The college sports landscape has experienced a seismic shift in the last two years, thanks to the advent of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) endorsements, which were green lighted by the NCAA in July 2021. Leading the field of standouts in this ever-evolving arena:college football players, who partner with nearly 50% of the 900+ brands that inked deals with college athletes so far in 2023—a number that’s on pace to surpass the more than 1,000 brands that inked NIL deals last year.
With the college football season set to kick off this weekend, let’s take a look at three top players who are using their dazzling athletic talents to grow their personal brands off the field.
USC’s quarterback, Caleb Williams, tops the list with an impressive 16 NIL deals—major brands like Athletic Brewing Company, AT&T, Alo Yoga, and United Airlines among them. Notably, his Instagram following has surged a remarkable 81% year over year, as his exposure has grown in step with his sponsorship portfolio–signaling the impact of his off-field endeavors in boosting his social media profile.
Nipping at Williams’ heels is dynamic Colorado quarterback, Shedeur Sanders, with 13 partnerships, including household names like KFC, Oikos, and the BRADY brand. His digital footprint has expanded significantly as well, with a whopping 105% increase in Instagram followers year over year–cementing his position as the most followed college football athlete on the platform. He's also seen a laudable 73% growth on X (formerly Twitter), a sure sign that his star is rising across all social media.
Meanwhile, Elon defensive lineman Jon Seaton, is also an emerging force on the NIL front: his 12 endorsements include collaborations with household names like Dr. Pepper, Outback Steakhouse, and SoFi.
With the new school year just beginning, brands will no doubt be keeping an eye on other newcomers set to make waves on the NIL scene, including Blake Corum, Brock Bowers, and Marvin Harrison Jr., with 7 and 6 deals each, respectively.
NFL buzz is building as the start of the regular season approaches: over the last five months, the league and its teams have generated nearly 45M in total branded social engagement with over 7,780 posts across Instagram, TikTok, X, and Facebook. With the season yet to begin, and total engagement already nearly half of what we saw in the 2022-23 season—it seems assured that the upcoming season will blow past the dazzling 100M mark set last year.
Notably, the NFL's collaboration with EA Sports commands over 10% of total engagement–more than 4.7M followers and counting. Blockchain.com has sponsored the Dallas Cowboys' offseason signings and trade news on the team’s social channels, propelling the Cowboys’ engagement numbers to the top of the league. The campaign's 48 posts so far have helped drive total engagement past 1.7M.
As NFL training camps continue throughout the pre-season, brands aim to engage fans and enhance their experience via interactive activations. Park Dental’s activation with the Minnesota Vikings this summer, for example, gave fans the opportunity to try their hand at mini-golf.
Photo opportunities–whether virtual or in person–are another compelling asset. The Buffalo Bills’ “Get Your Groove On” activation with M&T Bank gave fans a chance to dance virtually with team mascot Billy Buffalo, while McDonald’s unveiled a “Big Mac Sack” photo opp at the Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp, which dovetailed with its long-running campaign offering buy one, get one free Big Macs in the KC area the day after the Chiefs sack the opposing quarterback. And further west, the Los Angeles Chargers joined forces with Oakley for a photo opp with a backdrop featuring some of the team’s stars.
For many kids, the chance to play sports on a professional field is the thrill of a lifetime–and the Chicago Bears teamed up with Advocate Children’s Hospital to offer them just that. The “Mini Monsters Drills” at Bears training camp gave little fans the chance to run drills similar to those the players do–a fun, fitness-themed activation that the Buffalo Bills also offered to kids in partnership with local health plan provider, Independent Health.
Further downstate, the New York Jets gave little ones a different take on fitness with a bounce house sponsored by chocolate brand, Kinder.
Meanwhile, Cigna sponsored the Denver Broncos FIT program at the team’s training camp, which featured a “Shuttle Run, Kick and Toss” activation, designed to encourage fans to get moving.
Watch this space for more inspired regular season activations sure to engage legions of fans both in attendance and on social media.
European football jersey sponsors have long belonged to one of the sport’s most rarefied–and lucrative—clubs. The game’s global appeal, enormous team fan bases, and arguably unmatched exposure that shirt sponsorships offer—often worth hundreds of millions annually—makes them a can’t-lose marketing proposition for brands able and willing to pay the hefty price tag.
Heading into the 2023-24 season across the five major European leagues, 26 clubs have debuted a new primary jersey sponsor this year. Serie A clubs represent 30% of the new sponsorships. Meanwhile, Arsenal and UAE airline Emirates extended their jersey partnership this month—as did six other clubs and their respective sponsors, including fellow Premier League squads Luton Town and Wolverhampton—with a five-year deal worth a reported $63.9 million per season, a 25% increase over its prior agreement.
Speaking of Emirates, its Real Madrid primary jersey patch is the world’s most expensive sponsorship asset: the airline pays €70M ($76.5M) per year for its logo to appear on the Spanish team’s jersey. With four deals, the deep-pocketed brand has the most primary jersey patch deals across Europe’s top five leagues. Open opportunities in this coveted asset class still abound, as many prominent teams like Chelsea, Sevilla, and Roma have yet to announce a shirt sponsor this season.
Adidas, Nike, and Puma lead the list of kit suppliers in the top five European leagues with 15, 14, and 12 teams, respectively. Umbro, Joma, and Castore take the next three spots: Umbro partners with eight teams, and Joma and Castore with seven each.
The nearly century-old English brand Umbro sponsors the most teams in the Premier League with five, including Bournemouth, Brentford, and West Ham United. Adidas dominates La Liga with four teams, including Real Madrid, which holds the most Champions League titles. In Serie A, Kappa and Joma outfit three teams each, including Fiorentina and Atalanta, respectively. Nike is the Bundesliga’s most popular kit supplier with four teams, Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig among them. Puma and adidas lead Ligue 1 kit sponsor with three team deals apiece.
The market for European football jersey sponsorships is ever-evolving, as new brands enter the fray and existing sponsors grow their investment while football’s seemingly unstoppable momentum continues to capture legions of new fans worldwide. Watch this space: as the commercialization of the world’s favorite sport continues and the next wave of wealthy owners vie for a piece of the action, odds are there will be plenty of surprises to come on the sponsorship front.
As Formula 1 prepares for its summer break, which begins after this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix, Oracle Red Bull Racing has plenty to celebrate. The team has won all 11 races so far this season, breaking the world record for consecutive wins previously held by McLaren since 1988. Max Verstappen took the top spot in nine—an astonishing achievement—while his teammate Checo Pérez raced to victory in the other two.
Not surprisingly, the Austrian team’s sponsorship stable is robust, featuring 45 deals with brands including Castore (jersey supplier) and Tequila Patron (official spirits partner). Oracle Red Bull’s social media posts have engaged 6.7M users across 76 unique posts—including its top post, on Instagram featuring a photoshoot of Verstappen and Pérez before their home race in Austria, which scored a total engagement of 731K.
Superstar Verstappen, whose marketability soars with every new victory, has eight sponsorships, Red Bull and Heineken among them. His deal with Dutch grocery chain Jumbo Supermarkten is set to expire at this season’s end–creating a prime open opportunity for another brand to partner with the red-hot driver, one of F1’s most popular figures. His social posts have engaged 8.5M users in the last 12 months, led by an Instagram post following his Drivers’ Championship win last season that racked up 1.6M engagements.
While Red Bull has dominated F1 so far this year, the battle for second place is heating up. Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Mercedes are all in contention, with McLaren steadily climbing the leaderboard after its excellent results in the last three races.
Speaking of McLaren, one of the biggest surprises so far this season has been the return of Daniel Ricciardo to Formula 1, following his departure from the team last year. A longtime sensation on the grid, the Australian driver—who made his first race for AlphaTauri in Hungary last weekend—currently has 13 endorsement deals, garnering a total engagement of 7.1M on his social media accounts with just 14 posts during his short break from the circuit. With his high-profile return, expect to see enterprising brands vying to partner with him as his comeback continues.
The Tour de France 2023 came to a thrilling conclusion last weekend, with Jonas Vingegaard of Team Jumbo-Visma emerging as champion for the second consecutive year. Along the storied race’s 2,115—mile route, fans eagerly awaited the arrival of the famous Caravan, which offers participating brands an incomparable marketing platform.
Since its inception in 1930, "la Caravane Publicitaire" has become an integral part of the Tour de France experience. The lively two—hour opening parade precedes the cyclists during the race’s 21 stages, delighting fans lining the roadsides with captivating spectacles and giveaways all the while.
This year's race featured an impressive lineup of more than 35 brands participating in Caravan activations. Notably, TikTok made its grand Caravan debut alongside esteemed global and local brands like E.Lecler, Le Gaulois, Haribo, LCL, and Tourtel Twist, as the boisterous parade amplified the excitement and anticipation of passionate race—watchers eagerly awaiting the cyclists’ arrival.
Team Jumbo-Visma of the Netherlands, this year’s winner, boasts deals with nearly 50 brands. Fourteen percent of its sponsors—including Graze, Dole Food Company, Maurten, Grand’Italia, Virtuoos, and Campina—hail from the Food Products category and have signage on the cyclists’ bikes and jerseys.
MLB made a triumphant return to the UK last weekend, as the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals faced off in a two-game “London Series” at London Stadium. The much-ballyhooed event–which attracted nearly 110,000 fans between the two match-ups, the largest attendance for MLB baseball games this season–also offered sponsors a prime opportunity to showcase their league partnerships for a global audience.
With MLB having recently announced that the Mets will battle the Phillies in the 2024 MLB London games, will the news pique brands’ interest in a jersey patch sponsorship with Philadelphia’s finest? As brands continue to grow their sponsorship portfolios and globalize their business strategies, will the high-profile series influence those looking to secure a new jersey patch deal among MLB’s 18 open jersey opportunities? Only time will tell.
Notably, Stifel–the St. Louis-based financial services company that announced a seven-year deal as the Cardinals’ first jersey patch sponsor in May–seized the opportunity to also sponsor the London Series. Signage on the first-base line and outfield wall trumpeted Stifel’s presence, while exclusive ticket and suite access for the brand enhanced the partnership.
One thing is for certain: globalization has become a burgeoning key focus of US pro sports. Just a few weeks before MLB’s latest trip across the proverbial pond, we attended an event at “NBA House,” an NBA-hosted immersive basketball experience held June 1st and the 18th in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and timed to the NBA Finals. League sponsors including Budweiser, Ruffles, and Gatorade were on-hand to showcase their brands for the Brazilian audience, alongside prominent local brands like food giant Sadia–which announced its third consecutive year as an NBA sponsor in Brazil on May 23–and nutritional beverage brand Sustagen.
The NFL is also charging full speed ahead onto the world stage, with the long term goal of growing its global fan base by 26% to 240M. To that end, the league launched its international home marketing areas (IHMA) initiative in early 2022, granting teams access to foreign territories for marketing and fan engagement. Ten clubs used the 2022 NFL Draft to highlight their overseas marketing efforts by announcing draft picks from iconic locations within their IHMAs, while the league will play a record five games this season in Germany and the UK.
The league’s international growth offers both US and foreign sponsors huge opportunities to build new audiences–generating additional revenue streams for teams through ticket and merch sales, along with broadcasting rights. Nineteen teams already have access to 30 IHMAs across 10 countries (and counting), begging the question: will the NFL become the first transatlantic pro sports league?
Meanwhile, having just announced its 2023-24 schedule, the NHL is also eyeing distant shores with its four-game Global Series in Stockholm, Sweden, from November 16-19, 2023. As in the NHL match-ups in Finland and the Czech Republic last year, we expect to see both US and local brands utilizing DED signage as well as dasher boards, as both stateside and foreign sponsors seize the opportunity to engage new audiences.
Get ready, basketball fans: the hotly anticipated NBA Draft tips-off tonight, with the first round taking center stage on ESPN and ABC at 8pm EST, brought to you by State Farm, a NBA league sponsor since 2010.
Teams are gearing up to make it an unforgettable evening for their loyal fans, in part by hosting draft parties with the support of dedicated sponsors. The Dallas Mavericks are partnering with Choctaw Casinos & Resorts to create an electric atmosphere for fans at the Echo Lounge in their hometown, and the San Antonio Spurs have teamed up with Ticketmaster to put on a show-stopping event. Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic is joining forces with Starry Soda to add a refreshing twist to their watch party. According to our 2022-23 NBA Marketing Partnerships Report, PepsiCo’s fast-rising soft drink brand boasts the largest increase in sponsorship asset volume among both league and non-league partners from 2021 to 2022.
Victor Wembanyama, the 7’2” NBA draft prospect projected to be the top pick, currently holds a single endorsement deal with Nike. That could change literally overnight: the French-born phenom, widely considered one of the top players of his generation, will no doubt be fielding a veritable mountain of endorsement offers as he officially becomes the NBA’s newest potential superstar.
Rivaling Wembanyama in stature, Chet Holmgren recently took the endorsement world by storm, despite a season-ending injury before his NBA debut: in the past 12 months, the 2022 draft’s second overall pick added more brands to his portfolio than any other league player. Holmgren’s outstanding on-court potential mirrors his rising profile on social media, where he’s already ranked 14th among NBA athletes on TikTok. Will Wembanyama also take to TikTok (and other platforms) to grow his personal brand as his sponsorships skyrocket? Hopeful for a full, healthy season for both players, we expect Wembanyama to surpass Holmgren in deals as he quickly becomes one of the NBA’s top endorsers.
A leading beer from south of the border made waves in the U.S. beer market last month: Modelo Especial, an import sold since 2013 by Constellation Brands, became the top-selling beer in America, with 8.4% of retail-store sales, as reported in the Wall Street Journal last week.
The role sponsorships have played in the beer’s ascent is arguably the most interesting facet of the Modelo story. In 2019, 70% of the brand’s consumers were Hispanic, as Constellation set its sights on expanding the beer’s mass-market appeal. With that goal in mind, Modelo has grown its sponsorship portfolio by a staggering 132% since then, to more than 70 partnerships–starting with NFL teams, where its number of total sponsorship assets has increased 15% to lead the brand’s property partner ranking. Modelo’s sponsorships across the other four U.S. major pro sports leagues have leveled out relatively evenly over the same period.
Meanwhile, Modelo’s non-Hispanic consumer base has grown to 45% since 2019, while the beer brand became the top seller in California, as well as in metropolitan areas including Chicago, Dallas, and Baltimore, according to Constellation. Modelo’s leadership in these markets directly reflects its endorsement strategy: they comprise four of Modelo’s top 6 sponsorship markets, while California, Chicago, and Dallas account for 37% of its total partnership assets.
Not surprisingly, Modelo’s purchase of high-level inventory–including club, deck, and bar naming rights, official sponsor, and field-level signage–has risen in step with its partnership growth. Notably, 5% of the brand’s deals include a community and cause activation.
Modelo has engaged more than 480K followers in the last 12 months on social media across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Interestingly, its best performing posts with athletes were with UFC fighters Stipe Miocic and Justin Gaethje. On the rights holder side, the Atlanta Hawks and Las Vegas Raiders lead the charge among the beer’s top co-branded posts.
The 2023 UEFA Champions League Final took place last Saturday at the Atatürk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, where Manchester City’s Rodri scored in the 68th minute to defeat Inter Milan 1–0, leading the team to its first Champions League title. Man City’s victory marked a deserving end to an impressive season, as the squad captured the treble after winning the Premier League title with 93 points, along with the FA Cup final against city rivals Manchester United.
