Back-in-the-game- report by Wunderman Thompson

Back in the game

The future of sports promises a new era of opportunity for brands

The rise of COVID-19 brought professional sports to a standstill for most of 2020, with a string of seasons left interrupted and many a trophy left hanging in the balance for months. And while most sports have now resumed play, the nature of the industry still somehow seems changed forever. The ongoing pandemic challenge is driving profound and rapid change in the business.

Not all of these changes have been negative. In fact, this disruption has also compelled the industry to rethink the way it delivers. It has pressed fast-forward on a host of category shifts that will surely unlock an exciting new era of opportunity for brands.

The Back in the Game report explores and unpacks these accelerations and opportunities, covering a host of themes, from digital fan engagement and esports, to emerging technologies and brand purpose.

Key findings from the report include:

Fan engagement 2.0

Tottenham Hotspur football players

All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur documentary series. Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

The pandemic is expected to accelerate a new era of fan engagement, as rights holders and brands alike pivot to building better digital content and connections for their audiences. Authentic stories, raw unscripted footage and more personal content will bring fans closer to their sports heroes, while new digital tools from watch parties to second-screen platforms will put them right at the heart of the action.

Esports level up

Virtual Tour De France 2020

Official Virtual Tour De France 2020. Courtesy of Zwift

The fusion of esports and traditional sports with the emergence of virtual tournaments and simulated sports has dominated the genre in 2020. The latter is predicted to have the strongest growth potential of any sport over the next few years, according to PwC. Elements of these new hybrids are likely to stay with us long after the pandemic is over, providing active engagement and enriching experiences for fans. Future generations will hardly see any distinction. Already for young fans, whether in the digital or real-world, a game is just a game.

The 360 athlete

Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton x Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team Speedcat Pro. Courtesy of PUMA

Athletes are emerging as powerful brands and media platforms in their own right with a broader relevance that extends beyond sport into fashion, music, gaming, entrepreneurship and more. In harnessing social media, today’s breed of sports star is able to cultivate a much more authentic and holistic persona, offering richer and more diverse partnership opportunities.

Tech-powered sports

Dallas Cowboys visualisation using augmented reality

Courtesy of Nexus Studios, Dallas Cowboys, AT&T and Samsung

Virtual sports are getting closer, offering enhanced viewing from unique vantage points, behind-the-scenes access and even VIP hospitality. Emerging technologies like extended reality coupled with the advent of 5G will power a host of thrilling, immersive experiences for viewers at home and in venues, from in-game performance facts and figures through to giant holographic augmented reality characters.

Back to live

Miami Dolphins Gameday Theatre

Miami Dolphins Gameday Theatre by Budweiser. Courtesy of Miami Dolphins

Fans continue to miss attending live sports, but their absence is unlocking new opportunities for brands to reimagine game day. They are creating new traditions and experiences for fans viewing at a distance, wherever they may be. In the US, some clubs are designing distanced fan experiences that are helping to restore a much-needed sense of community. Looking further ahead, health and hygiene will play a much larger role in the live sports experience, delivering a sense of reassurance to fans as they gradually venture back to sports venues.

Sports for good

Marcus Rashford MBE speaking to users of the Evelyn Community Store

Marcus Rashford MBE, in conversation with users of the Evelyn Community Store in Deptford, London. Courtesy of FareShare

In a year where it has become abundantly clear that brands cannot sit on the sidelines, athletes are emerging as a powerful force for positive change. From the NBA walkouts in protest at racial injustices in the US to football player Marcus Rashford’s determined campaign against child food poverty in the UK, athletes are increasingly aware of the power they wield and are using it to force conversations on societal problems. We’re also seeing the emergence of planet-first sports, that combine sporting entertainment with environmental education and awareness.

These evolutions will put fans at the heart of sport, as a blend of physical and digital touchpoints offer always-on engagement. Furthermore, sports and its stars will deepen their cultural relevance and influence, offering potent opportunities for collaboration.

Download the full Back in the Game report to discover what this new era of sport has in store for brands

Wunderman Thompson Intelligence

published on

18 November 2020


Technology & innovation Experience

Related Topics

Esports Industry insight Sports

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