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Biggest Sponsorship Industry Trends for 2024

by | February 27, 2024

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With the end of the year comes one of my favorite times. The time to reflect and predict what could be waiting around the corner in sponsorship. 

While these are by no means spoilers, judging by the current industry landscape and my wealth of knowledge and experience in sponsorship, I can safely say these are the trends to have on your radar as 2023 gives way to 2024.

Sports Sponsorship Will Continue Its Ascent 

Is there a single more profitable area of sponsorship than sports? I’m hard-pressed to find it. 

The average sports sponsorship value was $326,000 in 2022, but even that’s low compared to the multi-million-dollar deals you hear of more brands pulling off in the sports sphere. 

So, why the preoccupation with sports? Mostly, it’s because more people watch them than ever. In 2023, almost 160 million Americans tuned into live sports at least monthly. Heck, over 54 million people watched the NFL draft in 2023.

Sports are easier to watch than ever. You can tune in on your phone, your smartwatch, your computer, and yeah, your TV too. 

With that astronomical growth will be more companies that want to get in on the mass sets of eyes an average sports game will attract. I’m talking about all areas of sports, from basketball to motorsports, football (American and international), and baseball. 

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So, how can you stand out if you’re a new sponsorship seeker or don’t have the kind of reach of a Coca-Cola or Liberty? 

Start small. If you’re a community-based sports organization like a racing league, connecting with your neighborhood and seeking local sponsorship opportunities can be a great way to increase attendance and achieve your other objectives. 

As your sporting event begins to grow and you have more capital, then you can throw your weight around, introducing activations like naming rights.  

Tobacco Could Be Back in the Sponsorship Game

Did it surprise you to see tobacco on this list? I get it! 

Tobacco was banned in advertising for a long time, and many countries still outlaw these ads. Rather than continue to forego advertising, tobacco companies have begun producing better-for-you products that are more advertising-friendly.

Mission Winnow through Philip Morris International is one such example of a healthier tobacco product that’s begun appearing in sponsored opportunities. 

The Superbike World Championship, Moto GP, and Scuderia Ferrari have each worked with Mission Winnow, blowing the door wide open on tobacco sponsorships. 

Do I necessarily think tobacco sponsorships are going to become as commonplace as insurance or food brand arrangements? No, certainly not. 

Companies are going to feel reluctant to work with tobacco brands initially until they’re sure what the general consensus is.

Even then, I predict it could be a slow and bumpy ride, but it’s one we’re unexpectedly on yet again, nevertheless. 

Alcohol Sponsorships Could Dip Out 

While tobacco sponsorships should increase, alcohol sponsorships are likely to decrease.

Alcohol advertising spending dropped between 2021 and 2022. Granted, it was only by two billion dollars, but that still shows where the alcohol industry’s priorities lie, and it’s not on advertising as much as it has been. 

The numbers are still down in 2023, so this isn’t merely a blip on the radar. 

Further data shows that 48 percent of the roughly 2,400 alcohol advertisers that spent on ads in 2021 refrained from doing so in 2022. 

So, what’s going on? 

It’s the same reason tobacco sponsorship died off. There’s always a risk that the wrong types of consumers–namely, underage kids–could get into these products through exposure from sponsorships. 

Of course, it’s not only sponsorship’s fault, but television and radio advertising, online ads, and out-of-home billboards and other advertisements. 

While alcohol and sports go together like peanut butter and jelly, the trend is changing. Panama and Costa Rica now prohibit alcohol ads at their sporting events, a move they instituted in 2020 and have kept ongoing.

Now, it looks like the UK is following suit, preventing alcohol brands from working with celebrities, influencers, tournaments, events, teams, and individuals with a younger audience base. 

Could the United States make the same move, or maybe Canada? It’s hard to say, but it’s more undeniable that the tide is turning on alcohol ads and sponsorships. 

If you’re working with any alcohol brands in a sponsorship capacity, it doesn’t hurt to begin seeking other avenues, just in case. 

It’s All About Digital

In a revelation that I’m certain will surprise no one, digital integrations will continue to be a valuable part of sponsorship for some time to come. 

It’s about more than social media walls anymore. Those were cool years ago, but the fast rate at which technology moves, they’re not enough these days. You can’t (and shouldn’t) simply build out a bigger wall but expand your tech horizons.

For example, virtual reality has made a splash in sponsorship and will continue to play a larger role in assets and activations. 

Of course, VR doesn’t fit every type of sponsor or event, but for hybrid events with a twist, VR is a great way to make your attendees feel connected without having to be in the same place. 

Imagine an interactive VR concert or performance, or even a VR sports experience where it feels like you’re right on the gridiron. Could these things happen? Sure, anything can anymore. 

Finding a way to connect the awesomeness of VR technology with your sponsor’s needs is the winning recipe. 

Accompanying the rise of VR is augmented reality, or AR. Unlike VR, which is 100 percent digital, AR has more real-world components. 

I think AR has great potential in activations. Imagine having a festival or event where the sponsor’s booth lets attendees see themselves wearing the clothes or jewelry through AR before they buy. That ought to drive up sales! 

Sponsorship Sustainability Will Come Into Focus

I’m going to delve fully into the topic of sustainable sponsorship in a future blog post. For now, I want to underscore our social responsibility to curb climate change and preserve our planet for future generations. 

