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22 Sports Marketing Trends to Watch Out for in 2022


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2021 was the year the world was supposed to go back to normal. Stadiums were going to be full and COVID was going to become a thing you read about in history books. While we were able to trend in the right direction at first, many international markets saw their games regress back to being played behind closed doors.

However, not at all aspects of the world felt the slow progress. 2021 was a year of unique technological growth and new buzzwords. The world learned what an NFT is, tried to understand what makes up the metaverse, and even saw that blockchain technology is here to stay – all things that 99.9% of the world had never heard of before the year started let alone would’ve predicted as terms that would define the year.

It’s hard to know what’s coming. The world changes on a dime and there’s always something new to learn about. To help you get an understanding of what’s ahead for the rest of 2022, we spoke to 22 of the smartest minds in sports business to see what they think lies ahead. We spoke to professionals from sports teams, leagues, brands, media platforms, products, and educational institutions. 

Keep reading to see what 2022 should have in store.


FUTURE OF SPORTS BUSINESS 

TJ Adeshola, Head of U.S. Sports at Twitter

One of the encouraging trends is the growth of the women’s sports community and how it is driving an outsized impact on sport. Last year’s NCAA tournament is a fitting example with the attention that was brought to the environment of the Men’s and Women’s tournaments. Its impact was felt and this year you are already seeing how the NCAA has launched gender-differentiated social handles. In 2022, female sports will continue to drive the industry forward, which will help increase the overall affinity for sport. They will likely take a few big, bold swings within the greater sports community, which will result in it rallying around them.

John Brody, CRO at LEARFIELD

Delivery matters. How properties, brands and leaders understand and embrace the fact that consumers decide in today’s evolving media landscape will be a determining factor in the race for long-term relevance and growth. Consumers have virtually unlimited choice – they decide who, what, when, where and how. The industry must serve them the right content mix as they want to be served. Meet consumers where they are and use the different delivery mechanisms to distribute and empower.

Nathan Grotticelli, Founder & Creative Director at LEVR TV

2022 rights holders will embrace accessible, foundational and long-term approaches to digital media with greater depth, interactivity, personalization, presence and recall. Forward-thinking brands will extend their story and utility into XR apps and 3D content leveraging spatial computing. We’ll witness fans traversing volumetric video streams of beloved eSports or NBA games across their smartphone and smartglass (aka AR/VR headset). Financially-lucrative leagues, venues built on real estate in virtual worlds and 2D broadcasts to traditional streaming platforms will emerge from VR-first sports. Immersive fitness and training adoption will continue to accelerate, both within athletic organizations and homes.

Zach Moore, Founder & Creative Director at Participation Trophy Studios

2022 will see teams continue to search for unique storytelling opportunities that connect their brands with fans. For brands with international reach, we’ll see them go to greater lengths to cultivate their international fanbases in ways that are unique and authentic to that subset of their broader fanbase. This will include content created in the local market, using local talent/artists/creatives/influencers, and featuring cultural moments specific to that market.

Melissa Ortiz, Olympian, Soccer Broadcaster, Influencer & Co-Founder of Kickoff Coffee Company 

It’s a World Cup year, as we know, and I can’t help but to predict the continued growth and focus on soccer. With USA qualifying (most likely / fingers still crossed), this will be a big year to gain traction in the digital world with eyes on younger demographics using platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, etc. where they gain most of their information apart from watching the games. There will be more large brands partnering with businesses, content creators, influencers, and athletes around soccer later this year. Also, since the game times in Qatar will be broadcasted at not so convenient times in the USA, digital will be huge not only for highlights and content, but also for other creative ways to enjoy the World Cup momentum apart from normally watching it on TV. Can this be multi-viewing? Or, in-game interactions? Or, working with influencers or athletes to create content around the experience? We will see!

Chris Pepe, CCO at LA28

Comprehensive athlete health and wellbeing remains top of the list. Mental health will pivot to mental fitness as we uncover and evaluate the long-term value and impact of sports on health. Recognizing and giving attention to human health will be the most important outcome of 2022. This will be led by the continued rise in athlete voices, particularly women, who are successfully using their platforms to tell their personal stories. Their voices provide a much-needed perspective to our collective conscience and the growth in female-focused sports media underscores that significance.