Arrival At Istanbul
SponsorUnited was on the ground in Turkey’s most celebrated city to attend different stages of the Champions League Final. On our flight to Istanbul, we saw in-flight activations, including Turkish Airlines boarding passes bearing the UEFA Champions League “Road to Istanbul” graphic, and screens displaying the Champions League stadium background. We passed through the Turkish Airlines-branded archway upon arrival, which led to an exhibition full of Champions League Final memorabilia, broadcasts of past championship highlights, and other interactive experiences designed to engage fans.
Various activations by UEFA Champions League sponsors took center stage throughout the colorful city, including static billboards by MasterCard lining the streets, as well as subways and buses–where Pepsi and Ruffles unveiled huge activations in subway corridors, at bus stops, and on bus screens. In another inventive activation, Turkish Airlines conducted a Twitter poll, asking fans to predict the Champions League Final winner, with the chosen team’s colors to be displayed on three city bridges. Manchester City won handily with 59% of the vote; soon after, its signature, sky blue hues glowed against the Istanbul skyline prior to the match, where the team would again prevail.
At the UEFA Champions League Fan Festival –which we visited before the game– Turkish Airlines activations included a giant foosball table, virtual penalty kicks, a flight simulator, and a Miles & Smiles quiz machine (named for the carrier’s loyalty program) that posed Turkish Airlines-related questions, with the chance to collect Miles & Smiles rewards. Fan Festival sponsor FedEx let fans take pictures with 3-D representations of “model players” like Messi, Ronaldo, Bale, and Gerrard scoring iconic goals during previous Final matchups, and also build a Champions League cardboard ball.
Heineken established its presence through dedicated Heineken Beer Gardens scattered throughout the festival grounds as well as the Heineken Star Bar where ice-cold beverages were sold. Socios.com debuted a fan booth where fans were rewarded with a free add-on Fan Token, incredible prizes, and interactive experiences like the Header Challenge and Shot Radar. The booth’s list of rewards included tickets to the UCL Final, an autographed shirt by Inter Milan striker Lautaro Martínez, signed boots by Man City striker Erling Haaland, and UEFA Champions League merchandise. Meanwhile, Expedia Live created a multi-sensory fan experience, taking visitors on a journey through past UEFA Champions League finals and their host cities to showcase why “Nothing beats being there”–Expedia’s UEFA campaign slogan. Fans also had a chance to win tickets to the 2024 UEFA Champions League Final in London.
PepsiCo unveiled a series of innovative and sustainable food & beverage practices. At the Fan Festival they handed out their product with reusable, biodegradable Pepsi-Cups –supporting the goal of making UEFA Champions League Finals “Zero Waste to Landfill” by 2026, through its brands – Pepsi, Lay’s, Doritos and Gatorade.
Mastercard created a magic mirror activation where fans aimed virtual balls at targets inside the goal for the chance to win a prize. Elsewhere, adidas’ activation featured a giant UCL ball and player jerseys from the “Legends Match,” a four-team tournament featuring UEFA Champions League legends, held on June 9th at the fan festival and broadcast by Turkish subscription streaming service, Exxen.
Soon after, guests and employees of the UEFA Champions League sponsors made their way to the Atatürk Olympic Stadium. At the exclusive Champions Village, Oppo invited select fans and brand ambassador Kaká. Those invited were given the opportunity to pose for photos under the scoreboard and play against Kaká in the Oppo kick-up challenge. Pepsico’s “Pep-City” tent also offered pre-game refreshments, as did Just Eat Takeaway and various other official sponsors of UEFA Champions League.
Pepsi Kick-Off Show & Game
Getting closer to kick-off time, the Champions League Trophy was presented by FedEx and arrived at the stadium in a FedEx truck, delivered by a FedEx courier. The Pepsi Kick-Off Show, which took place just before gametime, featured performances by Brazilian singer Anitta and Nigerian producer Burna Boy (both of whom have deals with Pepsi), as well as special guest DJ Alesso. Pepsi, as presenting sponsor of the Kick Off show was the only sponsor with video board and LED-signage while also having TV broadcast presence around the world.
As one of the world’s most watched sporting events, the final was broadcasted across more than 97 countries, with all the sponsors having broadcast presence. Lays presented the game in the US on TUDN, while Oppo had split screen commercial on Sony Liv in India. Local US sponsors Expedia and Grubhub signage was digitally overlayed for US broadcasts only. Right after the game, the PlayStation Player of the Match award was handed out by Liza Zimouche (endorsed by PlayStation), a French freestyle footballer. The event concluded with a post-game press conference where all Official Sponsors were visible as well as Gatorade and adidas through product placement.
Professional basketball in America is hotter than ever–and if this year is any indication, its momentum shows no sign of stopping.
The NBA set records for total attendance, average attendance, and sellouts in the 2022-23 regular season, while a record 791 sellouts shattered the previous mark of 760 set four years ago. To top it off, an ever-growing number of fans filled stadiums to a record 97% capacity.
These numbers are music to sponsors’ ears. NBA team sponsorship revenue skyrocketed to a staggering $1.4 billion this season–a robust 10.5% increase from the prior year, adding more than $100 million to team revenues. The league and its teams inked 2,430 sponsorships, a 3.5% increase versus the previous season.
Players are using their social media status as a springboard to build their own brands and woo more sponsors–as they should, considering league players average almost 95K in total engagement per deal, more than 2.5x that of the average major pro sport athlete. Fueled by their rising profiles on social, league athletes are extending their reach far beyond the court, adding a whopping 28 categories to their brand sponsorship portfolios in just one season. Seven of the top 10 most socially engaging teams were playoff contenders this season–driving fan engagement and illustrating the snowballing clout of social media in professional sports.
Meanwhile, prime opportunities continue to surface for potential sponsors, as searches for NBA teams on the SponsorUnited platform soared, increasing almost fivefold compared to last season–a clear sign brands are keen on a sponsorship slam dunk. This year, the league went without a Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) partner for the first time since 2009, while PepsiCo’s new Starry beverage brand became the NBA’s official soft drink, and tequila brands took the NBA by storm. The Knicks’ search for a jersey patch sponsor–at a reported $30M price tag–went unfulfilled, leaving the door open for possible contenders next season.
Against pro basketball’s increasingly dynamic backdrop, we’re excited to unveil the 2022-2023 NBA Marketing Partnerships Report. Authored jointly by SponsorUnited’s Marketing Research & Insights, Analytics and Marketing teams, it delivers an in-depth analysis of more than 2,800 brands, 240 athletes, and over 37,800 social posts between September 2022 and April 2023, from 2018 through 2023.
The U.S. Open Pickleball Championship is currently underway this week in Naples, Florida, where over 3K players are facing off in pro and amateur matches across 59 courts. While relatively new to the U.S., pickleball is the country’s fastest-growing sport, with 4.8M players nationwide–a nearly 40% increase since 2020–and more than 9M Americans expected to be swinging a paddle in 2025.
Pickleball’s red-hot popularity has marketers racing to cash in on the action: in the past 12 months, more than 150 brands have partnered with pickleball properties, with each property averaging 12 sponsors. Predictably, the sport’s top category is Apparel & Accessories, while Franklin–a pickleball paddle leader–and footwear honchos Skechers and DUPR lead the list of most active brands.
Signage is key for brands keen to make a splash at pickleball events: net signage, baseline signage (fixed or rotating), and courtside signage (fixed or rotating) are the top three assets for gaining visibility among the ever-expanding throngs of pickleball fans.
Pickleball matches are also gaining traction on social media. All PPA Tour matches are streamed on YouTube, attracting over 40K followers (and counting) to the channel. Online car retailer Carvana serves as the exclusive title sponsor of the tour, which boasts the largest-ever professional pickleball single-season prize money purse of $5.5M this season.
As pickleball’s popularity continues to skyrocket–and more deep-pocketed investors join the long list that already includes Tom Brady, LeBron James, and Kevin Durant–expect a slew of brands from an array of industries to keep piling on to the pickleball train.
While it’s been just two weeks since Opening Day–the first since the MLB approved sponsors on uniforms–we’ve already seen 8 jersey patch deals activated, with the latest, between the New York Mets and NewYork-Presbyterian, having debuted last week. Eight different categories have bought MLB jersey patches thus far–and with 22 more jersey patch opportunities open, here’s a rundown of which brands, categories, and teams have inked a deal, and which categories lead other major pro sports leagues in buying this asset.
Of the eight current MLB jersey patch deals, seven are local brands headquartered in each team’s respective market. The only team without a local partner is the San Diego Padres, which was the first ever to sign such a partnership–with Motorola–last April.
Another interesting aspect of the MLB jersey patch trend is the placement of the patches on the uniforms. The sleeve on which the patch is worn depends on whether the player is a right-handed or left-handed batter, ensuring that the patch is visible to the centerfield cameras with the prime shot of the at-bat. This attention to detail highlights the strategic approach teams are taking to maximize the visibility of their sponsors and deliver value to their partners.
There are 3 other Major Pro Sports leagues that allow uniform sponsors during the regular season: MLS and the NBA with a primary jersey patch, and the NHL with helmet signage. Financial (23%), Technology (15%), Healthcare (10%), Auto (6%) and Insurance (6%) lead the list of categories buying these assets within these leagues. So far in MLB, one Healthcare brand, (NewYork-Presbyterian) and one Financial brand (MassMutual) have a jersey patch deal–so will Technology, Auto, and Insurance follow suit? Or will the league entice other categories–like CBD, whose sponsorships the league approved last June–to leverage this high-profile asset? (Speaking of, the Chicago Cubs signed a deal with MYND DRINKS last week–marking the first CBD team deal within MLB.) Time will tell this season, as more deals are sure to be announced imminently.
The perennially popular NBA Playoffs kick off this Saturday, with 16 teams vying for the chance to ultimately take home an NBA championship ring. As basketball fans nationwide gear up for the 8 action-packed showdowns, here’s a snapshot of the league sponsorship landscape during the 2022-2023 regular season.
More than 2.7K brands bought sponsorships or media within the NBA, while each team averaged 76 sponsorship deals. Venue products/services, television, interior signage, and digital content led the list of most frequently bought assets.
The top 5 most active categories within the league this year were:
Michelob Ultra, Budweiser, and Hennessy–the top 3 brands within the Alcohol category–have multi-year deals with both the league and multiple teams. Meanwhile, newer names including Bud Light Seltzer, Sire Spirits, and Cutwater Spirits emerged as the top 3 fastest growing brands within the category in terms of activations.
With 7 sponsorships each, Kenda Tires and Nexen Tires grew their footprints more than any other brands within the NBA this year–tying with Starry Soda–which became a league sponsor this season. Both tire companies leveraged courtside apron ads and basket stanchion digital ads the most within these deals.
The NBA engaged 86M users across all social media platforms this season with 35K total posts. The most engaging–a co-branded Instagram post by the Golden State Warriors with Japanese fintech company Rakuten, of Steph Curry showing off his team’s new NBA City Edition uniform–garnered engagement of nearly 1.1M. The Warriors launched the uniform as a part of the team’s #Empowered campaign, a celebration of women at the intersection of court, community and culture in the Bay Area. Through the campaign, the Warriors and Rakuten donated over $25K to the Women’s Sports Foundation.
SponsorUnited released its 2022-23 NIL Marketing Partnerships Report, analyzing over 2,000 deals in more than 1,000 brands. A NIL (Name, Image, and Likeness) deal refers to an agreement allowing college athletes to monetize their personal brand by endorsing products or services using their name, image, or likeness.
Name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals grew 146% overall in 2022-23–having exploded since the NCAA’s landmark legislation in July 2021, allowing college student-athletes to be compensated for endorsing products and services–and they’re just getting started.
“We are witnessing a remarkable period of growth in the NIL landscape, as college athletes seize new opportunities to capitalize on their personal brands,” said Bob Lynch, Founder and CEO at SponsorUnited. “This upward trajectory reflects not only the shifting dynamics in collegiate sports, but also the eagerness of brands to engage with talented young athletes, who are emerging as influential marketing partners.”
Key findings from the report include:
College Football Reigns Supreme in NIL Deals: College football players remain at the forefront of the NIL revolution, accounting for 60% of all new deals in 2022. Their remarkable 174% growth in NIL sponsorships has outpaced that of the overall industry by 28%, demonstrating the significant impact of NIL on their earning potential and value of their personal brands.
NIL Deals Skyrocket in Women’s Basketball: NIL deals for women’s college basketball athletes grew 186% in 2022 – clocking in with the second highest percentage of new deals behind football, fueled in part by surging viewership (+11% YoY on ESPN) – compared to a 67% increase in deals for men’s basketball athletes. The average female basketball player partners with three brands, versus two for men.
Apparel & Accessories Tops the Category List Again: The top ten categories across NIL athletes–led by Apparel & Accessories–accounted for more than 70% of total sponsorships in both 2021 and 2022 – highlighting the competitive landscape of NIL deals. Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR): Hotel & Restaurant, Leisure; and Business Services are opting for more NIL deals than partnerships with major pro athletes – underscoring their confidence in the brand-building power of collegiate athlete influencers.
Twitter Loses Brands to Instagram and TikTok: Instagram’s and TikTok’s burgeoning popularity with Gen Y and Z is luring brand marketers away from Twitter. Instagram cemented its status as the top social media platform for endorsement posts – 55% of total activity, a 9% increase over 2021 – while Twitter’s turbulent 2022 saw branded posts fall 7% YoY. Though trailing Instagram by a large margin, TikTok grew its share of branded posts by 25% to 12.5%, and continues to emerge as a marketing powerhouse for brands.
Former FC Barcelona star, Gerard Piqué, recently launched an ambitious–and potentially groundbreaking–post-retirement project: Kings League Infojobs, a new seven-a-side, Spanish football league established in December 2022. Piqué selected 12 partners, called “presidents” (high-profile digital content creators and other former football athletes, including Iker Casillas and Kun Agüero), to build their own teams from the ground up–from creating names and logos to hiring management and technical staff.
One especially high-profile president, influencer Ibai Llanos–a Spanish internet celebrity and renowned esports caster known simply as “Ibai,” whose events hold worldwide streaming records–heads up league club Porcinos FC. The league is leveraging Llanos’ massive following (more than 9M on Instagram alone)–along with the followings of its other presidents–to grow its viewership.
This strategy is proving wildly successful so far. The Kings League has already drawn legions of viewers since its inaugural season kicked off on January 1, 2023, helped in part by an appearance by Brazilian football legend Ronaldinho in the 8th “journey” (weekly game day, in Kings League parlance, aka "matchday"). In January alone, the league racked up 238M views on TikTok, while the league’s Twitch account drew the platform’s highest average number of viewers worldwide the same month.
Kings League rules differ from traditional football regulations, with the goal of adding dynamism to the game via tactics including a tie-breaker penalty shootout, unlimited substitutions, and special "secret weapons” (detailed below).
Anyone who wants to play for the league–from influencers to athletes, and everyone in between–can apply by submitting an application and video. Kings League then selects 200 players and holds a draft, where presidents and their coaches make their picks.
