At the end of 2021, there was plenty of speculation in the sports marketing world about what would trend in the 12 months to come. Predictions from industry experts included concepts from the growth of video content on social media, to the increased experimentation by brands.

Just a few months into 2022, and we’ve seen a number of new trends, developments, and shifts in the way we market, and below we’ll be running through our favourite examples from Q1.

Tiger Woods tops PGA Tour Player Impact Programme

Tiger Woods won $8 million for winning the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Programme, which was determined by five criteria obtained from ‘objective, third-party data measurement services’. These included the number of internet searches, appearances in news articles and general awareness of a player’s name among the American public. Woods was followed by Phil Mickelson who won $6 million and Rory McIlroy who received $3.5 million.

What this tells us:

✅ Not only companies, but sporting tournaments and governing bodies are recognising the importance of individual athlete brands.

✅ The impact that athletes and sports brands have on consumers off the pitch/court/green/field/track is becoming more widely understood.

Zwift snaps up more of the world of cycling

Zwift – founded in 2014 as a fitness gaming app that lets people cycle on their turbos or run on their treadmills and follow virtual courses – has extended its reach in the cycling world. It has now signed a women’s cycling sponsorship with Paris-Roubaix Femmes, continuing its support of the women’s sport after it previously signed a deal with the women’s Tour de France.

Zwift’s expansion was huge over the pandemic, enhancing the popularity of VR content and acting as a bridge between sport and entertainment/gaming. Now, the brand takes a step towards the IRL (in real life) sporting world with this new partnership.

What this tells us:

✅ The popularity of VR is ever increasing, shown by the expansion of Zwift into the real-world of cycling.

✅ The gap is closing in this male-dominated sport, largely via the marketing efforts of the stakeholders involved, helping to change habits, perceptions and policies.

✅ Consumers are wanting to be seen – with 82% of the internet claiming they do not feel represented (Digital 2022 Report), it’s important for brands to work on being more inclusive and representative.

Tech companies break further into sports – TikTok & Apple

The video-based social media platform, TikTok, has partnered with NFL since before the 2019 season, which has since seen plenty of successful content generation by fans who have been encouraged to support their favourite players and teams. In January, TikTok signed a four-year partnership with the Six Nations rugby union tournament, seeing it become the first-ever title sponsor of the women’s championship.

Apple, meanwhile, has shown the importance of video content in another way - by agreeing to its first sports rights deal with MLB. The baseball league will be streamed in nine territories including US and Canada, Australia, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Puerto Rico, South Korea and the UK. Apple TV+ will also air a weeknight look-in show and a 24/7 MLB live stream.

What this tells us:

✅ The growth of sports marketing surrounding women’s sport and subsequently the improvement of the status of women’s sport continues its rise.

✅ Video content is king.

✅ User-generated content (UGC) is a brand’s best way of getting its name out there.

✅ Viewing of live sports competitions continues its bounce-back post-pandemic.

It’s not just brands that are fuelling growth of women’s sport

Alongside TikTok partnering with the Six Nations, and Zwift supporting female cycling, consumer behaviour has also changed in relation to women’s sport. A survey carried out by pay-television broadcaster Foxtel reported that 70% of Australians watch more women’s sport now than before the pandemic.

Another study, consisting of mainly UK football fans, found that 72% of these supporters had observed growth in the women’s game. Policies that have reduced the prize gap between men’s and women’s competitions has aided such a shift.

Southampton Football Club has also reported a 63% increase in average game attendance for its women’s team. That comes on top of a 45% increase in season ticket sales, indicating a boost in appetite for the women’s game.

The club said the year-on-year increase can be attributed to several initiatives which promote women’s football and inspire more girls and women to take up the sport.

What this tells us:

✅ The societal shift towards an increased support of women’s sport has occurred on a marketing, policy and consumer behavioural level. This would suggest that it’s here to stay.

✅ Brand sponsorships of sporting events are still dictated by the financial return of such partnerships. However, as consumer popularity of women’s sports increases, so does the financial worth of such sponsorships.

England Rugby opts for holograms in its marketing

England rugby stars Ellis Genge, Jack Nowell and Henry Slade were projected into schools across the country via holograms ahead of the Six Nations tournament in February and March. This PR stunt was facilitated by O2’s 5g network – the primary sponsor for the England rugby union team. The tech used was a high-spec device, Portl, that uses hologram technology to project users in 4k resolution.

What this tells us:

✅ This supports the growth of usage of VR and in the marketing efforts of brands with bigger budgets. This is something that has seen an increase since the beginning of the pandemic when in-person communication became much more difficult.

✅ Brand partnerships remain incredibly important for the development of consumer relationships and as a method of getting products in front of desired audiences and demographics.

GymShark’s pivoted TikTok strategy

GymShark’s TikTok strategy has pivoted from product promotion to providing entertainment over the course of the last 12 months. It’s in 2022 though that it has really made its mark. It engages its audience by sharing hilarious fitness memes, workouts that go wrong and relatable situations. In this way, it differentiates itself from the many fitness accounts already sharing educational content and workout routines. As a result, it’s profile now has 1.2 million fans.

What this tells us:

✅ Social selling is more prominent than ever and has helped brands grow both their reputation and revenue.

✅ Video content has moved away from requiring high tech and planned concepts, and more towards lo-fi reactive content - this means that the content that ‘works’ with consumers, is often able to be filmed on your average phone in the spur of the moment.