The central thesis of this research, the second major sectoral report from SEER, is that the relationship between sponsor and rights holder is a fundamental part of the sport and entertainment ecosystem, but that this relationship is not as developed, carefully considered or mature as it should be.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated change in many areas and we wanted to examine the role of sponsorship going forward – particularly how the market needed to adapt if sponsorship was going to remain fit for purpose.

According to research conducted for the ‘2021 ESA Sponsorship Market Overview’, the European Sponsorship Association and Nielsen Sport found the total value of Europe’s sponsorship market shrunk from a record $36.83bn (€30.69bn) in 2019 to $28.36bn in 2020 – its lowest point since 2010.

Whilst $28.36bn is still a huge level of investment by sponsors, this was a 23% contraction in the European sponsorship marketplace.

This research found that sporting right holders fared better than their counterparts in the music, entertainment and exhibition sectors. Sports rights holders saw a comparatively small dip, down 9% to $22.10bn, compared to non-sport rights holders, which saw their sponsorship income halve year-on-year from $12.52bn in 2019 to $6.23bn in 2020, with sectors such as the music industry suffering a 60-70% decline in sponsorship volume.

It feels to us that there is a huge opportunity for both rights holders and sponsoring brands to reset their relationships as the market returns to a “new normal”.

The results of our SEER research, outlined in this report, leave us buoyed about the potential future role for sponsorship. However, our optimism is contingent on three major changes and attitude shifts which need to be implemented with immediate effect across both sides of the table:

  1. Brands must view sponsorship not simply as a marketing mechanic but rather a way to deliver against multiple business objectives with data underpinning investment decisions;
  2. Rights holders must understand their audience better, start behaving like brands with a clear purpose & values and deliver rights and assets that brands actually want and can activate; and
  3. Rights holders must recognise and react to the shift in sponsor status, from customer to creator, and the accompanying need to build greater flexibility and responsiveness into sponsorship assets – the forces that will shape the new approach to commercial sports and entertainment partnerships.

Sponsorship can deliver a significant return on investment for both rights holders and brands and will continue to be a very important relationship going forward. We look forward to working with clients to create these partnerships.


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