Rules & Regulations
Kings League matches are held every Sunday from 4:00pm-10:00pm Central European Time (CET), and span 40 minutes divided into two halves.
At the conclusion of the 11-journey regular season–which lasts just 3 months–the eight best teams proceed to the playoffs, which will culminate in a Final Four on March 26 at Camp Nou (FC Barcelona Stadium).
There are 2 seasons per year; May 2023 begins this year’s second season.
Before every match, each coach chooses an envelope containing a “secret weapon” (arma secreta in Spanish) that provides a playing advantage, which can be used once per game. The 20 “secret weapon” cards include the following advantages, among others:
Double goal (6): For 2 minutes, goals scored will count as two.
Penalty from the center (4): A penalty kick from midfield–1-on-1 striker against the goalkeeper, with no rejection possible.
Wild card (1): Can be used as a wild card to play any of the other cards.
Piqué (1): Gerard Piqué will join the team as a player for that match.
At the 18th minute of the first half, a “League Card” is drawn that changes the number of players on the field (1vs1, 2vs2, 3vs3, 4vs4, or 5vs5) for the half’s last two minutes.
There are no draws; if teams are tied at the match’s end, a penalty shootout decides the winner.
In the starting kickoff, both teams must be on their goals until the countdown ends, and then run to take the ball at midfield.
On May 6, the Kings League will launch Queens League Oysho, named for the Spanish clothing retailer that’s its title sponsor. A women’s league with the same rules and format, its debut–to be played in tandem with the Kings League’s second season, with games held on Saturday–will help to further fuel the momentum of women’s football worldwide.
Kings League sponsors activate during matches via rotating billboards, product placement, and halftime challenges, among other assets. Each team can also sign its own sponsors, whose logos can be placed on the players’ jersey sleeves and shorts. Along with the weekly journey recap, “AfterKings,” broadcast Mondays on YouTube and Twitch–the league’s streaming partner–team presidents can stream their games on their preferred platforms, showcasing team sponsors with a product placement or digital billboard/logo activation.
INFOJOBS: The Kings League’s exclusive naming partner and primary jersey patch partner of all 12 teams, Europe’s leading career network brand also sponsors KOI, the esports team cofounded by Ibai.
Simyo: Marking one of its first forays into sports sponsorships, the Spanish telecom company ranks among the league’s main sponsors, whose assets include the “Simyo MVP” award.
McDonald’s: To promote McDelivery, its delivery services brand, McDonald’s sponsorships in Spain span sports including football (Mirandes), basketball (Cazoo Baskonia), and esports (Movistar Riders), as well as out-of-home advertising worldwide. Within the Kings League, the fast food titan sponsors event-related content including the countdown to matches’ kickoff, and runs a banner ad on Twitch, the league’s streaming partner.
Grefusa: The Spanish food products manufacturer ranks among the league’s main sponsors, and also sponsors its referees. Active in the streaming market, the snack brand also sponsors Ibai’s events, as well as Team Heretics, an esports team.
XiaoMI: An active sponsor of football properties–including the Mexican and Finnish national federations–as well as music festivals and esports teams, the Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer is one of the league’s main partners and its VAR (Instant Replay) sponsor. The brand’s logo also features on the back of all team jerseys.
CUPRA: The Spanish carmaker’s many sponsorships include the World Padel Tour, FC Barcelona, tennis events like the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, and KOI, Ibai’s esports club. As the Kings League Stadium Sponsor, the brand’s cars are displayed outside of CUPRA Arena, the league’s home.
Spotify: Hot on the heels of a landmark July 2022 deal with FC Barcelona that named the music streaming giant Main Partner and Official Audio Streaming Partner of the club–and saw the team’s stadium rebranded Spotify Camp Nou–the brand seized the opportunity to get in on the ground level of FC Barcelona alum Piqué’s newest venture, sponsoring the Kings League “secret weapon” cards.
As Formula 1 fever continues to run rampant around the world, the sport is racing full-throttle into the 2023 season with the announcement of three new elite partnerships.
Just this week (2/28), F1 unveiled a 15-year strategic partnership with London football team Tottenham Hotspur that will bring a brand-new motorsport experience to London: the construction of the world’s first in-stadium electric karting facility and the city’s longest indoor track, slated to open below the cutting-edge Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in Fall ‘23.
The partnership ushers yet another top-tier global sport brand to the stadium, which uniquely plays host to the Premier League, the NFL, F1, concerts, rugby, and boxing. The deal could be a game-changer, raising the possibility that other European football teams will open their stadiums to additional sports and activities in the future.
This news comes hot on the heels of F1’s February 22nd announcement that Qatar Airways will become the sport’s new Global Airline Partner, and will sponsor three Grand Prix this year in Qatar, Italy, and Hungary. The deal includes trackside and digital branding that will be showcased to the global F1 audience. Formula 1’s partnership with Emirates last season included assets like fixed groundscape, archway, TV visible signage and more; whether the Qatar deal will feature similar activations remains to be seen.
F1 also announced a three-year partnership with United Nations children’s charity UNICEF on February 10th. The single-seater world championship will support UNICEF’s education initiatives, as well as its humanitarian responses to disasters and emergencies.
A look back at the 2022 F1 Season:
This triumvirate of buzzy news may foretell an even bigger year for F1 in 2023 than 2022, which saw more than 420 brands buying sponsorships and media with the high-octane fan favorite.
Storied Italian brand Pirelli Tire led the pack last season with the most F1 sponsorship deals, partnering with the sport and its 10 teams. PUMA, Alpinestars, Red Bull and Siemens tied for second place with a total of 3 deals each, while Honda, Riedel, Sabelt, AlphaTauri, and Mercedes-AMG round out the top 10 list with 2 sponsorships apiece. The most common assets bundled into deals included property entitlements, digital content, brand exposure, social posts and property products/services.
F1 teams had a branded post with 270 brands to 3.9K unique posts on social media, generating 112M total engagements–averaging 418K engagements per deal and 29K per post. Mercedes-AMG Petronas ranked first in engagement with 55M–49% of the ten teams’ total engagement combined.
Formula 1 itself counted more than 50 sponsor deals. As for teams, McLaren took the top spot for most partnerships, inking more than 60 deals last season with brands including OKX, Dell Technologies, and Google (Alphabet). BWT Alpine and Alfa Romeo Stake tied for second place with 47 sponsorships each–edging out third-place Oracle Red Bull Racing by only one deal.
Daniel Ricciardo scored pole position in drivers’ deals with 14 sponsorships, partnering with brands like GoPro, Optus, and Beats by Dre. Sergio “Checo” Perez earned the second spot with 11 sponsor deals, and seven-time F1 World Champion, Sir Lewis Hamilton–the most followed driver across all social media, with a combined following of 45.3M–took third place with 10 endorsements.
As ever-growing legions of fans get into the swing of padel and pickleball, savvy sponsors and investors–including a who’s-who of pro athletes and boldface names–are racing to grab a piece of the action.
Popular in Spain and parts of Latin America for over 50 years, padel–the world’s fastest-growing sport–is now blazing a trail around the globe, with 30 new padel clubs/organizations and 100 new courts opening every week, according to Deloitte.
The World Padel Tour began on February 18th in Abu Dhabi and will run through year’s end, with 27 Open and Master events across 14 countries–the most ever–including Chile, Finland, Germany, Mexico, and Paraguay, amongst others. Fittingly, it will be the most international tour yet, reflecting Padel’s seemingly unstoppable momentum.
On February 17th, Spanish nutrition brand HSN was announced as a tour sponsor, joining returning sponsors Adeslas, Cupra, Estrella Damm, Maxcolchon, and Nox, amongst others.
As reported in our 2022 Sports Sponsorship Year In Review, Gianluca Vacchi, Andy Murray, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Zinedine Zidane have invested in padel clubs, helping to keep the sport squarely in the headlines. Not surprisingly, social media also continues to play a crucial role in fueling interest in padel and engaging new fans: the World Padel Tour saw social media growth of 18% YoY, to more than 2M followers currently across all platforms.
Meanwhile, pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in America, with 4.8M players nationwide–a nearly 40% increase since 2020. At this pace, there will be more than 9M Americans swinging a pickleball paddle in 2025.
Major League Pickleball kicked off its season at the end of January, with its next event slated for March 23-26 in Daytona, Florida. In December, MLP sent shockwaves through the sport when it merged with rival Professional Pickleball Association’s newly formed VIBE Pickleball League, whose first team owner is Mark Cuban. The surprise move allowed MLP to expand to 24 teams this year (from 8 in 2021), with six events scheduled for 2023. The news followed the announcement days earlier that Jimmy Buffett’s casual dining chain, Margaritaville, would become MLP’s title sponsor– branding the league as “MLP by Margaritaville”–marking one of its largest commercial deals to date. Michelob Ultra, Cirkul, and Ora Organic are also league sponsors.
MLP investors include Tom Brady, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Drew Brees, Heidi Klum, and Eva Longoria, among dozens of others. In late January, MLP announced that the Tennis Channel will be broadcasting the league's events on cable television throughout the season.
PPA, sponsored by Carvana, will continue its individual-competition operations with two monthly events, having commenced its season on January 12th. The 2023 Carvana PPA Tour tour will boast the largest-ever professional pickleball single-season prize money purse of $5.5M, and be the first professional tour to host 25 events in a single season. Other PPA sponsors include Molson Coors’ Vizzy Hard Seltzer, FILA, OGIO, Holland America, and Baird, among others.
As the season heats up and pickleball fever spreads unabated nationwide, watch this space for news of other non-endemic sponsors jumping on the pickleball bandwagon.
The Daytona 500 will take place this Sunday, marking the official start of the NASCAR regular season–when fans and corporate sponsors will flock to Daytona International Speedway for what is gearing up to be another Great American Race. As the season kicks off, let’s take a look at the sponsors of last year's podium finishers and the race overall.
Rookie Austin Cindric won the Daytona 500 last year, driving the No.2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang to victory for Team Penske. The logos of team sponsors Pennzoil, Autotrader, and Sunoco were also showcased on the car. Team Penske was active on social media in 2022, scoring a total engagement of 447K with 39 brand partners across 824 posts.
Trailing Cindric by just 0.036 seconds, Bubba Wallace placed second for the second time in his career in 2022, behind the wheel of the No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota for the 23XI Racing team. Wallace leads last year's podium finishers in sponsorships with 16 brand deals. He also maintained a high profile on social media, partnering with 14 brands to drive total engagement of 620,840 across 189 posts–almost twice that of his team 23XI Racing, which engaged 340K with 467 posts.
Four of last year’s top 5 drivers drove Ford cars–including third-place finisher Chase Briscoe who drove the No. 14 Mahindra Tractors Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. The team generated a total engagement of 1M with 38 brand partners across 908 posts.
The 2022 Daytona 500 included the following activations:
NFL Sports Betting Revenue Skyrocketed 40% in 2022
Russell Wilson and Austin Ekeler were Social Media's Most Endorsed NFL Athletes
The NFL 2022 Marketing Partnerships Report offers a comprehensive view of the sponsorship and endorsement landscape within the NFL this year. Compiled using SponsorUnited’s proprietary platform data from June 2022 through January 2023, the report analyzed NFL sponsorships across the league, teams, and individual athletes.
"Rather than relying on a handful of household brands to grow revenues, NFL teams are driving exponential growth by diversifying their brand partners,” said Bob Lynch, Founder and CEO of SponsorUnited. “Ticketing, Insurance, and Healthcare were the leading brand categories in terms of revenue growth this season. The NFL’s sponsor portfolio isn’t slowing down anytime soon, as emergent categories like Sports Betting and Wine & Spirits are expected to increase their spend in the years ahead.”
Key findings from the report include:
Sports betting’s explosive growth unlocks new revenue opportunities
Sports Betting has become a key revenue stream for the NFL, increasing 40% across teams. Sports Betting deals have quadrupled in the last four years (2019-2022), while gambling companies accelerated their ad spend last year. More than 25 NFL teams now have at least one Sports Betting or Daily Fantasy Sport sponsor. Last year, the Buffalo Bills announced a multi-year partnership with FanDuel as their official mobile sports betting partner. Other notable brand sponsors include BetMGM, Bally’s, Betfred, and Bet365.
Russell Wilson leads Austin Ekeler as social media’s most endorsed athlete
Russell Wilson of the Denver Broncos leads social media branded endorsements with 22 deals, closely trailed by the LA Chargers’ Austin Ekeler with 21 social deals. While Wilson’s social following dwarfs that of the Chargers running back (14M vs. 320K, respectively), Ekeler’s deal volume reflects his considerable appeal to brand partners, given his on-field performance and ability to reach new audiences as an influencer in the esports space. Wilson and Ekeler are the only NFL players with over 20 social brand deals. The next most-endorsed players include the Kansas City Chiefs’ JuJu Smith-Schuster (15 endorsements) and Travis Kelce (14 endorsements), and Tyler Lockett of the Seattle Seahawks (13 endorsements).
NFL team sponsorship revenue reaches new heights this season
Sponsorship revenue totaled $2.05B across the 32 NFL teams in the 2022-2023 season–a new league record, and a 14% increase year-over-year. When combined with the league as a whole, total sponsorship revenue was $2.7B. Key growth drivers include the Apple Music Halftime Show and new sponsors like Socios and regional Healthcare brands.
Alcohol brands lead in deal volume
Led by spirit brands, Alcohol again topped the category list for brand spend, with 333 sponsorships across NFL teams and the league as a whole. Technology brands came in second with 218 sponsorships, and Food Products brands third with 177 deals. While the Alcohol category led by number of deals across the league and teams, it was second in revenue for team-only deals with $170M, trailing the first-place Finance category with $210M and topping Healthcare at $145M.
The NFL is going global in a big way
The league’s ambitious strategy to grow its international footprint took a giant leap forward with the launch of its international home marketing areas (IHMA) initiative in January 2022, granting teams access to foreign territories for marketing and fan engagement. Currently, 19 teams have access to 30 IMHA’s across 10 countries–led by the Los Angeles Rams (4), Miami Dolphins (3), and the Philadelphia Eagles (3). The goal: to become a global powerhouse by growing its fan base 26% to a staggering 240M worldwide, and focusing on key international markets like the UK and Germany. By hosting games and sponsored events and investing in youth football programs overseas, the NFL is actively cultivating its next generation of fans.
Jointly authored by SponsorUnited’s Business Intelligence, Analytics, and Marketing Departments, the report offers an in-depth analysis of more than 4,000 brands, 350 athletes, 3,100 deals, and 34,000 posts between the league, clubs, athletes, and brands during the 2022 season.
Gentlemen, start your engines–the 2023 NASCAR season kicks off this Sunday with the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum in Los Angeles. How will this year’s sponsorships stack up vs. 2022? Let’s review last year’s stats.
Fittingly, the Auto category was the most active during the 2022 season, totaling 388 sponsorships with NASCAR teams. Construction & Industrial took the second spot with 289 partnerships, followed by Business Services with 111 deals.
Within the Auto category, Chevrolet secured 27 sponsorships–the most deals of any brand overall in NASCAR. WIX Filters followed with 20 deals, while Mobil1 was #3 with 17 sponsor deals.
More than 1,500 brands bought sponsorships and media across NASCAR teams, with Chevrolet, Mechanix Wear, and WIX Filters leading the list (in that order). B.J. McLeod Motorsports had 91 sponsorships–the most of any NASCAR team, which averaged 28 deals per property. Alpha Prime Racing was #2 with 65 deals, followed by Spire Motorsports with 59.
