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The sponsorship industry verdict on crypto, women’s cricket, personalised experiences and more

Experts working across the sports sponsorship and marketing sector make their predictions for 2023.

13 January 2023 Sam Carp

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Still can’t believe Christmas came and went so quickly? Struggling to motivate yourself for the start of another 12 months? Ditched your new year’s resolution already? Me too. But hopefully there’s something in this newsletter to get the juices flowing as we gear up for 2023.

In what has turned into a bit of a tradition for me, I’ve started the year by assembling a collection of predictions from those at the heart of the sports marketing and sponsorship industry for a third time. I made some predictions of my own back in December, but will leave it to the experts to share their thoughts on what this year has in store…

Jeff Meeson – Managing Director, Octagon Europe

Many of the trends we’ve seen over the past couple of years will continue into 2023. Our industry will continue to have athlete activism, social responsibility, and diversity and inclusion at the top of our collective priority lists. The next big sponsorship category will emerge, very possibly AI, and Web3 applications will become commonplace.

2023 should be the year when our industry uses first-party data to deliver the personalised experiences fans expect both live and online. We’ve been collecting the data for years, and this is the year that rights holders, media partners, agencies and brands could work together to provide the breakthrough for fans. If done well, a comprehensive first-party data strategy can provide a significantly better experience for fans and tangible commercial results for all parties.

Will AI be the next big sponsorship category?

Jenny Mitton – Director and Women’s Sport Lead, M&C Saatchi Sport and Entertainment

2023 is the year we’ll see a shrewd brand enter women’s cricket in England and own the space. For some reason it’s not happened so far, despite all the right ingredients being there. Cricket is the UK’s second biggest sport, The Hundred has brought in new fans, and England Women are the ICC’s second-ranked ODI and T20 team in the world. Very few women’s sports in England are in such good health.

With a T20 World Cup in South Africa, the inaugural season of the Women’s IPL launching and a home Ashes series, women’s cricket will be hard to avoid in 2023.

Adam Warner – Head of Global Sports & Partnerships, PepsiCo

In the context of elevated financial pressures for businesses and fans alike and the ongoing uncertainty in sport and broader society, 2023 will favour those brands that can be creatively disruptive and offer fans and communities real excitement and/or utility throughout the year. More than ever having deep fan empathy to bring big ideas to life will be key. Combine this with true strategic partnerships – those that create mutual and enduring value with properties, athletes, and publishers – and you may have the recipe for success in 2023.

Robbie Henchman – President of Global Partnerships, IMG Events, IMG Media and On Location

Following a game-changing 2022 for women’s sport, I believe this momentum will continue in 2023, driven by events like the Fifa Women’s World Cup and the Solheim Cup. Marketers are seeing unprecedented ROI and soaring viewership figures that will only continue to grow. With the media value increasing, advertisers will want to get in early to generate substantial growth and avoid having to pay premiums down the line. We will also see rights holders continue to unbundle their sponsorship packages, giving brands better opportunities to diversify their portfolios and target consumers.

Emilio Collins – Partner and Chief Business Officer, Excel Sports Management

The past few years have shown our industry to be incredibly opportunistic, jumping at every new mildly emerging movement and throwing top dollar at it, often to investors’ dismay. Pick your theme: esports, SPACs, NIL, NFTs, crypto sponsorships, CBD, pickleball. 2023 will undoubtedly bring another surprise category or trend most didn’t see coming, and countless athletes, moguls and private equity firms will look to cash in. Hopefully, the macro-economic headwinds will have us all proceed with caution.

Luke Donaldson – Head of Strategic & Global Partnerships, Roc Nation

With the downturn of the economic climate towards the end of 2022, I expect brands to be much more selective with the athletes and rights holders with whom they invest this year. I think we will continue to see an upturn in brands investing in purpose-driven partnerships which not only increase awareness but also allow companies to build affinity with their customer through authentic and powerful storytelling. In today’s competitive environment, connecting with purpose is becoming more and more important and utilising the emotional connection that a sports property/athlete brings is often seen as the perfect way to do this.

NWSL franchise Angel City have put purpose at the heart of their partnerships with brands like DoorDash

Haider Rafique – Chief Marketing Officer, OKX

I expect that we will see a significant slowdown in new sports deals being announced, at least for the first half of the year. The industry is still reeling from the FTX collapse, so the atmosphere will be about rebuilding trust. Additionally, there is not as much liquidity as there once was, so crypto brands will be more selective, while sports brands will be more cautious when deciding who to partner with.

While the dramatic shakeup in the crypto space of the past several months has impacted the ability of certain firms to spend on partnerships, those in a healthy position will continue to make moves. Recent events have not shaken our ability to create and be innovative with our partners.

Tom Gladstone – Co-Founder, The Space Between

Having not been mentioned in this feature last year, 2023 will see environmental concerns front and centre of the sports landscape. Expect greater scrutiny on the environmental sustainability of governing bodies, in turn creating opportunities for brand partners to project their environmental credentials through sport.

New voices will join the likes of Hector Bellerin and David Pocock as athlete activists campaigning to protect our planet. And no doubt some high-profile sporting events will become vectors for environmental protest. The inaugural Cycling World Championships in August will raise the bar for delivery of an environmentally conscious sports event and put the British Cycling and Shell greenwashing debacle back under the media microscope.

Athletes like Hector Bellerin have been using their profile to raise awareness of climate change

Gary Linke – Owner, The Missing Linke

The impact of FTX and WhaleFin’s financial issues will mean a sharp decline in crypto deals, especially among premium rights owners with a global audience. Rights owners will wait and see what happens in this category with other players that have invested in partnerships.

Hopefully, as events and overseas business have opened up fully, the travel category will recover its hunger for partnerships. Other categories to watch are mobile/telecoms with the rollout of 5G and D2C food and drink products and logistics.

With new betting and gaming brands such as DAZN, Fanatics and Virgin Bet being launched the whole home entertainment category should also see further spend, with the likes of Amazon Prime, Apple, Google, Spotify, Sky and Netflix looking to reward subscribers through partnerships.

Ed Horne – President, 160over90

Rich in tradition, sport is crossing over. As it becomes increasingly challenging to capture attention, I predict 2023 will welcome new ideas and executions that aren’t just anchored in sports, but cross over into other areas of culture, drawing in new and avid fans alike. Whether it’s sports tie-ins with music, fashion, culinary, the arts, or philanthropy – the bar for creativity will be at an all-time high. There is an undeniably powerful opportunity to create influence in the sports space, and those brands who create shared moments where consumers feel something real in relation to their passions will reign supreme.

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