DIGITAL

Arthur Kogan, Social Media Manager at ESPN

The emphasis on vertical video (TikTok, Reels, Shorts) will continue to grow. In 2021, the growth of young Americans using TikTok spiked — more kids ages 12-17 now use TikTok than Instagram! Even Mark Zuckerberg called TikTok “one of the most effective competitors that we have ever faced.” It’s no surprise that Instagram quickly launched their TikTok competitor in Reels, and YouTube released Shorts. In 2022, you can expect to see the emphasis on vertical video increase even more across all social platforms, with Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts fighting to get a piece of the pie of the younger audience that TikTok has enjoyed. Instagram has already made noticeable changes to their algorithm that favors Reels over images/carousels/IGTV/etc. 

Emma Kramer, Digital Director at Real Salt Lake

I think once COVID-19 hit the world in 2020, brands and organizations leaned in on what athlete driven content could push their narrative and we have only seen this escalate. I think in 2022 we will see a shift from brands creating content with athletes to brands creating content for athletes. Athletes have an entirely different audience than the brand itself (fan bases from all over the country or world). You can now see with Instagram unveiling collabs earlier this year that this is a new way to deliver and drive content in collaboration with your athletes. Instead of turning to influencers in a local market, turning to athletes may be the new driving force. I’m excited to see new ways that brands leverage their athletes (brand, fan base, personality) to further drive a narrative.

Diego Pinzón, Director, Digital Media and Content at Atlanta United FC

Just as we currently only pay for what we want to watch on streaming platforms and how we choose specific channels to distribute our content, the audience is going to continue to dictate how the media landscape evolves in 2022. Little by little, I predict that sports will see additional or second-screen content dominating over a live match, and fans are going to be in the driving seat when it comes to generating content that even competes with big sport media organizations. Fans will have more control over how a match is broadcasted, since they will have access to more screens available and more camera angles to choose from, as if they were the director of their own broadcast; they will decide how a game is watched rather than someone in a control room.

Aalina Tabani, General Manager, Marketing & Communications at USA Rugby

We all know by now that content is king. It’s the golden ticket to connecting with new and existing audiences. But where content was once seen as a means to generate earned media, it’s now becoming a primary component in earning incremental revenue. In the same way a broadcaster will pay for media rights to air a sporting event, commercial partners see the value in producing bespoke and compelling video pieces that can articulate a message beyond the scope of their product or service. And in the business world, the cost of something most often articulates its value. So, in order to keep up, sports brands have to start looking at their custom, co-branded content as a means to make money, not to break even, but to generate actual revenue. 


ESPORTS

Brendan Donohue, Commissioner/President at NBA 2K League

There will be more of a focus on both amateur and professional player development. As we see the significant rise in gaming’s popularity, we will also see the increase of casual and amateur esports in high schools, universities, local esports lounges, and online events that cater to the huge population of non-professional gamers. And when it comes to pros, I think you will see an increased focus on player development as you do in traditional sports. The positive impact on performance from better health, physical fitness, and mental health is clear, and it will become a competitive advantage. In addition, helping young players compete while also continuing their education should be a priority to create a more successful and healthier athlete.

Lagen Nash, CRO at Misfits Gaming Group

2022 will show a strong increase in non-endemic brands getting into esports. Whether it be luxury fashion brands or new electric car companies testing the gaming waters. Brands continue to want to understand and capture the esports and gaming audience. Brands and gaming organizations will continue to create innovative partnerships that produce outcomes of high engagement and authenticity. The days of just sticking a logo on a jersey are over- creating experiences and longevity with the consumer using content creators in games like Roblox and Minecraft will be center stage in 2022. 

Jordan Sherman, CEO at Immortals

We’re heavily indexing our partners and our esports activities toward bringing esports fans together in physical locations such as our Immortals Invasion concept. Yes, gaming is primarily digital. And yes, the metaverse trends are coming. But in the interim, we are going to experience a time frame where gamers feel like the pandemic has forced them to lose the social connection that brought them to gaming in the first place. So, the right teams, brands and leagues that actually show up and help re-establish those connections will earn the trust and respect of the community.