Within NASCAR race tracks, there were 971 active brands buying sponsorships / media last year, led by GEICO (24), Xfinity (23), and Safety Kleen (20) in the top 3 spots. The average number of deals per track was 40.
In the all-important social media space, Hendrick Motorsports led the list of most followed NASCAR teams, with 2.3M followers across all platforms in 2022. Joe Gibbs Racing ranked second with a gross following of 1.7M, while Stewart-Haas Racing landed in third place with 1.4M.
The 1,500-plus brands that partnered with NASCAR teams engaged 21M followers cumulatively in 2022, while the 971 NASCAR track brand partners had a combined total engagement of 1.5M.
As NASCAR continues its rise in popularity, new categories have begun to open up. For the 2023 season, Cabo Wabo was named the first-ever Official Tequila of NASCAR and will also sponsor Daytona International Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Michigan International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
The 2023 Winter X Games, held last weekend in Aspen, provided unique opportunities for brands–including Monster Energy, Pacifico, Jeep, and many others–to activate on Buttermilk Mountain. Following is our roundup of highlights from this year's games–both brands and athletes–as reported by our team on the ground taking in all the action.
Pacifico operated two separate Beer Gardens, where fans aged 21 and older could grab an ice-cold beverage.
The two-story Monster Energy bar/lounge featured music and “Monster” girls doling out its popular drinks to thirsty fans.
Jeep loomed large at the Games, with products displayed all over the mountain. The Jeep Theater offered an indoor/outdoor space where attendees could kick back and watch the events taking place on the big screen, with two Jeep vehicles parked right outside for visitors to peruse.
Chinese-American freestyle skier, Eileen Gu, has 15 endorsement deals, having collaborated with high-profile brands like Tiffany & Co, Louis Vuitton, Red Bull, IWC, and more. A whopping 546% increase in followers over the last year to some 2M followers across all social media makes her the 21st most followed Extreme & Action Sports athlete worldwide, with a total engagement of 3.5M.
The eighth most followed person in Austria, snowboarder Anna Gasser boasts a combined social following of 661K and total engagement of 1.1M. Her 8 brand partnerships include Red Bull, Skullcandy, Audi, and Burton.
David Wise–who won gold in the Monster Energy Men’s Ski SuperPipe–is sponsored by 15 brands, including Visa, Toyota, P&G, and Monster. The American freestyle skier has 84K followers and a total engagement of 30K across all social platforms.
Aussie snowboarder Scotty James won his 5th X Games snowboard halfpipe, and counts Oakley, Red Bull, Samsung, and Tommy Hilfiger among his 10 sponsors. His 24% YoY follower growth brought his social following to 324K, with a total engagement of 427K.
Only four teams remain as we head to the NFL Conference Championships this Sunday–one of the biggest days in football in the lead-up to the Super Bowl. The Philadelphia Eagles will host the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game, while the Kansas City Chiefs will host 2022 Super Bowl finalists, the Cincinnati Bengals, for the AFC title.
How do these teams stack up within the league on the partnership front? The Eagles rank 10th by sponsorship deals, followed by the 49ers at #16, the Bengals at #18, and the Chiefs in the 31st spot.
Among the four remaining teams, three have playoff presenting sponsors:
49ers: United is the team's top playoffs sponsor, while SAP, Zennni, & Cisco Systems also endorse the West Coast powerhouse.
Eagles: ACME Markets
Chiefs: Bud Light
The Philadelphia Eagles, flying high after a stellar season, have a total social following of 11M across TikTok, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, making them the 5th most followed NFL club. The team secured 105 sponsorship deals this year–including Lincoln Financial, Bud Light, and Toyota–up from 97 last season. The Eagles' top sponsorship categories are Beverage - Alcohol, Food Products, and Technology.
With a total social following of 9.9M, the San Francisco 49ers are the 8th most followed team in the league, and count United, Levi's, and SAP among their more than 90 brand partnerships. Technology, Beverage - Alcohol, and Media lead the Niners' list of sponsorship categories.
Super Bowl LIV Champions, the Kansas City Chiefs, take the 10th spot on the social media list with 8.9M followers. The Chiefs boast more than 60 partnerships this season–including GEHA, T-Mobile, and Hy-Vee–while their top categories are Beverage - Alcohol, Retail, and Education.
The 23rd most followed NFL team, the Cincinnati Bengals' social fandom stands at 5.3M. With just under 90 sponsorships, the Bengals inked a new naming rights deal this year with HR & payroll solution provider PayCor before the season began.
On January 12, the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA)–the sport’s national governing body and a SponsorUnited partner–announced that tennis participation in the US increased for the 3rd consecutive year in 2022 to more than 23.6M people, a whopping 33% increase since 2020. With the 2023 Australian Open now in full swing, let’s take a look at how brands activated across tennis tournaments in 2022, and what we can expect to see at the new year’s first tennis major.
Women’s health specialist Hologic made waves in the tennis world last year with more than 30 new deals–including becoming title sponsor of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Tour, where its logo adorned the net at WTA tournaments. Notably, Hologic had no 2021 sponsorships before going all-in on women’s tennis in 2022. Will the brand also bank on other women’s sports in 2023? Time will tell.
Another brand to keep an eye on this year: Cadillac, which took center stage at the US Open in 2022, becoming the tournament’s official vehicle in a multi-year deal that will see it return to America’s premier tennis event in August. Keen to promote its debut all-electric SUV, the LYRIQ, the luxury carmaker doubled its number of tennis sponsorship deals last year–investing in the US, Miami, Atlanta, and Citi Opens–from just 2 deals in 2021.
Over 100 brands partnered with the Australian Open last year across all asset types– sponsor, digital, TV, radio, and vendor. Automotive brand Kia–the longest-standing Australian Open sponsor since 2002–was the most visible brand throughout the 2022 showcase. Major assets included venue naming rights, net signage, and a virtual activation inside of the Decentraland platform–marking the first time a tennis major activated within the metaverse. (The US Open followed suit, hosting activations inside Decentraland last summer). The Australian Open has already leveraged the metaverse again in 2023, this time partnering with the Roblox platform on a digital recreation of Melbourne Park featuring Emirates, the tournament’s airline partner.
Besides Kia–which already began activating Down Under with product displays and attendee activities–Emirates, Rolex, Ralph Lauren, Infosys, Luzhou Laojiao, and Canadian Club also returned as sponsors of this year’s tournament, after featuring prominently at the 2022 event.
Every year, the NFL and its teams present thousands of activations–including in-person venue exhibitions–that drive sky-high exposure for the sponsoring brands. Let’s take a look at some of the top NFL activations from the 2022-23 season.
In terms of showstopping in-venue activations, few topped the Heineken Highline, a 1500-foot gondola that gives fans a 20-minute, bird’s-eye view of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. Further north, the huge Jack Daniel’s Barrel Christmas Tree on the concourse of the Atlanta Falcons’ Mercedes-Benz Stadium turned heads around the holidays. Meanwhile, as the exclusive real estate partner of the Arizona Cardinals through 2024, 72sold.com offers attending fans the chance to appear on the 72Sold Selfie Cam by scanning a QR Code on the jumbotron.
The NFL introduced a new sponsorship category by announcing E. & J. Gallo Winery as the league’s official wine sponsor in a multi-branded, multi-year agreement. As one of the season’s buzziest deals, Amazon Prime Video’s purchase of Thursday Night Football yielded broadcast assets including Next Gen Stats powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Electric Moments presented by Mercedes-Benz, the Pregame Prep sponsored by Little Caesars Pizza, and the TNF Three-Play segment sponsored by DraftKings.
NFL activations overseas were similarly successful. Online trading platform IG was named Presenting Partner of the three 2022 regular season games in London, while paint brand Valspar became the NFL’s Official Colour Partner in the UK & Ireland. Deutsche Kreditbank AG (DKB) presented the league’s first-ever regular season game in Germany–a sold-out face-off between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks, where consumer electronics retailer Cyberport served as the Official Lead Entertainment Partner and Exclusive Presenting Sponsor of the pregame and halftime shows.
Other notable partnerships:
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals both announced new naming rights deals with fintech giant Acrisure and HR software provider Paycor, respectively. The partnerships saw the two AFC North rivals rename stadiums that stood for at least two decades: the Steelers’ Heinz Field became Acrisure Stadium, while Paycor Stadium replaced Paul Brown Stadium as the Bengals’ home.
Pepsi’s longtime sponsorship of the Super Bowl Halftime Show wrapped up in spectacular fashion at Super Bowl LVI, with an epic finale featuring Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Mary J Blidge, and Kendrick Lamar. In a renewed league partnership announced in September, the soft drink giant debuted the “Pepsi 18 Week Pack”–a tiny, tricked-out home offering one lucky fan the ultimate football watching experience for the entire 2022 NFL season through a sweepstakes with Instacart. The same month, a viral social media post featuring Rihanna unveiled Apple Music as the Super Bowl Halftime Show’s new sponsor.
NFL Exceeds $2B in Sponsorship Revenue for the 2022-2023 Regular Season
Sponsorship revenue grew 14% year-over-year, with key emerging brand categories including Media, Finance and Hotels/Restaurants
Reaching an all-time high across both digital and physical assets, we estimate the total sponsorship revenue across NFL teams (32) is $2.05B and $2.7B when combined with sponsorships for the league as a whole.
This season’s sponsorship revenue greatly surpasses the 2021-2022 season, which was $1.8B across NFL teams. Key attributions to the growth include the Apple Music Halftime Show, continued globalization efforts–the NFL now allows teams to sell intellectual property rights overseas–and adding crypto companies like Socios.com and Blockchain.com to the sponsorship portfolio.
The top 5 NFL teams with the highest number of sponsorship deals include:
Jacksonville Jaguars - 170+
Dallas Cowboys - 140+
Buffalo Bills - 135+
Indianapolis Colts - 125+
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 120+
The top 5 NFL athletes with the highest number of sponsorship deals include:
The top 5 categories with the most number of sponsorship deals include:
The Alcohol category expanded its investments through a new, revised deal with AB InBev. The beverage company, Diageo, led the NFL's spirits category and the rapidly growing ready-to-drink cocktail category. Media, a new category this year according to our ProTool, quickly became one of the most popular in terms of deal volume. Additional new categories emerging this year include Finance (Credit Card Solutions) and Hotels/Restaurants.
“The NFL continues to impress with not only the amount of sponsorship revenue, but the diversification of industries leveraging those partnerships,” said Bob Lynch, Founder and CEO of SponsorUnited. “As teams have expanded their content and marketing platforms both within and outside of the team, it’s allowed them to expand the number of sponsors they can deliver unique and creative solutions to. Athlete partnerships have also opened the door to more brands seeking viable ways to reach the NFL fan and activate in more dynamic ways.”
During the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the concept of “Fan Fest” was replaced by the "Fan Festival" concept.
FIFA’s plan was to reintroduce the Fan Fest as a more diverse and inclusive entertainment offering encompassing a wide variety of cultures, art, music, food and football outside the stadiums. The concept will also be rolled out during the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 2023.
On December 4, the FIFA Fan Festival celebrated the 1 millionth visitor milestone across all of the Fan Festivals this year.
For this years World Cup, FIFA approved Fan Festival sites
BudX Fan Festivals in London, Seoul and Dubai
Corona Fan Festival in Mexico City, Mexico
Brahma Fan Festivals in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro
Coca-Cola Fan Festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Doha, Qatar, a non sponsored festival
Some of the Fan Festival activations:
Interactive physical and digital football game stations
Appearances from FIFA Legends
Official stores with licensed World Cup merchandise.
Content within the FIFA+ streaming platform.
A hat and cup from Budweiser for fans who attended the event in London, and an opportunity to win an England shirt signed by a football legend.
In London, Budweiser gave fans the opportunity to win an England signed shirt by a football legend.
An adidas-sponsored fan activation in Mexico where attendees played Teqball, a football-based sport played on a specially curved table within a designated area.
adidas also gave away little footballs before, during, and after games. After all games ended, the event host would throw 5 adidas balls into the crowd.
Coca-Cola branding across all of the table football (foosball tables) at the event in Mexico City.
Thanks to a new licensing model FIFA introduced in 2022, existing and future FIFA partners can launch local Fan Festivals in major cities outside the host countries to make the tournament experience more accessible for the global fan community.
SponsorUnited was in attendance at the festivals in London, Mexico City, Dubai and will be going to Doha on December 17th.
The number of brands sponsoring MLS increased by roughly 25% in the last three years.A few factors fueled MLS sponsorships’ growth, starting with the addition of six league-level sponsors this year: Avant, IHG, Socios, Sorare, Doordash, and Caterpillar. Meanwhile, the Alcohol, Media and Technology categories added the most brands during the 2022 season.
Digital assets grew within MLS venues.Digital advertising in MLS increased more than 18% in 2022 across 13 different digital asset classes. The video board reigned supreme, as more than 500 brands utilized it this season—a 20% rise over last year.
adidas and Continental Tire remained the most active brands–followed by Socios.com, which aims to become MLS’ next long-term partner.adidas, the league’s longest tenured partner at 26 years, and 12-year partner Continental Tire both have sponsorships with every MLS team. A newcomer this season, fan engagement platform Socios.com became both an official MLS partner and Official Fan Loyalty Partner of 26 MLS clubs–signaling its serious long-term sponsorship plans within the league.
Brands Spend a Record $461M in Sponsorships Across Major League Soccer Clubs in 2022.Technology and Utilities categories topped the sponsorship growth chart, accounting for 15% of new brand sponsors.
The MLS 2022 Marketing Partnerships Report analyzes 1,750 partnership deals across the league, clubs and athletes during the 2022 season. The report uncovered that $461 million in club sponsorship revenue was generated across 1,300 unique brands. The beverage-alcohol category and media brands topped the charts with the most active brands.
Key findings from the report include:
Sporting KC, Philadelphia Union and Austin FC attract nearly 100 brand deals eachAll three clubs exceeded 90 sponsorship deals for the 2022 season, eclipsing the league average of 62. Sporting KC leads in terms of deal volume, with new partners including Don Neron Tequila, Socios.com, Google Fiber, and Compass Minerals, its new front jersey partner. Austin FC quickly surpassed all other MLS clubs in terms of sponsorship category diversity in just its second season.
U.S. World Cup player DeAndre Yedlin of Inter Miami CF leads with the most new brand collaborations this yearReturning to the MLS this year after a 7-year hiatus, DeAndre Yedlin has inked five brand endorsements this season. Yedlin partnered with three league sponsors–Heineken, Audi, and DoorDash–in addition to Quaker State and Captain Morgan. LAFC player Giorgio Chiellini took the lead in endorsements with 18, and the number of branded social posts with 28.
Cryptocurrency and FinTech propelled Finance to the top of 2022’s list of most searched categoriesCrypto sponsorship deals within MLS quintupled to five from just one last year. Cryptocurrency was the most searched financial category within the SponsorUnited platform as more than 250 cryptocurrency brands worldwide were searched, with Coinbase, Crypto.com, and eToro leading the way.
