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What’s trending in 2021?

As we’ve said hello to 2021 and left 2020 behind, we’ve been reflecting on the sheer volume of change that our industry is currently experiencing and what it means for the year ahead. It’s a cliché but it’s true – this pandemic has meant changes that were gradually developing are coming to fruition at a pace and scale that many weren’t prepared for.

Without physical connection, we’ve seen new platforms emerge and different audience behaviours and habits surface every day, resulting in digital and social media becoming even more powerful drivers of change. As we look to capitalise on these cultural and behaviour changes, we’ve predicted and explored 5 trends that we’ll be helping our clients adopt and embed to drive opportunity and growth in the congested world of social and digital in sponsorship and sport.

2021 Trends Image

1. Authentic connections

70% of UK Gen Zs and millennials said it’s easier to feel connected to a community today thanks to digital platforms”1

A sense of shared purpose has united people across the globe digitally in a time when physical interactions are limited.

In this world of unlimited content, you’re lucky if your social content makes people pause. You’re even luckier if your social content makes people take action. And if it helps build real affinity, you’ve hit the jackpot. On cluttered platforms, none are easy.

Rights holders and brands should focus on social-first strategies and authentic storytelling to strengthen relationships with their fans and consumers. Ask questions, encourage the sharing of ideas and don’t be afraid to strip it back; get to know your audience better to create those deeper and more meaningful connections.


2. Collaborative Creative

“User generated content drives 28% more engagement than standard brand-led content”2

The lack of traditional production in lockdown sparked a shift in creative as fans and influencers became key content creators for rights holders and brands.

Creating content became a way for fans to share their voice online and feel part of the team, while for the brand it’s a clear source of advocacy and authenticity.

Brands should embrace this, giving their community the tools to represent them and utilising their platform to optimise engagement. The Adidas illustrator campaign is a great example of using creative collaboration to create cut through.


3. Purpose Driven Content

“Women in sports ads are perceived as 148% more empowering than sports ads with men”3

In 2020 we saw many brands and organisations communicating their stance on important issues. We also saw a lot of brands who didn’t. Although it’s a challenging topic to get right, what a rights holder or brand stands for, and the causes it chooses to champion, is swiftly becoming its most important offering.

Silence is no longer golden. Fans expect action, as driving positive change becomes the number one way for a brand to stay culturally relevant without it being a box-ticking exercise. Importantly, this action needs to be an ongoing communication and not just a reaction to a trend.

Content strategies which regularly champion important issues and create a genuine link back to the organisation’s purpose will become even more important as audiences continue to use digital and social media to learn about and engage with activism and social causes.


4. Commercialisation of Digital Sport

“Global Esports revenue will reach almost 1.6 billion U.S. dollars in 2023″4

In response to the ever growing rights-holder revenue gap caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, digital can help rights holders diversify their revenue streams in two main areas:

i) Esports

ii) Monetising Digital Assets

Blending across markets as a format that can appeal to both video gamers and real-life sports fans, Esports is an attractive growth opportunity targeting new fans and/or new partners and therefore new revenue streams. The main challenge for Esports is ensuring that the storylines and narratives are engaging and that it is seen by fans to be on an even keel with traditional sports. The rise in popularity of streaming services will help this, as will the innovations we’ve seen during the pandemic of traditional sportsmen and sportswomen engaging with and participating in Esports events, such as the F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix Series.

Secondly, we believe that rapid turnaround, data-informed, digital-first assets that open up opportunities for new and existing partners to engage and convert core audiences are highly attractive for all involved parties. The sports fans of tomorrow are becoming more and more tech-driven with an all-time low attention span, putting increased value on digital assets. When structured and activated well, digital-led activations cut through and highly out-perform traditional partnership activations.


5. Partner For Success 

46% of fans consider cultural collaboration and authentic partnerships intrinsically linked with a brand’s cultural relevance”2

Partnerships are an opportunity to stay culturally prominent and show a different side to your brand, while reaching a new audience. Audiences are expecting more from partnerships, it’s no longer a badging exercise there has to be a meaning and reason behind who you choose to associate with.

Through choosing the most relevant partner for your brand, whether a cause, an athlete, sponsor, influencer or different industry altogether, a successful partnership can catapult both parties to new levels of brand equity. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, ASB donated its sponsorship of New Zealand Rugby to small businesses to get them back on their feet, highlighting exactly how this trend can be brought to life.

One thing that remains true throughout each of these trends, is that well executed cutting-edge and innovative content is key. The attention economy is constantly shortening engagement time, so poorly executed content will always lead to disengaged audiences.

We’re revelling in this challenge and constantly seeking innovative ways to tell stories which engage audiences and positively impact people around the world. So, here’s to 2021, the creative challenges we can’t wait to tackle and where we’ll be leading the digital transformation in sponsorship and sport.


1Spotify Trends Survey among 500 UK respondents 15-40, January 2020

2“Meet the Future” by YouGov (Facebook-commissioned online survey of 9,038 people ages 18–25 in DE, DK, FR, GB, NO, SE who use Facebook or Instagram), Aug 2020