GAMBLING

Jordan Bayroff, VP, Marketing and Business Development at SportsGrid

As the rising cost of paid media for the Sportsbook category continues to accelerate, the leverage for operators will come from owning their own content and distribution.  As sportsbooks look to change spend aggression into spend efficiency, owning and controlling content and audience will be the most efficient way to reach, engage and retain customers. Streaming, OTT and Connected TV’s will be areas that operators look back on and wish they invested more in.

Kyle Wachtel, Head of Partnerships at BetMGM

In an industry where differentiation of products is difficult to come by, marketing will begin to evolve beyond the offer-centric, new customer acquisition advertising that we see much of today. Brands, including BetMGM, will begin to feature other benefits, loyalty programs among the group, that will be key in creating a long-term relationship with consumers.


HIGHER EDUCATION

James Biddick, Student-Athlete Career Development Program Manager at the University of Notre Dame

The NIL landscape will grow, and all stakeholders will be required to continue to navigate upon what is often uncertain and shifting ground. Despite best efforts from those closest to the student-athlete who have their interests at heart, amidst the ambiguity and opportunities created by external entities, there is concern that the student-athlete may be the one in the crosshairs and face repercussions through little or no fault of their own. The new freedom forwarded by NIL is positive in many ways, but I fear that there may be some unintended negative consequences for student-athletes (particularly those with high-profiles).

Dr. Ronald DickAssociate Professor of Sports Marketing at Duquesne University 

The rise of sports marketing and management undergraduate degrees has been precipitous. In 1980 there were only 10 sports management programs. Today, there are roughly 500 with 121 housed in the business school and 50 of those AACSB accredited. However, with the impending trend of smaller universities and colleges closing or merging – due to the decrease in child births after the 2008 financial crisis, we are going to see a sharp decrease in the number of sports management undergraduate degrees.


PARTNERSHIPS

Mark Levitt, Executive Director of Business Development, Corporate Partnerships at the Chicago Bulls

A couple of the biggest trends and conversation points from the past few years will start to more consistently materialize in tangible, fan-facing ways. 1. Properties and venues are finally primed to utilize blockchain technology (ex. through NFTs) to enhance the consumer experience both in and outside of the arena. 2. Additionally, as more states legalize sports betting and the pandemic hopefully moves into the background, it will be interesting to see how different venues lean into the space to engage with its attendees in more ways and for longer periods of time.

Elizabeth McGuire, VP, Brand Alliances at MLS

In all industries globally, there is a flight to quality and focus on premium offerings. This drove record M&A levels last year and 2022 will likely be even greater. In sports partnerships, we’re experiencing this as brands place a priority on aligning with properties, platforms and technologies that deliver niche, avid and engaged fanbases. More than ever, it is important to have a tailored conversation with fans to build a mutually beneficial relationship between properties, fans, and brands.

Carly Samp, Partnership Marketing Manager at the Indianapolis Colts

With the NCAA’s NIL ruling in 2021, we will start to see more brands and sports properties investing in micro and nano influencers. Brands (and consumers) are placing high importance on authenticity and relatability, which translates to greater engagement with influencers who have smaller followings. It’s also no secret that this strategy is particularly budget friendly, and more likely to provide a higher return on investment.  


SPORTS MEDIA

Kelsey Brown, Director, Global Partnerships & Media at the NBA

NIL only gives prominence to what is already true: athletes are their own media companies. In 2022, we’ll see increased original content from both professional and amateur athletes. To that end, off-the-court and non-live content and storytelling will bring fans closer than they’ve ever been through new and emerging distribution channels (in addition to owned and operated).

Paige Dimakos, CEO at The Draft Network

Digital is more important than ever. Teams, media and leagues will look to focus their attention on creating platform specific content and not just reheating TV clips. Younger fans continue to consume differently than older generations— so short-form, well done content, surrounding events/athletes is going to be a huge emphasis for all in 2022 and beyond. 


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