Category Reports

Technology continues to reshape virtually every aspect of our lives—so it’s no surprise that the industry’s presence in the sponsorship universe is also growing and evolving in game-changing ways. No tech sector has generated more headlines recently than artificial intelligence (AI), a $100 billion market that’s forecast to grow twentyfold to nearly $2 trillion by 2030. AI and machine learning sponsorships increased 65% in the last year—a figure that’s poised to skyrocket exponentially as AI steadily infiltrates virtually every industry.

AI applications in pro sports are already transforming the fan experience, and driving business results for properties. In July, GameOn Technology announced the rollout of an AI-powered chatbot at the New York Islanders’ UBS Arena that will act as a virtual concierge for attendees at Islanders games and other events. And last January, the NBA—which leads US pro sports leagues in technology deals—extended its partnership with Meta to develop a new virtual reality experience for fans via Meta Quest, the league’s official VR headset. As AI’s ubiquity expands, these innovative deals will only multiply. Intriguingly, AI companies remain conspicuously absent from music festivals, which lead the list of properties partnering with tech brands as they seek to engage these events’ affluent, digitally savvy patrons. Meanwhile, rights holders—equally eager to engage younger audiences and convert them into lifelong fans—are turning to platforms like TikTok to identify brands that capture the attention of Gen Z, a demographic that now represents 40% of global consumers whose substantial spending power will endure for decades.

Countless sponsorship opportunities still abound for enterprising tech brands. Less than 20% of domestic sports properties partner with cloud service providers like Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services. And among the megacap tech titans, Apple has yet to venture into sports sponsorships, while Netflix and Tesla presently partner with no properties at all.

As the dynamism of the technology sponsorship landscape grows, SU is excited to unveil its inaugural Technology Marketing Partnerships Report 2023. Authored jointly by SponsorUnited’s Marketing Research & Insights, Analytics, and Marketing teams, it delivers an in-depth analysis of more than 1,300 brands, 5,250 assets, and over 11,000 social posts from January 2021 through August 2023.

Traditional banks are zeroing in on music-related entities—namely music festivals and concert venues—as they try to attract young music fans with sizable disposable income into clients for years to come while also supporting the local community and aligning with events that generate significant local economic benefits. Last month, Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) inked a deal to sponsor Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour when it arrives in Toronto in November 2024, hoping to gain brand recognition with legions of Swifties packing arenas worldwide.

In addition to branching out into music sponsorships, traditional banks are maintaining their commitments to other avenues like sports. A case in point is the recent extension of a $25 million per year sponsorship deal with a major golf organization.

Meanwhile, neobanks—which exist solely in the virtual world—are taking a page out of traditional banking’s playbook, ironically, and going all-in on major pro sports sponsorships to attract mainstream audiences. Last February, Ally Financial Inc. announced a league-wide sponsorship making Ally Bank—the largest digital bank in the US—the Official Consumer Bank of NASCAR and NASCAR-owned tracks.

And in what is perhaps the most surprising U-turn in the sponsorship industry in recent memory, embattled cryptocurrency brands—reeling from the collapse of FTX and recent decreases in exchange volume—are retreating from the endorsement frontlines as they regroup and reevaluate their marketing strategies.

For all these reasons and more, we’re excited to unveil our inaugural Banking Marketing Partnerships Report 2023. Authored jointly by SponsorUnited’s Marketing Research & Insights, Analytics, and Marketing teams, it delivers an in-depth analysis of more than 650 brands, 5,600 assets, and over 15,000 social posts from January 2021 through August 2023.

The AI market is red-hot and getting hotter—so it’s no surprise that 95+ brands are currently buying sponsorship or media in the AI & Machine Learning category. And with some 58K AI companies worldwide, according to research firm Tracxn, there's a huge opportunity for other brands in this quickly emerging industry to make an early splash in the sponsorship world.

