Sports inspire emotions and passion that are essential to enrich people’s lives and generate powerful collective experiences. They also attract fans, build communities, foster pride, and have a significant economic impact around the entire globe. A recent report predicted that the global spectator sports market will reach a value of $597,531.1 million by 2023. Meanwhile, brands are starving for positive engagement and experiences with their audiences – and to reach new consumers. For decades, sports have been an effective vehicle for this, and brands have subsequently made major investments in sports sponsorship opportunities. According to Statista, the global sports sponsorship market was valued at $64 billion and is expected to double in size by 2030.

Yet sponsorship of major sporting events is expensive and naturally raises questions about Return on Investment (ROI). A topic which, in the context of the current macroeconomic pressures facing businesses, is squarely at the top of the list of priorities for CMOs. Brands face increasing pressure to find smarter ways to engage with audiences and maximize ROI of their sponsorship and partnership deals. Some examples of brands leading the ‘smart thinking’ charge include Red Bull and its partnership with a range of Extreme Sports, and Nike which has implemented programs to provide grants and financial support for schools, community-based organizations, and individuals. The company also leverages its 79,000+ employee base by encouraging their involvement with local sports initiatives on the ground via the Nike Community Ambassador program (source). Through these sports-centered initiatives, Nike takes a cost-effective approach to delivering its brand message to audiences.

Brands like Nike and Red Bull have shown that smart marketing investments across new and emerging sports platforms can drive significant ROI. Plus, with hybrid access to sporting events now the norm – a trend boosted as fans and sports promoters adapted to the pandemic – barriers to tapping into audiences around the globe are lower than ever. For sponsors, now is the time to reassess the sports sponsorship opportunities that offer the best platform to deliver against brand goals.

Using social data to spot sponsorship opportunities

With more consumers turning to social media sites to engage with their favorite sports teams and players, react to live games and events, and even share personal experiences, social data has become a goldmine of insights for brands. By tracking conversations related to sports (and esports!), we can uncover emerging trends and the context behind why fans engage with a particular sport.

Let’s take a deeper look at social data from Ipsos Synthesio’s Fanzone Dashboard during 2022. The real-time tracker looks at global English conversations across social media sites, forums and blogs, and news and traditional media related to dozens of sports topics.

When we zoom in on top emerging sports and esports during 2022, Pickleball (a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong using a paddle and plastic ball with holes) stands out as the sport firmly in “growth mode.” The Trend Lifecycle mapping below shows the relative growth rates of each sport; sports in the “development” stage have relatively low volumes of online conversations and low growth rates. As sports move to the “maturity stage,” their growth starts to slow down or even decrease.

Other sports with strong growth trajectories include Calisthenics (strength exercises with minimal equipment, often body weight exercises) and Parkour (typically in urban environments, overcoming obstacles by moving, running, jumping, and climbing from one point to another). Esports generally appear at the early phases of the Trend Lifecycle with Valorant (a free-to-play first-person tactical hero shooter game) showing the fastest level of growth over this period.

We can also understand geographical differences in sports and esports trends by looking at social data across countries. Pickleball, for example, has significantly more traction in the US market, with some spill over into Europe and Oceania. For a brand exploring emerging sports sponsorships, understanding where there are core audiences is critical.

Yet understanding quantities of online conversations isn’t enough to determine a strong sponsorship fit between a brand and sport. Successful sponsorships require alignment between brand values.

To determine brand fit, we can look at the emotions evoked in online conversations, the associated sentiments, and the cultural values that are conveyed in the content related to the sport. Here we apply Semantic AI capabilities to code mentions according to Ipsos’ Cultural Intelligence framework. In the graphic below, we can see that Pickleball is most associated with values like Hedonism, Achievement, and Self Direction, and less associated with values like Tradition and Conformity.

The applications for using social data to make better sponsorship decisions don’t end there. Using the Ipsos Synthesio platform, we can track metrics like earned media value to provide direction on the expected financial value of audience engagement to support budget planning. Or even use advanced image analytics to track sponsor logos in online content.

Ipsos Synthesio Fanzone provides strategic insight reports on the latest trends, emerging behaviors, and hot topics in the sports sponsorship world. Analysis from industry experts helps you answer questions like:

  1. What are the emerging sports and esports that offer an opportunity for my brand to engage audiences?
  2. What are whitespaces for my brand?
  3. How does this vary across my key markets?
  4. What are the potential engagement benefits?
  5. What is the ROI I can expect to achieve from various sports sponsorship opportunities?

To learn more about Ipsos Synthesio Fanzone, please contact Gareth Deere ( or request a demo with our team.