International and domestic brands ramp up activations with MLSFor the 2022 season, MLS gained six new league partners: Avant, IHG, Socios.com, Sorare, Doordash and Caterpillar. Brands like the Japanese beverage company Asahi tapped into the North America market for the first time through MLS, in addition international brands including Volkswagen, Bermuda Tourism Authority, and Inter&Co. The five most active brands among the league and individual athletes include Heineken (785 social posts), Audi (658 posts), BodyArmour (618 posts), Bank of Montreal (403 posts) and Delta (390 posts).
“MLS continues to impress with its increasing popularity, game attendance, and sponsorships, propelling the league to be the fastest growing in the world,” said Bob Lynch, Founder and CEO of SponsorUnited. “It's clear to see how MLS franchise median value grew 5x more than other U.S. pro leagues through new investments made from companies like DoorDash, as well as continued support from brands like Adidas, who has been a league partner for the past 26 years. It’s an exciting time for MLS and I'm looking forward to seeing the continued momentum.”
This report was compiled using SponsorUnited’s proprietary platform data from January 15, 2022, through November 8, 2022. Social data compiled from property or person-controlled Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and LinkedIn accounts and social activity.
The month-long, 16-team International Cricket Council (ICC) Men's T20 World Cup–held this year in Australia–wrapped up Sunday (11/13), as England defeated Pakistan at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to claim its second tournament title.
The competition garnered a total of 96 deals, 41 of which were brand partnerships–including England’s with cinch, the UK’s fastest-growing used car online marketplace, which saw the company’s logo emblazoned on the team’s jersey. Financial, Government, and Beverage–Non-Alcoholic took the top 3 spots on the category list.
Nissan had the most assets of all the tournament sponsors, with 21. The Japanese carmaker’s Magnite SUV was the official car of the event, while other activations included a display of all-new models including the Qashqai and X-Trail. The Nissan brand also appeared on the three stumps behind the batter, giving the brand unrivaled visibility throughout the game. Nissan also “drove” the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2022 Trophy Tour, a huge activation that circled the globe with visits to 35 locations in 13 countries across four continents.
Saudi Arabian oil giant, Aramco Services, took the second spot with 18 assets. The company provided bottle collection machines for recycling inside the Melbourne Cricket Ground while also activating their brand on the three stumps. English superstar Sam Curran earned the “Player of the Match” award, also sponsored by Aramco.
Global cryptocurrency exchange FTX landed in third place with 17 sponsorship assets throughout the championship. Its partnership as the official cryptocurrency exchange partner of the ICC came to a screeching halt just prior to the final match, as FTX branding was removed from one of the most-watched sporting events of the year amid the company’s headline-making collapse.
The New Zealand Black Ferns defeated the England Red Roses in a 34-31 victory that broke multiple records and milestones for women's Rugby.
Not only did the match sell out New Zealand's world famous Eden Park, but the game also broke TV broadcast viewership records with an audience of over 1.2M according to Three’s owners Warner Bros. The Black Ferns made history with their victory as well, becoming the first ever host nation to win the tournament.
Additionally, this year's competition was the first women’s Rugby World Cup that was no longer branded as the "Women’s" Rugby World Cup but instead just Rugby World Cup, ensuring there’s no difference with the men’s tournament.
Worldwide partner Mastercard was seen the most frequently of any brand during the event, leveraging signage, digital assets, and even sponsoring the "Player of the Match" award. Other Worldwide partners of the event included Capgemini, Land Rover, DHL, and Canon.
The 2022 MLB season saw the league take baseball audiences’ changing appetites to heart–as reflected in a groundbreaking new sponsorship category and restructured longtime sponsorship agreements.
MLB’s landmark approval of CBD sponsorships for teams last June–and the league’s own deal with CBD brand Charlotte’s Web to become MLB’s first-ever CBD sponsor, inked this month–underscores its groundbreaking efforts to cater to fans’ evolving tastes and further expand its fan base, a progressive approach that’s sure to attract even more savvy brands to baseball.
Following the landmark June announcement last June, CBD inquiries increased 9x versus the month before, as MLB bigwigs researched over 150 cannabis brands. cbdMD led the list of CBD companies searched most frequently by MLB executives on the SU platform during the 2022 season–joining two others among the top 10 most searched brands overall.
Meanwhile, MLB’s sponsorship deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev–the longest in the league’s history at 42 years–extended A-B InBev's marketing rights beyond Budweiser, the league’s co-exclusive beer sponsor, to encompass the megabrewer’s canned cocktails and hard seltzers. The move reflects the burgeoning popularity of other beverages within the Alcohol category, while beer’s own share has declined 13% over the last five years.
The evolution of “name, image, and likeness” (NIL) deals in college sports has been fast and furious since the NCAA implemented a policy in July 2021 allowing incoming and current student-athletes to earn money from endorsements. Women athletes’ dominance in audience engagement within this emerging landscape warrants a closer look, and may well compel brands that traditionally gravitate toward men’s sports to revisit their marketing strategies.
Over the last year-plus, more than 730 brands have partnered with men in college sports–more than twice the 350+ brands that have inked deals with women. But despite female athletes’ relative lack of representation so far in the collegiate NIL space, they generate 4x the total audience engagement of male athletes, and 7x more engagement per deal.
While men have inked over 1,000 total deals with 2,000 total social media posts–compared to the 550+ deals and 1,100 posts for women–female athletes tally a total engagement score of over 27M, versus 6.5M for male athletes. Women’s posts engage followers at nearly 8x the rate of men’s posts (48K vs. 6.3K), while their percentage of engaged followers also trumps men’s, at 5.5% vs. 4.6%, respectively.
Women are also leading the way within each sport. While NIL deals in women’s basketball lag men’s basketball by more than 100, women’s total audience engagement numbers 5.4M, compared to 3.8M for men. Meanwhile, women’s softball athletes’ engagement on social media totals 1M–nearly 10x that of male baseball players–while their average engagement per post is 5x higher.
Olivia (Livvy) Dunne, a prolific TikToker and top gymnast at LSU, is one of the most popular athletes racking up NIL deals at the collegiate level. At 6M and counting, her staggering TikTok following exceeds that of all US college and professional athletes; Dunne currently partners with 13 brands on the app, with an average engagement of 634,683 per brand. Her total social media following of more than 8M has grown 56% in the last year, with an incredible engagement rate of nearly 9%.
Twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder, who play basketball for the University of Miami Hurricanes after transferring from Fresno State, are also scoring big in the NIL game. They’ve promoted 15 brands on their shared TikTok page for a total engagement of 1.4M, with each branded post averaging nearly 100K engagements. In December 2021, the WWE signed 15 college athletes to a partnership starring the twins.
The 2022/23 NBA season–the league’s 77th–tipped off on Tuesday with a marquee doubleheader. As fans gear up for a slew of exciting match-ups over the next six months, here’s a glimpse at how the league’s teams and players fared on social media during the offseason.
NBA teams stayed active with 3,187 sponsored posts across 366 deals since mid-June, engaging over 18.7M followers–an average of 51K per deal and 5.6K per post.
Top 5 offseason posts (by total engagement):
Bibigo x LA Lakers - 526K
UCLA Mattel Children's x LA Lakers - 514K
Rakuten x Golden State Warriors - 333K
Oracle x Golden State Warriors - 227K
Coinbase x Chicago Bulls - 197K
The Lakers and the Warriors dominated social media during their time off, generating a combined 42% of the NBA's total engagement. The Lakers accounted for 20%, engaging 3.7M fans across 103 posts–40 of which were with Korean food company Bibigo, the team’s jersey patch sponsor. Five of the NBA’s 10 most engaging posts were Lakers’ branded posts, 3 of which were with Bibigo.
Engaging 4.1M followers across 291 posts–192 with Oracle–the Warriors were responsible for 22% of the NBA’s social engagement since last season ended. The team averaged engagement of 415K per brand, eclipsing the Lakers’ 234K per partner. The Warriors’ offseason social activity with Oracle amassed over 1M more engagements than any other NBA partnership, due in large part to its plethora of posts.
NBA players were also busy on social media during the offseason, as Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo proved why they’re among the four highest paid players in the league.
Top 5 NBA player offseason posts (by total engagement):
Lobos 1707 Tequila x Lebron James - 1.8M
Sports Illustrated x Lebron James - 1.121M
Brown & Brown Custom Clothiers x Giannis Antetokounmpo - 1.118M
Zion Williamson x Jordan Brand - 585K
RIMOWA x Lebron James - 579K
Athletes with supersize social media clout naturally command much bigger deals. Here are the NBA giants with the highest-earning endorsement portfolios, and some of their deep-pocketed brand partners.
Estimated NBA athlete endorsement portfolio earnings (Source: Sportico)
Lebron James - est. $75M—Cypto.com, GMC, Ruffles
Kevin Durant - est. $48M—NBA Top Shop, Weemaps, Nike
Steph Curry - est. $45M—Rakuten, FTX, Literati
Giannis Antetokounmpo - est. $44M—WhatsApp, Nike, Breitling
Russell Westbrook - est. $25M—Jordan Brand, Converse, Varo
The inaugural Women In Sports report delivers an in-depth analysis of more than 350 athletes, 7.1K deals, and over 33K posts between leagues, teams, athletes, and brands from September 2021-September 2022.
Let’s take a deeper look at key category insights from the report.
Finance was the most active category in women’s leagues and teams, and the only one with over 300 total sponsorship deals. Not only did the category lead in partnerships, it also grew the most overall year over year, underscoring the burgeoning appeal of women's sports to the industry.
Mastercard, Ally Financial, CaixaBank, Deloitte, and BNP Paribas topped the list (in that order) with the most sponsorships. Ally Financial–which has pledged gender parity in sponsorship and media spending by 2027–was a particular standout: the company was the most active banking brand, and ranked fourth overall in the category.
Led by apparel giants Nike and adidas, Apparel & Accessories was the second most active category in the past year, with just over 260 sponsorships. Not only did Nike have the most deals in the category, the apparel brand also added the most partnerships–and was the most active brand of any category across the WNBA, the NWSL, and Australia’s Big Bash League.
Meanwhile, NFT brands only partnered with 1% of women’s leagues and teams, versus 26% of men’s. Socios.com was one of only three NFT brands with deals in women's sports, while the Minnesota Lynx and Valencia CF were the only teams with a sponsorship deal in the category.
Betting Services & DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) inked deals with 11% of women’s leagues and teams, compared to 48% of men’s. Sorare, Caliente.mx, BetMGM,and FanDuel had multiple partnerships in women’s sports, but only 30 brands–just 6% of all active brands in the category– bought sponsorships or media deals.
While Beer boasts staple-category status in men’s sports–over 60% of men’s leagues and teams sold sponsorship or media deals with at least one beer brand in the past year–women’s leagues and teams have plenty of room to grow in the category, as only 25% of properties currently partner with beer brands. Michelob Ultra and Mahou led beer brands in sponsorship growth: the Anheuser-Busch-owned brand added seven domestic deals to its portfolio, while the Spanish brewing company inked its first deal with Liga F.
One of the most anticipated games of the season takes place today in Santiago Bernabeu Stadium as Real Madrid and Barcelona meet in the first LaLiga Classico of the season.
Spotify, the primary jersey patch partner for Barcelona, has agreed to display an OVO Owl jersey patch in the game instead of their typical logo. The patch commemorates Canadian music artist Drake, who became the first artist with 50 billion streams on Spotify. The brand's partnership with FC Barcelona has more than 3X the total assets of any other deal. The partnership includes venue naming rights and social content that amassed over 1M total engagements.
The two powerhouse teams are the top two most followed teams in LaLiga, and have additionally each seen YoY follower growth over 10%. Check out the graphic below to learn more about these teams/athletes competing and their partnership portfolio.
This Sunday, Etihad Stadium will host the 188th edition of one of the greatest football games of the season: the Manchester Derby, with both Manchester United and Manchester City vying for the win to move up the ranks of the Premier League. Off the pitch, let’s compare the teams’ endorsement deals and social media clout.
Since 2008, when Man City was bought by the U.A.E.’s Sheikh Mansour, the team had won the Premier League 6 times.
Man City's success has attracted a slew of brand partnerships: the team has 69 sponsorship and media deals, while Manchester United has 60. In terms of sponsorships only, Man City’s 56 deals eclipse Man U’s 30.
Manchester United has long been considered the most popular Premier League club with the widest fan base worldwide, making them one of the more exclusive teams in the league. Man U leads the Premier League on social media with an astonishing 184.7M followers combined across all channels. Man City ranks a distant 5th by this metric with 98.2M followers. Man U also dominates in total engagement with 21.5M followers–an average of 1.9M per brand–compared to Man City’s total engagement of 8.3M and per-brand average of 270K.
In the last year, Man U’s following grew 28% (vs. 16% for Man City), thanks largely to the team’s re-signing of Portuguese superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo in August 2021. The English club gained over a million followers in the two hours after the club announced the news.
Ronaldo’s staggering 733.1M followers across all social media–almost 3x more followers than both Manchester teams combined–make him the most followed (and arguably influential) person in not just football but in the world. His 23 deals leverage this unrivaled influence: his total engagement of 196M nets out to an average of 12.2M per brand and 2.2M per post.
Meanwhile, Man City star player Kevin De Bruyne currently has deals with 8 brands and a gross social following of 43.5M, and teammate Erling Haaland has 7 deals and tallies over 20M followers. Notably, Haaland’s posts with Dolce & Gabbana, Hyperice, Samsung, and MICROMILSPEC have racked up 10M engagements this year.
More than 1,000 brands have partnered with collegiate athletes in NIL deals over the last 15 months, and that number continues to be on the rise.
Through August 2022, 1,637 NIL partnerships have been inked across college sports, which collectively include 3,381 social posts. Engagement across all deals stood at 34M– averaging 20,839 per deal–while average engagement per post numbered 7,069, with 5.14% of followers engaging.
Here’s a breakdown of the top 5 industry categories in the NIL space by number of deals, with a quick look at their respective leading players.
The Players Trunk : 60% of the brand’s overall NIL partnerships are with men’s college basketball athletes.
Adidas: The brand has NIL deals with athletes in 8 sports, while 51% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes (21% women’s soccer; 15% softball; 15% women’s volleyball).
American Eagle Outfitters: 46% of American Eagle Outfitters’ NIL partnerships are with college football athletes–30% of whom play for Ohio State. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne’s 9 American Eagle Outfitters posts have racked up a total engagement of 2,333,957 so far.
Players’ Lounge: 91% of the gaming brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes, of which 79% are football players.
Epic Games: College football players comprise 54% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes. While female basketball players only account for 13% of its deals, University of Oregon’s Sedona Prince tops Epic’s partner list for highest total social engagement (25,489) and average engagement per post (12,745).
Mercury NFT: 68% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes: 62% in men’s Basketball and 6% in football.
Raising Cane’s: While 42% of the chicken finger specialist’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes, the brand is the only QSR that has a partnership with a (female) wrestler–Marlee Smith (Arizona State). Football player Stetson Bennet boasts the brand’s highest total and average engagement, at 46,964 and 23,482, respectively.
Krystal: 59% of the Georgia-based burger maker’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (37% football; 12% men’s basketball; 10% women’s basketball). Georgia women’s soccer player Abby Boyan is its one NIL deal outside of football and basketball.