IT and software development company Globant leads the category with 17 sponsorship/media deals, partnering with rights holders like FIFAe, LaLiga, and the recently concluded FIFA Women’s World Cup. Mobileye, which develops autonomous driving technologies and advanced driver-assistance systems, reigns supreme in sponsorships among AI brands with 10 deals—Tresor by Car Collection and GT World Challenge Europe among them.

AI & Machine Learning brands have garnered social engagement of 2.5M with sponsored posts in the last 12 months—60% of which comes from TikTok, outperforming Instagram, Facebook, and X (formerly Twitter) combined. AI is quickly heating up on the uber-popular platform, which was home to the top three most engaging AI posts of the last year. The top performer—a co-branded post by AI platform Caktus (sponsor of Angel Reese and the Cavinder twins) and influencer TechJoyce—engaged 378K users. 

Not surprisingly, AI brands are also finding high-profile ways to activate in sports. DarkTrace, an AI cybersecurity company, sponsors the McLaren F1 team, which prominently features its logo on the rear wing of its cars. 

With back-to-school shopping in high gear, big-box retailers and online stores are taking center stage across the country. Shanghai-based online marketplace Temu, which entered the US market in September 2022, has garnered serious attention this year thanks to its inaugural Super Bowl ad last February, which marked the brand’s very splashy entrée into the sponsorship world. Within the last 12 months, Temu has inked nearly 15 sponsorship deals, all with athletes, artists or influencers—a popular strategy amongst retail brands.

More than 750 retail brands have partnered with boldface names during the last 12 months. Leading the charge on this front: retail giant Walmart, which currently boasts more than 40 celebrity endorsers, ranging from athletes like Patrick Mahomes, Devin White, and Cam Newton to musical artists including Kane Brown, Cardi B, and Becky G.

While Walmart leads the way in high-profile endorsements, Amazon takes the cake when it comes to deal volume among back-to-school brands. The world’s largest online retailer has more than 135 sponsorships (not including its sub-brands), most notably with the Seattle Kraken, whose home ice was renamed Climate Pledge Arena after the brand bought its naming rights–a nod to Amazon’s sustainability focus. Within these partnerships, Amazon’s social campaigns have chalked up total engagement of 10.7M across more than 1,400 branded posts.

Another favorite back-to-school brand is Target, whose sponsorship portfolio numbers over 50 deals. Most notably, the Minneapolis-based behemoth was the naming rights partner of the Minnesota Twins (2008), Lynx, and Timberwolves (both 1990). In 2017, Target made its first foray into MLS by becoming both a sponsor of the league and signing a deal with then-expansion team, Minnesota United FC, as its primary jersey patch partner.

As legalized sports betting steadily spread across the US over the last few years, companies like DraftKings and FanDuel swiftly recognized the potential of strategic sponsorships to gain a competitive edge in the battle for market share. DraftKings’ sponsorship deal volume grew 150% from 2020-2021–the same period many states legalized sports betting–while FanDuel expanded its endorsement stable 127% between 2020 and 2022, as these two major players paved the way for new partnerships within the fledgling sports betting arena.

The recently announced 10-year, $1.5B deal between ESPN and PENN National Gaming to launch online sports betting brand, ESPN BET, marks a watershed moment in this emerging industry, highlighting the increasing convergence of sports media and sports betting platforms–and compelling brands like DraftKings and FanDuel to further ramp up their marketing efforts in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Case in point: DraftKings latest campaign, launching August 21 ahead of the new NFL season, which leverages fantasy football enthusiasm and sports betting fervor on the heels of a $93.2B betting year in 2022, according to the American Gaming Association. Starring Kevin Hart–who appeared in its Super Bowl campaign earlier this year–and retired NFL quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, it features DraftKings’ new tagline, “the crown is yours,” which aims to create more consumer-centric messaging while building on existing brand equity. 

Celebrity endorsers offer a tried-and-true way to engage potential customers and cultivate virtually instant brand loyalty–as seen in FanDuel's own 2023 Super Bowl commercial, which featured retired New England Patriots powerhouse Rob Gronkowski attempting a live field goal attempt, and offered $10M in free bets for customers who wagered on the game with FanDuel Sportsbook. Such campaigns not only build buzz and make news, but also make platforms more approachable and appealing to a broader audience. 