So, what does that mean for sponsorship?

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Well, it could mean partnering with eco-friendly initiatives to drive green change in your neighborhood or community. 

However, you must be ready to practice what you preach. It’s one thing to tell your customers or attendees to recycle and carpool and another to drive forward the change you want to see by going greener. 

That could be as simple as finding better shipping methods for event supplies to reduce your carbon footprint or working with vendors promoting sustainable food-growing practices. 

The Sponsorship B2B Market Will Grow

Sponsorship is largely about B2C, or business to consumer. Your sponsor is part of a company that wants to sell to your audience, be they customers, donors, or attendees. 

However, it’s worth paying attention to B2B, or business to business. 

Sports sponsorship has already led the charge, working with cloud service providers, data management companies, supply chain brands, financial trading companies, and consulting agencies. 

B2B sponsorship doesn’t always look identical to B2C sponsorship, although the processes would play out the same. For example, you must still have a discovery session to understand the company’s needs and challenges.

While many B2B companies are interested in increasing public perception and building their brand, not all are, so ensure you learn about their goals before recommending assets and activations. 

Crypto Could Be a Huge Untapped Market

Is there anywhere crypto isn’t these days? It’s become such a hot topic that of course, the crypto industry became a forerunner in sports sponsorship. 

For example, Stake.com has worked with the Alfa Romeo Formula One team, OKX with Manchester City and McLaren Formula 1, Tezos with the New York Mets, Bybit with Formula 1 Red Bull Racing, and Blockchain.com with the Dallas Cowboys football team.

The list truly goes on.

However, crypto is an industry still getting its footing. In late 2022, major crypto brands BlockFi and FTX had to file for bankruptcy. 

While this may have affected people’s opinions in the short-term, over a year later, sports brands have not changed their mind about this area of sponsorship. They see it as a valuable opportunity to diversify their revenue. 

It’s not only sports. Festivals of all kinds are embracing crypto, from the Tribeca Film Festival to Coachella, which people called Crypto Coachella in 2022. That could be because brands like MoonPay, FTX, and Crypto.com sponsored it, among others. 

Pay Attention to Online Gambling 

Have you watched an NFL game lately? If so, then you’re well aware how you can’t go more than a few commercial breaks without at least one gambling ad appearing on your television (or computer, or phone) screen. 

Heck, even the broadcasters will promote the gambling apps in between quarters, going to show how pervasive online gambling has become in such a short time. 

From Caesars Entertainment to FanDuel and DraftKings, mobile gaming and online casinos are everywhere. 

That could be because the industry raked in $5 billion in 2022, with New Jersey taking home the lion’s share at $1.66 billion. 

That’s followed by Michigan with $1.58 billion, Pennsylvania with $1.36 billion, Connecticut with $233.1 million, West Virginia with $109.51 million, and Delaware with $13.53 million in 2022. 

While sure, for now, online gambling seems to be limited to the east coast of the US, if it’s a sports sponsorship trend (and it is), it’s only a matter of time before it trickles down to other types of sponsorships, such as events and festivals. 

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if some pushback occurs. Perhaps it’s not next year, but like alcohol and tobacco ads aren’t great for the youths, online gambling sponsorships and ads might be proven to be just as deleterious, possibly facing a ban. 

AI Has Its Place

If you read my article about AI in sponsorship, you’ll recall that I’m not eschewing it. And if you missed that post, here’s a recap.

AI is here to stay, and it can come in handy for many sponsorship tasks, from ideating to putting together the outline of your sponsorship proposal.

Would I trust it to write proposals outright? Maybe not quite yet, but you can use it to draft an email for you, which should help your nerves if you’re stressing about cold emailing a sponsorship prospect.

I would also caution you to be weary when using AI to research prospects. It’s no secret that AI services have the tendency to make up information and present it as fact. 

That brings me to my next point. You can’t use AI for everything in sponsorship. You must still be willing to put in the time and the work to produce the outcomes you’re looking for!  

VIP Experiences Continue to Grow

Who doesn’t love feeling like king and queen of the world? If you can provide that kind of experience to an audience, that makes you a precious commodity, right?

That explains why VIP experiences are aplenty in sponsorship these days, especially when it comes to event sponsorship. 

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Whether it’s sponsored afterparties, limited booths, or exclusive areas to rest and recharge, VIP experiences are the new hit trend, and I don’t see that slowing down as 2024 gets underway.

You might not be able to buy a feeling, but the specialness that surrounds VIP experiences is pretty darn close. 

By crafting the ideal VIP activation for your sponsor, you can ensure your guests enjoy themselves to the fullest and introduce them to your sponsor in a way they’ll assuredly not forget. 

Wrapping Up  

If you ask me, the sponsorship industry is in a fantastic place and poised for even more growth as the 2020s continue. 

Although some of the sponsorship topics might not be what we’d all expect–such as tobacco, crypto, and online gambling–it just goes to show that what is old always becomes new again. 

I must end with the disclaimer that although these are trends across broader sponsorship, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll see them trickle down to your industry or niche. 

That’s okay! Be cognizant of what the sponsorship industry is experiencing as a whole and stick with what works for your audience and sponsors.