Bojangles: 27% of the chicken-and-biscuit brand’s NIL partnerships are with female athletes (23% women’s basketball; 5% softball), while 52% are with football players.
FTX: 65% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players, while 23% of FTX’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (17% football; 6% men’s basketball). Sacramento State men’s basketball player Deshaun Highler totaled 19 posts for FTX, with a total engagement of 33,233.
H&R Block: 94% of the tax prep company’s partnerships are with female athletes. South Carolina women’s basketball player Zia Cooke leads its list of athlete endorsers: 5 of her posts for the brand scored total engagement of 200,248 followers.
Current: 53% of the fintech brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players. Nebraska Women’s volleyball standout Lexi Rodriguez and Arizona State women’s wrestler Marlee Smith boast Current’s top two total engagements on social, at 8,628 and 1,858, respectively.
UPTIME Energy: 44% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college softball players. It’s 1 of 6 brands (along with Magic Spoon, Champs Sports, DoorDash, DSW, and Met-Rx) to have a partnership with a men’s soccer athlete–Jared Panson of Brandeis University–and 1 of 2 non-alcoholic beverage brands (along with Rowdy Energy) to partner with a lacrosse athlete.
Simple Truth: 55% of its overall partnerships are with men’s basketball players.
Six Star Pro Nutrition: 24% of the brand’s total partnerships are with college basketball athletes (16% men’s; 8% women’s). It’s the only non-alcoholic beverage partnered with a (female) golfer: Stanford University’s Rachel Heck.
The top 5 brands by number of deals in the NIL space are:
Hooters: 40% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college football players. One of its notable NIL deals outside the sport is with University of Arkansas golfer John Daly II, son of professional golfer John Daly.
Players’ Lounge (see above)
FTX (see above)
Raising Cane’s (see above)
Degree: The deodorant brand has deals with athletes across 11 college sports; 24% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes.
While many brands are singling out top players to partner with, some are casting a wider net–like Hooters, which in August signed 51 offensive linemen from 10 top college football programs.
And although brands are integrating college athletes into their marketing in various ways, social media remains the top go-to tactic for them all–utilized in over 90% of NIL partnerships.
Following is a snapshot of social engagement garnered by these deals (which average 2 posts per partnership) across college sports through August 2022. Top deals are ranked by average engagement per post, with a minimum of 3 posts.
A perennial fan favorite, college football’s NIL deals number 598 and include 1,235 posts. Total engagement across all posts was 2.7M, averaging 4,564 per deal, while average engagement per post was 1,618, with 4.17% of followers engaging.
Despite having just 52 deals with a collective 88 posts, women’s gymnastics trumps all other college sports by social engagement, with a whopping 19M across all posts, averaging 224,327 per deal. Average engagement per post was 74,776, with 5.48% of followers engaging.
With a total of 328 deals spanning 635 posts, men’s basketball–another high-profile fan favorite–boasts total social engagement of 3.8M, averaging 11,710 per deal. Per-post engagement averaged 4,198, with 4.54% of followers engaging.
Adrien Nunez (Celcius): 31,376
Shareef O'Neal (Savage x Fenty): 29,448
Deshaun Highler (The GLD Shop): 18,880
Deshaun Highler (VKTRY Gear): 12,778
Jimmy Sotos (Celcius): 8,244
At 5.4M, women’s college basketball’s total social engagement is second only to women’s gymnastics–averaging 23,163 per deal, with 234 total deals spanning 430 posts. Average engagement per post was 8,828, with 4.51% of followers engaging.
Hanna Cavinder (PSD Underwear): 138,537
Casey Ferguson (Wingstop): 76,540
Jada Williams (GymShark): 49,610
Zia Cooke (H&R Block): 40,050
Jada Williams (Spalding): 20,764
Though baseball’s storied standing as one of America’s all-time favorite sports is undeniable, its following at the college level–on social media, at least–pales in comparison to others’. With 52 deals encompassing 92 posts, total engagement was just 161,000, averaging 3,100 per deal. That said, its social followers–though few in number–are devoted: per-post engagement averaged 1,119, with a whopping 9.79% of followers engaging.
Tim Elko (Raising Cane’s): 5,381
Landon Sims (J. Parkerson Jewelers): 1,753
Cayden Wallace (Academy Sports + Outdoors): 1,507
Taylor Young (Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys): 542
The AFC West matchup tonight between two potential Super Bowl contenders–the Los Angeles Chargers at the Kansas City Chiefs–features a slew of players who have taken advantage of the teams’ success by locking in endorsement deals.
KC Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has the most deals of any player in this game with 24. An avid online gamer, he partners with HyperX and Nerd Street Games, and has secured other deals thanks to his skyrocketing fame on TikTok, where his followers total more than 3M. JuJu’s branded posts on the platform include SoFi, HyperIce, Yahoo Sports, Snickers, and 7-Eleven.
LA Chargers star running back Austin Ekeler literally leads the charge for his team with more than 20 partnerships, among them SteelSeries, American Airlines, Shock Doctor, and Sleep Number. He’s leveraging his burgeoning social following–which has grown more than 70% since 2021–by posting about each partner brand, with posts and engagement totaling 81 and over 560K, respectively.
Notably, 5 of Ekeler’s sponsors also have deals with players on the Chiefs:
Sleep Number: Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Chipotle: George Karlaftis
Verizon & Bud Light: Juju Smith-Schuster
StateFarm: Patrick Mahomes
Meanwhile, chances are top-tier quarterback talents Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert will be facing off for many years to come, both on the field and in the sponsorship arena.
Mahomes’ 8M+-strong social following dwarfs third-year starting QB Herbert’s 500K–though Herbert’s star continues to rise, as evidenced by his following’s 55% increase this past year. And while Mahomes has more deals, his average engagement rate of 1.1% is a mere fraction of Herbert’s, which stuns at a whopping 9.86%.
Both Mahomes and Herbert have deals with Bose, which saw its highest total engagement on social media with the star quarterbacks this year. Mahomes' top post with the audio giant, on January 27th, totaled over 330K likes/comments on Instagram, while Herbert's January 8th Instagram post engaged more than 100K followers. Bose made noise on social media during the 2021-22 NFL playoffs, posting more than 10 times with participating players.
The Hundred Final takes place September 3rd at the 'Home of Cricket' Lords in London. Marking the culmination of the second season of The Hundred– a brand new tournament which lasts 100 balls per innings. The month-long franchise tournament involves eight men’s and women’s teams in major cities across England and Wales.
The tournament aims to cultivate new cricket fans with faster-paced gameplay; each team bowls 100 balls instead of the 120 standard in T20 cricket per innings, limiting match length to 2.5 hours. The strategy seems to be working so far: at last year’s inaugural tournament, 55% of ticket buyers were new to the sport.
British online car retailer Cazoo is the 2022 tournament’s presenting partner, having inked a multi-year deal prior to the 2021 debut season. Iconic British snack maker KP Snacks’ role as team sponsor means all teams’ primary jersey patches belong to its stable of brands, including KP, Skips, Pombear, Popchips, McCoys, Butterkist, Tyrrells, and Hula Hoops.
Meanwhile, children’s smartwatch maker Xplora and Universal Pictures’ popular Minions franchise have teamed up to target younger audiences at The Hundred, partnering at the season’s start to create a tournament explainer (here) and tout The Hundred as a family fun environment for all ages. During the competition, the Minions engage with fans at 8 of the tournament venues.
The Hundred was the first U.K. professional league to utilize a draft; from 2023, workplace technology company Sage will be the draft’s presenting partner, highlighting the importance of using in-depth analysis to drive effective player selection. It’s also the only U.K. sports league to focus on double-header games: with women’s matches take place on the same day and venue as men’s games to help increase awareness and the fan base of women's cricket.
This year’s eliminator (second- versus third-place teams) is on September 2nd featuring the Originals v Spirit (men's) and the Brave v Rockets (women's). The winner will battle the tournament’s first-place team, the Rockets (men's) and Invincibles (women's)–which automatically qualifies for the final–on September 3rd.
SponsorUnited had courtside seats for the first day of the U.S. Open, when a slew of fans–and brands–descended on the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center for the celebrated two-week event.
This year, Cadillac replaced Mercedes-Benz as the elite tournament’s official vehicle, a long-term agreement that was announced in mid-August. The American carmaker’s presence was felt from the start, thanks to the fleet of vehicles that transport players and staff around New York during the two weeks of play stationed outside the tournament complex.
Inside the tennis center, Cadillac’s sponsorship gives the brand net signage on all 17 tournament courts at the Open, including practice courts and the match courts seen on ESPN, the event’s broadcast partner.
Located directly next to Arthur Ashe Stadium–the tournament’s premier venue–the Cadillac Pavilion features an immersive experience for fans that showcases the brand’s plans to be fully electric powered by the end of this decade, as well as its new electric SUV, the Lyriq, onsite for visitors to ogle. Along with the pavilion activation, Cadillac placed another Lyriq vehicle next to the practice courts for passers-by to peruse.
Another marquee sponsor, JP Morgan Chase, enjoyed pride of place at the Open with its Chase Lounge, located near the center’s entrance and exclusively accessible to cardholders.
American Express, a partner of the U.S. Open since 1994, is also making a splash with its Amex Fan Experience venue. Activations include glow tennis–a virtual game where fans volley a neon ball back and forth on a digital court–tennis-themed nail art, and a cardholder-only lounge where fans can enjoy refreshments while charging their devices. The venue also features a mini tennis court, a tennis-ball version of Connect 4, and a claw machine where skillful fans can win an Amex radio to listen to the tournament matches on ESPN.
Other brands are showcasing an array of predominantly tech-driven activations alongside the non-stadium courts. Wilson Sporting Goods’ virtual reality activation allows fans to don a headset that inserts them into a tennis match, while CHUBB sponsors a game where they pick up a racquet to “hit” a virtual ball that splatters virtual paint across a screen. Meanwhile, Chase’s outsize activation invites fans to play an array of video games, and also offers a photo opp in a mirrored selfie photo booth. Moderna gives fans the chance to sign a screen and have their signature emailed to them on a selfie, while a U.S. Open campaign, #BeOpen, lets fans use a selfie to create a GIF.
Besides touting its sleek seat design and in-flight leg space with a display and photo opportunity, Emirates Airlines also sponsored the NextGen Kids Zone, which offers a variety of onsite activities for little tennis fans like basketball, hockey, football, soccer and other sports.
For fatigued fans needing a pick-me-up, IHG Hotels & Resorts offers massages for joining their membership and rewards program.
Major League Rugby (MLR) wrapped up its fifth official season this summer, with Rugby New York taking home its first championship title. As the sport’s popularity steadily increases nationwide, let’s take a look at its burgeoning stable of sponsorships.
Over 380 brands are currently buying sponsorship or media within the MLR and its 13 teams.
Rugby New York currently has less than 10 sponsorship deals–but its league-topping performance this season means brands may soon be clamoring to sign new partnerships with the team as its profile–and the league’s own–continue to rise. Mainfreight, a global supply chain solutions provider, enjoyed prime exposure this season as Rugby New York’s primary jersey sponsor. One of Mainfreight’s tweets with the team was Rugby New York’s highest engaged tweet of the season, and the league’s third highest overall.
Unlike in other pro sports, Business Services tops the category list in terms of total MLR sponsorship deals: 25 brands have one deal each with a league team. TV-visible signage–including field-level sideline signage–is the most common asset purchased by these brands.
Across all categories, the top 10 brands ranked by number of sponsorship deals are:
The Rugby Network
All of the above have a deal with at least two MLR teams, and one with the league itself.
Meanwhile, 27% of the league’s primary jersey sponsorship deals are with Healthcare brands. The number of teams selling primary jersey sponsorships this season increased 37% over last year.
Goal post pads are another notable asset in companies’ crosshairs, with the number of brands buying this asset up 200% versus 2021. Equipment & apparel retailers Retailers Rhino Rugby and Rugby Now enjoyed exposure on all goal post pads during this season’s matches.
Emerging brands to watch within the league include Wintergreen and Rugby Now, with 4 and 3 new deals this year, respectively. Wintergreen became an official partner of MLR in May 2021, while Rugby Now inked a three-year partnership with the league last February.
As the X Games Summer '22–which kicked off Wednesday in San Diego–streams live on ESPN+, it’s a prime time for a closer look at the dynamic sponsorship market for extreme sports.
Nearly 450 brands are actively investing in the extreme and action sport athlete space, where athletes/influencers average 5 sponsorship deals each, and 47% have 5 or more. A whopping 89% of these deals leverage social media as a key component: Instagram image and video posts rank first and third, respectively, as utilized assets.
Sportswear manufacturer Oakley, a favorite of competitive snowboarders and skiers, tops the list of brands continuing to grow in this market, followed by Vans, which sponsors skateboarder Tom Schaar and BMX biker Kevin Peraza. Toyota, LEKI, and Smith Optics round out the top 5 spots.
Not surprisingly, Apparel & Accessories, Non-Alcoholic Beverages, and Leisure & Recreation comprise the top 3 industry categories, each with three times as many deals as Retail, fourth on the list. Energy drinks like Monster Energy and Red Bull dominate the beverage category, with more than 90% of total endorsements.
The MLB Home Run Derby, presented by T-Mobile, took place Monday in LA, with Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals–arguably the hottest player in professional baseball– taking home the championship.
Over 30 brands, all MLB partners, had signage across Dodger Stadium. T-Mobile’s nearly 15 assets ranged from event-related content (a sponsored 30 seconds of bonus batting time for each contestant who hit two home runs over 440 feet) to signage across the outfield.
Meanwhile, more than 50 brands leveraged the event’s ESPN broadcast with commercials. Notably, 3 of the top 5 TV advertisers were within the QSR Pizza category:
Home Run Derby champion Juan Soto–the youngest player ever to debut in the MLB, at age 19 in 2018–has 5 endorsement deals, with Under Armour, Lids, Glu Mobile, QuickBooks, and Wilson Sporting Goods. Unlike many other pro athletes, Soto utilizes TikTok, where he showcases his QuickBooks & Under Armour sponsorships.
The Derby was followed by the 2022 MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday, where the American League beat the National League by a score of 3-2.
With 8 total assets, GEICO served as presenting sponsor of the broadcast on FOX. GEICO and MasterCard were the top advertisers, with 6 commercials each during game breaks.
Chevrolet, Google Cloud, MasterCard, and Papa Johns each presented featured segments during the game:
Chevrolet sponsored the MVP Award, which went to New York Yankee, Giancarlo Stanton.
The “Statcast,” which measures the exit velocity and distances of home runs, was sponsored by Google Cloud.
MasterCard sponsored the Stand Up To Cancer portion of the broadcast.
The pre-show “Countdown to First Pitch” clock and the starting lineups at gametime were both sponsored by Papa John’s.
Similar to the Home Run Derby, signage at the stadium from MLB partners included a variety of assets, such as projected, 1st & 3rd baseline signage, and lower bowl signage.
With the MLB All-Star Game just around the corner, let’s take a look at the endorsement stats of eight standout players–four from each league–to see how their deals (and social media standing) stack up.
Mike Trout: A bonafide superstar in the MLB, the center fielder leads the league in total social followers, with 5.4 million (including 160K on TikTok), though doesn’t crack the top 20 players in total endorsements. Notably, rising star Vladimir Gurrero Jr. nearly equals Trout in endorsement deals, despite a social following that trails Trout’s by 4 million.
