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2023 in sport: a year full of potential

Six trends that will shape the year for brands and rights-holders

A year is a long time in sport. As the sports world reflects on a year that has seen so many fundamental changes, all eyes will now be focused on what the next 12 months will see, and how brands and rights-holders can best prepare for this.

Given the wider societal changes in the world currently, this is not an easy task. Whether it be the ongoing digitalisation of our everyday lives, or the changing values of younger generations, the sports world is in a state of flux, creating new challenges – but also opportunities – for leading sports organisations and brands.

In speaking with leading experts across WPP’s agencies specialised in connecting sports and brands, we believe that six key trends are worthy of special attention that, over the next year, will help to separate the great from the good.

  1. A(nother) breakthrough for women’s sports – This will surprise relatively few, given the incredible trajectory that women’s sports has seen over the past few years alone. But let’s be clear – we are currently only at the beginning of women’s sport growth. The interest levels are higher than ever, and – over the next year – we expect to see innovative sports organisations and brands optimise this and generate an incredible return on investment. If not in 2023, it might be too late.
  2. Sports becoming an established marketplace of influencers – Whether it be celebrity boxing matches, sports events of YouTube stars, or a celebrity chef posing with trophies, the connection between influencers and sports – and their associated brands – shows signs of continued growth. The room for creativity here is almost endless, but so too are the pitfalls if important corners are cut. As we look ahead, careful strategic decision-making will make all the difference for brands and sports organisations alike, especially in connecting with their younger fans.
  3. An increasing role for augmented and virtual reality – The relationship between digital and real-world environments continues to strengthen, and sport is no exception. The opportunities for brands and sports organisations to further their fan engagement by augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) is almost limitless. Whether it be boosting participation and performance, enhancing coverage, or providing in-stadium activations, expectations will continue to rise, particularly among Gen Z followers, who risk being less engaged in sports than previous generations.
  4. The disruption of traditional formats – In an increasingly competitive environment for attention in sports, there is an even greater appetite from sports fans across the world to see the best compete against the best. It was this philosophy that prompted the move for a European Super League in football and also the LIV Golf Tour. No sport is immune to this. Over the coming 12 months, more than ever, rights-holders and brands must be prepared to innovate to ensure they retain and enhance their benefits for athletes and fans alike.
  5. A demand for events with purpose – The ability of sports to promote positive change is recognised now more than ever. The impact of events in particular cannot be undermined. We expect to see the spotlight on events only grow – meaning sports organisations, brands and the cities themselves must be clear about the event’s social and community impact, through creative initiatives and impactful communication. Over the coming year, this will no longer an additional ‘nice to have’, but something that will make or break an event’s success.
  6. A maturing of digital revenue streams – The onset of the metaverse, NFTs and digital collectables offers numerous revenue opportunities for brands, particular in the world of sport and its legions of loyal supporters. As we have seen, however, this has been relatively unregulated to date, often leaving sports brands, rights-holders and fans open to be exploited by third parties. With a now saturated market, we expect 2023 to be the year in which a clearer commercial model emerges, with better protection for sport’s various stakeholders. If done successfully, the benefits will be enormous.

2023 promises to be a highly competitive environment for brands and rights-holders looking to get ahead in the sports industry. The strategies and tactics will certainly vary from sport to sport, market to market. One constant that will remain, however, is the need for a spirit of partnership between such organisations. If rights-holders and brands are to fully understand their environment and generate the optimal return on investments, a passive sponsorship model will likely prove outdated.

The next 12 months promise to see important and long-lasting shifts in which sports can increase their popularity. Every shift provides a fresh opportunity. Time will tell which are able to make the right decisions, at the right time.

Dominic Grainger

WPP Sports Practice

published on

23 January 2023


Experience Communications

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