350
  • Norfolk State’s Rayquan Smith most sponsored athlete of 2022 with 58 deals
  • Female athletes poised to dominate sponsorships next year

Endorsement and media partnerships have grown 20 per cent year-over-year (YoY) for athletes in 2022, with a 102 per cent increase in brands buying sponsorships or media deals across name, image and likeness (NIL) alone, according to SponsorUnited.

The 2022 Sports Sponsorship Year in Review report from SponsorUnited, which tracks 1.1 million sponsorships and endorsements across 250,000 brands and properties, found that Major League Baseball (MLB) had the most deals in professional sports with 3,350 sponsorships this year. That put it ahead of the National Football League’s (NFL) 3,000 deals, though the American football competition’s US$1.8 billion in sponsorship revenue was 50 per cent higher than MLB’s US$1.2 billion.

Women’s sports saw a 20 per cent increase in partnerships YoY, with US soccer star Alex Morgan and tennis legend Serena Williams leading the list with 27 deals apiece. College softball player Lauren Burke came in second with 22 partnerships.

Sponsorship data and advertising services firm SponsorUnited added that the top five most endorsed global athletes had 209 combined total deals. Norfolk State’s Rayquan Smith was the most sponsored athlete of 2022 with 58 deals, followed by Indian cricket player Virat Kohli with 44. Nascar driver Kurt Busch inked 40, followed by Brazilian soccer ace Neymar (36) and NFL running back Austin Ekler (30).

The report also highlighted significant NIL sponsorship growth. American football led with 598 deals, including 12 players with social media-focused deals worth more than US$1 million. Men’s basketball followed with 328 deals and women’s basketball was third with 234 deals. 

“2022 has been a year to remember for the sports sponsorship industry,” said Bob Lynch, founder and chief executive of SponsorUnited.

“From the bounce-back in sponsorship deals and entitlements led by disruptive categories and companies, to the significant expansion in social endorsements – particularly on TikTok for female athletes – this year has brought a wave of new opportunities for brands across numerous industries.”

Looking ahead to 2023, SponsorUnited believes women are poised to dominate sponsorships. According to the report, brands’ sponsorship of female athletes grew 20 per cent in 2022, with 70 per cent growth in social engagement. Women are on track to eclipse their male counterparts in social engagement by 2024, the report states.

Digital assets are set to continue to grow in dominance, with digital signage, streaming and other digital sponsorships offering opportunities for brands to connect to fans in new ways that are unavailable in traditional media. 

Sports betting services will provide a growing media platform for new sponsorship deals, and major pro sports and athlete charity sponsorships are expected to grow by 25 per cent, SponsorUnited adds.

“As we move into a new year, we can expect to see greater growth within newer sports sponsorships areas, particularly in digital,” continued Lynch. “Sports fans across the leagues want more ways to engage with their favorite teams and players. We can expect to see brands exploring these new channels more in 2023 and beyond.”

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