Shohei Ohtani: International star and Trout’s LA Angels teammate, the Japanese phenom–nicknamed “Shotime”--ranks among the top 5 players in the league for endorsements, with 11. He’s also hitting homers on social media, where his followers on Instagram–his only channel–have grown 93% to 1.4 million in the last year.
Aaron Judge: The Yankees superstar bet on himself before the season began, turning down a seven-year contract extension–and so far it’s paid off with his best season yet in the majors. He ranks #11 in social followers in the MLB, and has 5 endorsement deals–including T-Mobile, whose commercials feature him and teammate Giancarlo Stanton. Given his banner year so far, Judge is in a prime position to ink more endorsement deals–as well as a potentially record-setting contract–when he becomes a free agent in the offseason.
Rafael Devers: The youngest of our roundup at 25, the Boston Red Sox third baseman has just over 200K followers across social media, a number that’s climbed 38% over the last year. His on-field performance has grown steadily since he entered the league in 2017, netting him 4 endorsement deals so far–a number that’s likely to rise in step with his future All-Star appearances.
Paul Goldschmidt: Nicknamed “Goldy,” the St. Louis Cardinals first baseman has 3 apparel deals–with Nike, Franklin Sports, and Rawlings–but notably no social media presence beyond Facebook. On pace for his best year ever, time will tell if he’ll soon make the jump to Instagram and TikTok, given his burgeoning talents on the field.
Trea Turner: Traded from the Washington Nationals to the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, the shortstop has seen 109% growth in his social media presence (primarily Instagram) in the big, buzzy LA market. At 8.1%, Turner’s engagement rate across his more than 400K followers is strong; he tagged two brands he endorses, Adidas and Marucci, both together and separately in social posts from May 2022.
Mookie Betts: Turner’s teammate and another relatively recent addition to the Dodgers, Betts ranks 18th in social media followers in the MLB, with more than 1.5 million. He’s seen his endorsements more than double in the last year, from 4 to 9–a likely nod to the power of moving into a major media market.
Manny Machado: An avid offseason golfer, the San Diego Padres star has a longstanding deal with Callaway. Machado has over 700K followers on Instagram–his only social channel–making him the 10th most followed person in the San Diego market. Besides Callaway, he endorses Budweiser, Petco, and Essentia Water.
The MLB season is in full swing and teams have been taking their game seriously on social media. The Atlanta Braves are delivering both on and off the field with their 14 game winning streak and ranking #1 for social engagement for sponsors across all 30 MLB teams. The Braves are the 6th most followed team in the MLB with 6M total followers (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok). They boast a YOY increase of 13% and have an impressive 1.44 engagements on their sponsored posts. Brands like Truist (homefield naming partner), Papa Johns, Subway and RaceTrac can be seen leveraging and taking advantage of the Braves’ social game.
The other 9 of the top 10 MLB teams in terms of social engagement x sponsored posts include:
Los Angeles Dodgers (1.24M): The Dodgers have seen 1.24M engagements across all sponsored posts helping them claim the number two spot on the list. They are the 3rd ranked MLB team in terms of social following with 9.4M total followers. They rank #1 for followers on Instagram with 3M.
Top brands with Dodgers social deal include: UCLA Health, Yaamava Resort & Casino at San Manuel, Advance AutoParts.
New York Mets (1.21M): The New York Mets not only have seen success in total engagement on sponsored posts, they also have the most active fans boasting the highest ratio of engagement on branded posts. 0.9% of Mets followers interact with branded posts, that’s almost 40% higher than the Dodgers.
Top brands with Mets social deal include: Coney Island Brewing Company, Citibank, loanDepot
Chicago White Sox (734K): The Chicago White Sox are #4 on the list with a total engagement of 734K. The White Sox are the 16th most followed team in the MLB and 5th most followed property in the Chicago market. They saw a YOY increase of 5%.
Top brands with White Sox social deal include: FanDuel, Horseshoe Hammond, Guaranteed Rate
Houston Astros (703K): The Astros come in at #5 with 703K total engagements on branded social posts. They are the 13th most followed team in the MLB with 4.4M followers across Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok.
Top brands with Astros social deal include: Reliant Energy, AT&T SportsNet and Budweiser
Chicago Cubs (690K): The #6 team on the list, the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are the 2nd most followed property in Chicago and 4th most followed in the MLB with 8.3M total followers. They have a prominent presence on TikTok with 726K followers, the most of any MLB team.
Top brands with Cubs social deal include: Las Vegas Tourism, Sloan, Marriott Bonvoy
Milwaukee Brewers (438K): The Milwaukee Brewers are the 24th most followed team in the MLB with 2.4M total followers and come in 7th for total engagement for sponsored posts with 438K. They have seen a 5% YOY increase and are the 2nd most followed property in the Milwaukee market, just behind the Bucks.
Top brands with Brewers social deal include: UW Credit Union, Fleet Farm, Ball Sports Wisconsin
Philadelphia Phillies (274K): With 274K total engagement, the Philadelphia Phillies take the #8 spot. They are the 12th most followed team in the MLB with 4.5M total followers and the 4th most followed property in the Philadelphia media market.
Top brands with Phillies social deal include: SportsRadio 94 WIP, Independence Blue Cross, Herr’s
San Diego Padres (272K): The San Diego Padres are ranked #9 with 272K total engagement on sponsored posts. They have 2.7M total followers across the major social media platforms and have a YOY increase of 16%.
Top brands with Padres social deal include: Petco, ClickUp, USAA
Boston Red Sox (178K): Rounding out the top 10 is the Boston Red Sox with 178K total engagements. They are the 2nd most followed team in the MLB, only behind the New York Yankees, with 9.7M total followers.
Top brands with Red Sox social deal include: JetBlue, Nissan, STIHL
The first international sponsorship and marketing report focused on European football.
The 2021-22 European Football Partnerships Report is fortified by data from over 7,000 brands across more than 9,000 deals and from 10 of the top European football leagues (Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, Bundesliga and Ligue 1, along with each league’s corresponding second tier.) This report also contains growth and engagement insights on over 2,750 brands that created collaborative social media content.
Key findings from the report include:
Construction is the most active sponsorship category for the third consecutive season across European football leagues.
While Betting deals have declined by 10%, Crypto deals have grown an impressive 140% this season.
The most searched brands by European football club executives were Crypto.com, FTX, DraftKings, Verizon and Dunkin’.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi now officially have over 1B followers combined due in part to joining new clubs.
Transferring teams can offer a huge boost in social following for players.
This report was compiled using SponsorUnited’s proprietary platform data from July 2021 through May 2022. Social data compiled from property or person-controlled Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and LinkedIn accounts and social activity. The leagues included in this report are as follows: Premier League, LaLiga, Serie A, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, EFL Championship, LaLiga 2, Serie B, 2. Bundesliga, Ligue 2.
The Golden State Warriors won their 4th NBA Finals in eight years after taking down the Boston Celtics in a 103-90 game six victory. While the Warriors may have won the finals on the court, how did this year's NBA Finals contenders match up in the sponsorship / media scene off the court?
The Golden State Warriors have a combined social following of 46.6M to the Boston Celtics 19.6M across all major social media platforms (TW, IG, FB, TT.) Instagram is the top social platform for the Warriors, hosting 50% of the team's total following. They also saw a 19% YOY increase in total followers, which was one of the highest jumps in the NBA. The Celtics’ top social platform is Facebook, and the team saw a 5% YOY increase in total following. Interestingly enough, both teams lead their markets, as both teams rank #1 in total following across any properties in their respective markets.
The Golden State Warriors come out on top in partnership deals with over 400+ brand partners and 80+ sponsors during the 2021-22 NBA season. 46 of these brands leveraged the team’s social media platforms, and averaged 50+ unique sponsored posts per brand. When ranked by number of assets, the Warriors’ top partners for the season were Chase, Kaiser Permanente, Rakuten, HPE - Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, and Oracle. The Boston Celtics still had quite the portfolio, eclipsing 350+ brand partners and 60+ sponsors throughout the 2021-22 NBA season. 38 of Boston’s partners leveraged the team's social media, with an average of 45+ sponsored posts per brand. Top partners for the Boston Celtics this season were TD Bank, JetBlue, Putnam Investments, New Balance, and Xfinity.
The Enjoy Illinois 300 Presented by Ticketsmarter took place Sunday and kept NASCAR fans on the edge of their seats. This was the first Cup Series NASCAR Race held at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway and it did not disappoint. It was an exciting event that finished with an overtime shootout won by Joey Logano, achieving his 60th career win in his 15 years of racing. Lagano has Pennzoil as a main sponsor along with a hit list of brands that includes Shell, AAA & Ford.
World Wide Tech became the raceway title sponsor in 2019 and during the event there was a large amount of brands present in-venue, most of which have a direct tie to the midwest. Brands had a huge presence through the speedway (not just on the cars) so which brands were present?
Present via signage &activations were Ameren Illinois, Bommarito Automotive Group, C.A. Jones, Illinois Office of Tourism, Scott Credit Union, SSM Health, and of course World Wide Technology. Outside of the race itself, many of the brand activations draw their own attention from fans attending the raceway from tabling to interactive activities present throughout the venue. Some big brands activating on race day include Enterprise Rent-A-Car, GEICO, Toyota Racing, Oakley, McDonald's, and State Farm. Brands also have exposure through the drivers themselves, mostly through the branding on the cars themselves.
It’s no surprise that the best way to get brand exposure is to have your driver finish 1st. However, for this past Cup Series race, it pays to be partners with the top 5 finishers: Joey Logano x Pennzoil, Kyle Busch x Snickers, Kurt Busch x Monster Energy, Ryan Blaney x Dent Wizard, and Aric Almirola x Ford.
Roland Garros 2022 was not a tournament to be missed, but if you did you heard about it. Not only did Rafael Nadal win his 22nd Grand Slam title (which cements him as the greatest winner of all time), Iga Świątek continues her unbeaten streak of 35 wins consecutively and became the new number one women’s tennis player in the world.
The official sponsors of the event reaped the benefit of these history-making moments as all eyes were on the players and surrounding tournament signage. The brands making the biggest impression through the tournament were BNP Paribas, Emirates, Lacoste, Renault, Wilson, Oppo, Perrier, Rolex, Engie and Infosys.
On the athlete endorsements side, Nadal has over 44M followers on social media that over 11 brands have the privilege of leveraging. His partnerships provide a voice to brands like Babolat, Nike, Kia, Telefonica, Amstel Ultra, and Richard Mille, among others.
Nadal’s highest engaged posts were for these brand partners:
Amstel Ultra: 440K
Cantabria Labs: 260K
Within the women’s bracket, the Polish Iga Świątek has agreements with PZU Group, Tecnifibre, Asics, Rolex and Xiaomi. Iga also has an impressive social following like Nadal and has a total engagement of over 12M across 83 branded posts with five brands. With 10.93% of her audience engaged per post, each brand has received nearly 2.5M likes/comments/shares.
Every MLB season a star is born where fans and brands are eagerly tracking every move of the rising star. Back in 2019, the name Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might only have been known to Blue Jays fans. That quickly changed for the rising star turned superstar who landed a spot in the Home Run Derby his rookie year. He went from 0 endorsement deals in ’19 to 14 deals just two seasons later. Vlad is now the #1 most endorsed MLB athlete in the league.
Which rising stars will impress brands the most this year in hopes to secure top deals?
In his 5th season with the LA Angels, Taylor Ward is in the top 5 for MLB Batting Average and is expected to 4X his total at bats. This is a trend fans and brands love to see. Based on the current landscape of MLB player endorsements, which brands can we expect to target Ward?
Ranked by total number of MLB endorsements, here are the top 5 categories along with the top brands.
Leisure & Recreation
Apparel & Accessories
Dick’s Sporting Goods
Adobe Creative Cloud
MLB The Show
Beverage - Non-Alcoholic
Here are players on the rise that brands should be watching this year:
With 28 new deals in the NBA alone, Socios.com was the top expanding brand in the league, going from 0 to 28 deals in less than a season. Socios.com really separated themselves from the pack as the 2nd most expanding brand only increased their deals by 6 from 0 the year before (Take 5 Oil Change).
Take a deeper dive into the assets tied to Socios.com’s 28 NBA deals.
Across the 28 new sponsorships, Socios.com has over 130 total assets. 79% of their deals have TV-Visible signage which was led by the courtside apron & basket stanchion digital ads which are usually run simultaneously. 21% of their deals included digital media featuring sponsored content on team website’s as well as video integration throughout the season. With their expansion into the NBA this year, the NBA became their top league they have targeted across the world.
Socios.com also expanded within other US Major Pro Sports. Earlier this month, Socios.com became the Official Fan Loyalty Partner of 26 MLS clubs using a similar tactic of mass adoption within a league as they did with the NBA. Along with the MLS, the NHL was another league the brand extended their portfolio into, signing a deal with more than half of the teams in the league.
Nearly two months into the MLB season and brands are already leaving their mark on fans with their unique MLB collaborations. From high end apparel to snacks and alcohol, brands are making an impact across stadiums utilizing players, teams and the league to promote their brands.
What’s so special about these partnerships?
Hi-Chew has teamed up with three MLB teams, the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Rays & St. Louis Cardinals to bring their candy to the stadiums. Hi-Chew will be available in-stadium for fans and even the Cardinals players in the dugout, to enjoy. The brand will also sponsor the Dance Cam for the Cardinals, the Kids Club for the Rays and have video board signage with the Cubs. Not a bad gig for an international brand brought stateside.
Gucci has created another MLB Capsule collection which will be sold through Gucci’s Vault, an online concept store. Fans can purchase limited-edition Gucci x MLB apparel inclusive of varsity jackets, zip-up hoodies, co-branded caps, and more.
As the Official Treat and Burger of the MLB Dairy Queen partnered with four MLB stars, Tim Anderson, Cody Bellinger, Bryce Harper & Fernando Tatis Jr. in a new advertising campaign. Tim Andersona & Bryce Harper will be going head to head promoting their favorite stackburger and blizzard treat and fans can even vote on the winning meal.
Budweiser and the MLB extended on their partnership right after the lockout ended this year. Budweiser partnered with 14 teams showcasing the team's branding on the front of their cans for sale in each team's city.
For the last 12 years, Turkish Airlines has been the exclusive title sponsor for the EuroLeague’s competition. While the exclusive title sponsor spot is taken, other brands like adidas, BKT, Spalding and 7days carry a large presence all over Europe during the games. For some brands, a partnership just for the Final Four is enough. Technogym and Acibadem have deals only at the season’s end and provide technical equipment and services to the teams.
The EuroLeague has been deemed the most important basketball tournament in Europe which includes the best teams throughout Europe. The league, a semi-closed league, consists of 18 teams competing to qualify to the Final Four which leads to being crowned the champions of Europe. This year the final stage is set in Belgrade, Serbia, in the Stark Arena.
The four teams competing for the title are the reigning champion, Anadolu Efes, who are looking to bring the title back to Turkey. The Spanish giants, Real Madrid and Barcelona, who bring the national rivalry to the international sphere. Finally, Olympiacos qualified second in the regular season to make the Final Four.