When PENN National Gaming purchased Barstool Sports in 2020 to create Barstool Sportsbook, the company set out to utilize the red-hot brand’s personalities and massive following to gain market share in the burgeoning industry. In their new venture, ESPN and PENN will decide whether to use the power of sponsorships to try to poach bettors from other platforms, or to showcase ESPN’s own internal influencers–or both. Another intriguing option? To integrate betting into ESPN sports broadcasts and promote a potential ESPN+ betting channel, akin to Monday Night Football’s ManningCast on ESPN 2. Time will tell how this high-powered alliance’s strategy will ultimately unfold. 

With over 1,950 active brands buying sponsorships or media, the banking sector reveals a competitive scene averaging three sponsorship deals per brand.

Leading the charge by sponsorship volume is PNC Bank, an industry player that has woven an extensive web of partnerships which includes over 170 unique sponsorship deals. PNC Bank's strategic collaborations extend to diverse numbers of rights holders—from the Miami Marlins to the Houston Rockets—Pittsburgh based bank having a deal with all pro sports teams in the market, dominates the banking industry. 

Claiming the second position is Citibank, a brand that has solidified its presence through more than 130 total sponsor deals which includes—New York Mets, US Open amongst others. Bank of America secures the third spot, boasting over 125 sponsor deals. This esteemed institution has aligned its brand with prominent properties like Charlotte FC and the New England Patriots, demonstrating a strategic fusion of financial prowess with the allure of sports.

Delving into the realm of social media—a significant portion of modern sponsorship—40% of sponsorship deals within the banking sector include a social media asset. Among the most engaging posts, Barclays and the Premier League emerge as the most engaged with “Manager of the Month Winners” post on Instagram, generating a staggering 672,000 engagements. This partnership extends to an encompassing social campaign, spanning 98 posts and amassing over 6.26M in total engagements.

Notably, the partnership between Banco BPM and Italian football powerhouse AC Milan, emerges as a compelling contender in the social media space. With a cumulative engagement of 5.39M across more than 280 distinct posts, this collaboration successfully captures the essence of dynamic engagement between banking and sports. 

A prime example of effective collaboration is through Standard Chartered's Primary Jersey Patch sponsorship of Premier League’s Liverpool FC. In over 208 social posts, this deal secured a total engagement of over 3.9M.

Over the last 12 months there have been 840 active brands buying sponsorships or media in the Hospital category.

Nuffield Health was the most active brand with a total of 29 sponsorship deals, all of the properties they sponsor are located in the UK, such as Wolverhampton Wanderers, AFC Bournemouth and Norwich City. Baptist Health South Florida claims the second spot with a total of 21 sponsor deals. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital enters the podium of the most active brands with 20 sponsor deals. MedStar Health, Atrium Health, UCLA Health, Cleveland Clinic, Intermountain Healthcare, Tampa General Hospital, and UCHealth (Denver) complete the Top 10.

While property entitlements, digital content, broadcast ads, and TV-visible interior signage were some of the most frequently bought assets, social posts reigned supreme in the Hospital category, with total engagement of 13.3M more than 24K unique posts across all social media. An Instagram post between UCLA Health and the LA Lakers garnered the most engagement, with 514K.

Among other standout assets incorporated in deals in the category, regional healthcare company Orlando Health is the Primary Jersey Patch sponsor of MLS team Orlando City SC, while UCLA Health has been the Training Center sponsor of the Lakers since 2016.

Within sports worldwide, Hospitals have secured 49 deals with premier sponsorship assets such as Venue Naming Rights and Primary Jersey Patches across 36 brands. Only 8 brands have more than one such deal:

Orlando Health - 3

Novant Health - 3

WakeMed - 3

Trinity Health of New England - 3

Children's Mercy Hospital - 2

Children's Mercy Hospital - 2

Dignity Health - 2

UC Davis Health - 2

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