Off the court, Real Madrid ranks #1 in terms of social media following in the EuroLeague with 18M followers across all platforms, a sizeable lead over FC Barcelona ranked #2 with just over 3.5M. Anadolu Efes and Olympaicos rank #6 and #7 respectively within the EuroLeague.
Up until Wednesday, the US Women’s Soccer team had to rely heavily on sponsorship deals to level out their income as professional athletes. While the Women’s National Soccer team outperformed the Men’s, there was a HUGE pay gap between genders.
Take a look at a few former and current Women’s Soccer players who capitalized on their skills on and off the field, and how they size up against the men..
Alex Morgan has secured 25 total deals over the past year with some of the most notable brands being Google, Coca-Cola and AT&T. Megan Rapinoe has also cashed in big with 15 total deals including commercials with Cliff Bar and Subway, alongside notable deals with Nike and Victoria Secret. Lindsey Horan has 10 deals most notably with Adidas, Quest Nutrition and Visible. These female athletes have been able to navigate a world with unequal pay and now get the chance to get equal pay and the ability to use their soccer talents to sign more endorsement deals.
On the flip side, Men’s players have seen less success on the field which can equate to less success off the field. Jozy Altidore (former player) & Christian Pulisic have less deals than most of their female counterparts, Altidore has six deals and Pulisic who is an up and coming star on the team has seven. Interesting to see the differences in endorsement deals when a team has been successful on the field as the USWNT has been over the last couple decades.
Just over a month into the MLB season and the league has seen six new partnerships enter the scene. Adobe, Capital One, Corona, Mattress Firm, Cue Health, and Dairy Queen all have a variety of assets and activations on display in stadium and throughout MLB broadcast.
Each brand has become an Official Sponsor of the league with their own designations. What assets have these brands utilized during the season so far?
Adobe signed a deal with the MLB becoming the Official Creativity Partner of the league. Throughout the season, Adobe can be spotted during nationally televised games with signage projected in the lower bowl and in MLB emails as a sponsored partner. Right after MLB Opening Weekend, on April 11th Adobe sponsored a video on Twitter with the MLB asking fans the question “What was your favorite part of Opening Weekend?”.
Capital One, the Official Bank and Credit CardPartner of the MLB, had over five assets activated in just the first month. In some games, their logo has been projected on the back of the pitcher’s mound as well as in the lower bowl during Sunday Night games on ESPN. Capital One also sponsors on YouTub, the 2022 Game Recaps along with a video series on MLB.com known as Capital One Walk Offs showcasing the walk off wins from each game that has one.
Corona has become the Official Cerveza of the MLB. Already, Corona has leveraged the branded projected lower bowl signage, pre-roll commercials and branded social posts. As the season moves on, one can expect more custom content on MLB.com and MLB Network.
Cue Health signed a deal with the MLB becoming the league’s trusted at-home testing solution for COVID-19. The first ever Apple TV Friday Night Baseball game was co-sponsored by Cue Health and ZipRecruiter. In addition, all @MLB game highlights on their social channels that night tagged Cue Health.
Designated the Official Treat and Burger of the MLB Dairy Queen has had projected signage in the lower bowl as well as multiple social tags by @MLB. Every Grand Slam through the season will also be sponsored by Dairy Queen on social media.
Mattress Firm was named the Official Sleep Wellness Partner of the MLB. The brand will be launching sweepstakes that gives winners the chance to win VIP experiences throughout the year.
The first round of the 2022 NFL Draft took place last night and 32 of the top prospects can officially see their dreams, and dollar signs, in their future. This is the first NFL Draft where college players had almost a full year to sign endorsement deals, rather than the few weeks leading up to the Draft. Check out the top 50 NFL Draft prospects and the brands they have deals with. In total, these top 50 Draft prospects have partnered with over 75 brands.
Which brands made the top of the list?
Company NameNumber of Prospects Partnered WithBose4Dr. Pepper4Sleep Number4Chipotle3Raising Cane’s3USAA3
The NFL Endorsements landscape is a highly popular area among sponsors of the league. Three of the brands on this list not only are league sponsors but are big contributors to the NFL Endorsements landscape. Bose features 26 different NFL athletes on their endorsements roster including big names such as Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, and Micah Parsons. Sleep Number has 16 NFL Athletes as a part of their team with Dak Prescott, Deebo Samuel and Mac Jones topping off the list. Lastly, USAA features 15 NFL athletes with the likes of Josh Allen, Rob Gronkowski, and TJ Watt on their endorsements roster.
The 2022 NFL Draft class features greatness both on and off the field. Five players in particular have taken full advantage of obtaining endorsement deals with over 6 deals each. Kayvon Thibodeaux has the most endorsement deals of the bunch with 11. Some of the most notable brands to partner with Thibodeaux include Beats by Dre, Old Spice and Snickers. Tied with the second most endorsement deals are defensive standouts Aiden Hutchinson and Demarvin Leal. With eight deals each, Bose and Chipotle partnered with Hutchinson while FTX and Fanjoy partnered with Leal. The final two players in the top five include Chris Olave with seven deals and Derek Stingley Jr. with six deals who both feature deals with the popular quick serve restaurant Raising Cane’s.
While over 10M viewers tuned in Sunday to watch the Masters Final Round, everyone else around the world was watching the Grand National. With a view count higher than the NFL Super Bowl, over 500M people tuned in to watch the three day 2022 Grand National events. The annual horse race in Liverpool had over 60+ partnerships, including naming rights sponsors for each of the three races over the long weekend.
With a viewership number like the Grand National, it pays to be a sponsor. So who cashed in big?
The Grand National’s Race Naming Rights Sponsors for the three-day event were:
Randox, Betway, SSS Super Alloys, Jewson, Close Brothers, Goffs UK.
Randox, Betway, Alder Hey, Marsh Insurance, House of Cavani, Park Palace Ponies
Randox and Betway cashed in on the high viewership count as they were the only brands with naming rights for all three days. Randox, a UK based healthcare brand, became the first non-alcoholic Title Sponsor of the Grand National in 2017 after signing a five-year deal as the Exclusive Title Sponsor (now with a new deal extension through 2026). Randox had 38+ in-person assets during this year's event, including Interior Signage, Rider Jersey Patches, Horse Saddle Signage, and Integrated Content into The Grand National’s Printed Program.
Other assets that brands activated during the race included a Sponsored Award, Press Conference Banners, and Sponsored Services Provided. The race featured over 2x more deals than the average equestrian event, and over 50% of the deals included a form of Venue Signage. In total, there are over 300 brands that partner with equestrian / thoroughbred events globally, but 27% less brands partnering with UK based events than the US.
The MLB approved jersey patch inventory for the upcoming 2022 season. Teams aim to increase revenue to keep up with the growing cost of player contracts. According to SponsorUnited, there are over 165 brands actively buying sponsorships on uniforms among US Major Pro Sports. This includes helmets in NHL and jersey sleeves in MLS.
Of these categories, Healthcare takes the top spot as the most frequent sponsorship buyer for uniform exposure deals. Healthcare has 25% of all deals by a single category, followed by Financial and Technology categories. Will this trend continue in the MLB, or will new categories and emerging brands disrupt the scene?
In 2021, the MLB saw strategic partnerships thrive within the Education sector. This category brought in more revenue to the MLB than any other Major Pro Sport in the US. One category expected to see growth this season, according to SponsorUnited’s MLB 2021 Marketing & Partnerships Annual Report, is Cryptocurrency. The top three most-searched brands in 2021 by MLB executives throughout the season were FTX, Coinbase and Crypto.com. FTX also signed a moon-sized deal with the league.
After a season of empty stadiums in 2020, more than 400 brands produced content on the big screens located in the outfield as game/entertainment content on the videoboard was the MLB’s top activation in 2021. International Car Manufacturers continue to drive towards TV deals as they were the top category in 2021, a trend that is poised to continue for a 6th straight year.
The 2022 Guinness Six Nations Rugby championship came to a close on Saturday with France securing the title, and a grand slam, for the first time since 2010, and Italy ending their run of 36 consecutive loses.
With notable competition deals with Guinness, BREITLING and TikTok which can be seen on the match ball, we look at how the six national teams line up.
Teams Compete on the Field in El Clásico, While Brands are Competing Off the Field
With a combined annual commercial turnover of €700m, this Sunday, two of the world’s biggest football teams Real Madrid and Barcelona, match up for the second El Clasico of the 2021/22 La Liga season.
The rivalries extend from the pitch to their partners with competitors utilizing the power of the clubs to gain market share in their categories. This can be seen with Nike (FCB) v Adidas (RM), Mahou (RM) v Estrella Damm (FCB), and Cupra (FCB) v Audi (RM). The outlier in this being Coca-Cola, who are the Soft Drink Partner of both clubs, despite Gatorade (PepsiCo) also being the Official Sports Nutrition Partner of FC Barcelona, in comparison to Powerade (Coca-Cola) for Real Madrid.
Most recently, Barcelona agreed to terms with Spotify on a mega 4-year deal worth north of $300 million. This deal marks the teams first with a digital audio company while Real Madrid currently does not have one. The deal sees Barcelona’s stadium renamed to Spotify Camp Nou while also getting exposure on the team's training kits.
Despite both teams having a social following of over 250M, Real Madrid leverages their social media more with over 1,200 sponsored posts (compared to FC Barcelona’s 450) resulting in over double the total engagement at 78.5M v FC Barcelona: 32.3M.
Both teams have global presence and awareness which can be seen through their partnership portfolio. Both teams have deals with large international brands Emirates (RM) and Rakuten (FCB) being the primary jersey patches, as well as smaller, regional deals with local and regional brands for the teams. Real Madrid has regional sponsors including KOK Sports (Asia) and RepX (LATAM), while FC Barcelona include Rakbank (UAE) and Taiping Life Insurance (China) among their partners.
Unlike what is being seen in the U.S., the betting category has shrunk dramatically across La Liga teams. This is due to new laws banning the advertisement of gambling companies across Spain, which had previously seen all La Liga sides having a betting partner in 2020/21, including seven with primary jersey patch deals.
Three weeks into the 2022 MLS season, new brands have been seen entering the MLS sponsorship space for the first time, partnering with teams after the season opener on February 26th. Nashville FC named cryptocurrency brand, Valkyrie Invest, as a founding partner a week into the 2022 season. Nashville FC became the first MLS team to accept a full partnership fee in bitcoin.
Part of the partnership includes club naming rights to Nashville FC’s new 850-seat premium club, which will be renamed to the Valkyrie Premier Club. Valkyrie Invest was the #23 most searched brand this past week on the SponsorUnited platform seeing a jump from #7,492 the previous week. Many other brands have entered the MLS for the first time during the 2022 season.
Nashville SC X GEODIS
With Nashville SC set to begin play at their new stadium during the 2022 season, the team has secured a venue naming rights partner, GEODIS, which will rename the field to GEODIS Park. GEODIS is an international brand headquartered in France with their eyes set on an expansion in the United States as they have recently opened a new warehouse in New York.
Charlotte FC X Ruoff MortgageRuoff Mortgage was named the Official Mortgage Company of Charlotte FC as part of a multi-year partnership less than a week into the club’s inaugural season. This deal marks the brand's first partnership with an MLS club.
NYFC X FloFlo was named the Official Electric Vehicle Charging Partner of the 2021 MLS Champion, the New York City Football Club. The partnership marks the brand’s first Major Pro Sports partnership in the United States although they currently have a deal in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks in Canada.
Chicago Fire X Wintrust Financial CorporationChicago based company, Wintrust, entered the MLS for the first time in a multi-year partnership with the Chicago Fire FC, becoming the Official Banking Partner of the team. The brand will leverage assets which include exclusive pitch entitlement for all home games played at Soldier Field, as well as key signage throughout the stadium including the player tunnel and in-stadium LED signage.
The fourth most followed extreme sports athlete, Shaun White has accumulated 7.5M social media fans while leveraging 15 brands across his portfolio. His most engaged post was inspired by his relationship with Louis Vuitton as a tribute to Virgil Abloh.
White is ranked fifth in total brand partnerships within extreme action sports athletes. Marco Odermatt ranks second in total deals and has an amazing average engagement rate of 78.8% compared to White's engagement of 1.6%. On average each brand White has a deal with has had two social media posts in the last 12 months while having a total engagement of over 800k with his 29 posts.
After qualifying for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Shaun White signed a major deal with energy sports drink CELSIUS, joining numerous athletes such as Dustin Poirier, Amanda Nunez, and Julius Randle as the brands newest athlete partner.
Coinbase, Crypto.com and FTX all landed in the top five most searched brands by MLS executives utilizing the SponsorUnited platform. Although vacant of a league sponsorship, it seems as if cryptocurrency is ready to take off within the league as XDC Network has signed the first deal for the category with a team this week. As the most searched sub-category on the SponsorUnited platform, expect a big footprint in the near future as players have also already started to accept crypto as their salary.
Although players are accepting salaries in Cryptocurrency, it does not mean they actively have a partnership. Walker Zimmerman is the only MLS athlete with a deal as he has social media posts with Coinmerge promoting their platform. Outside of the MLS, the other four major pro sports in the US have over 25 active Cryptocurrency brands led by FTX and Crypto.com. 18% of their deals include Event Entitlements such as Voyager being the presenting sponsor of the Dallas Mavericks game on October 27th against the Houston Rockets. During this game, Voyager not only was the presenting sponsor but had 9 total assets during the game including signage, a promotion sponsor as well as a sponsored attendee take home item which gave fans a code to get $100 in crypto.
It is not uncommon for Cryptocurrency brands to have a promotion tied to their deals. Within major pro sports, five brands total for over 8 promotions including with the MLB league, athletes within these leagues and teams such as the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers.
Trending NFL teams and players with the largest social follower gain in the month of January:
10) Green Bay Packers (+84,758)
9) Marcedes Lewis (+85,180)
8) Pittsburgh Steelers (+96,982)
7) San Francisco 49ers (+101,041)
6) Kansas City Chiefs (+103,943)
5) Dallas Cowboys (+120,933)
4) Cincinnati Bengals (+128,556)
3) Tom Brady (+184,022)
2) Odell Beckham Jr. (+343,053)
1) Antonio Brown (+961,136)
On a related note, Brown actually picked up more followers than the NFL league social accounts (+961k vs +921k).
The term "Any Press is Good Press" rang true during the month of January in the NFL. Antonio Brown quit on the Buccaneers mid-game, then saw the largest growth in social media followers. Brown currently optimizes his social media following partnering with six brands, three within the apparel and accessories category. He has also entered the NFT space with Spooky Boys Country Club. Brown's highest engaged post comes on Instagram with Skeleton Concept having an engagement score of over 130,000 per the SponsorUnited platform.
Interesting to see that within the top four of the list, two social media accounts will be represented in the Super Bowl, Odell Beckham Jr. of the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals accounts. The 13 brands that OBJ has a partnership with leverage his nearly 20 million followers across social media. Recently, OBJ signed a deal with Cash App in which he'll get paid in Bitcoin during his tenure with the Rams. He can also be seen promoting the app with a $1 Million giveaway.
FC Barcelona has the highest average engagement per tech branded post over any other property. Leveraging brands like Estrella Damm, Gatorade, and Beko Global across their social media channels FC Barcelona has a total gross social following of 261M. Other international football teams and leagues with the highest engagement on social media include Real Madrid C.F., Chelsea Football Club, and The Premier League.