Providing insights to our clients that help drive strategy and decision-making is something we do on the regular here at OBE. With so many world sporting events forecast to break records and an evolving landscape for all sports, we prepared the following report to inform and help our clients as they plan for their year ahead (and beyond).
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Gen Z, spoiled for choice, is less naturally inclined to traditional sports fandom. They’re also cementing lifelong fandom habits that are dramatically different from older demographics.
There’s always an extra human element in fandom, and that is magic. [With] one-size fits-all advertising, Generation Z is not feeling it. When you try to be something for everyone, it becomes a product for no one.
- Prof. Michael Lewis, Emory University
47% of Gen Zers have never attended a professional sporting event, and 38% say they don’t have a favorite team.
- Morning Consult
NHL Big City Greens Classic
ESPN and Disney created a kid-focused NHL telecast with real-time, true-to-game animated players and motion-captured versions of ESPN commentators discussing the game. This live game seemed to happen within the universe of the popular Disney XD show Big City Greens, providing a way for new fans to be introduced to the excitement of live sports.
Chicago Cubs X Dan Flashes
In what SB Nation called “the best promo night in all of Major League Baseball,” the Chicago Cubs embraced a complicated, but very meme-driven in-joke from the absurd Netflix comedy show I Think You Should Leave with an apparel collaboration. This ironic and seemingly niche fandom may confuse older fans, but the announcement far outstripped the popularity of other promo nights.
NBA 2K x AMEX
This four day-event brought together video game tutorials, high-tech basketball activations, esports and NBA influencers. But it also activated Gen-Z-friendly fandoms, with online influencers joining on stage with WNBA players, small businesses coming in for sneaker care and beard shape-ups, and Jack Harlow boosting the live Twitch stream.
Sport events and sponsorships risk becoming less valuable if new fans aren’t finding ways in. Embrace fragmented fan interests to create overlap with where Gen Z is already spending their time.
Consider how emerging tech can help fans see sports spaces as exciting to connect with younger audiences looking to be entertained in non-conventional ways.
What are our target consumers doing during the offseason, and how might we reach them during that time?
Rising environmental urgency — especially among younger demographics, who increasingly see this as a core part of their identity — means that governments, businesses, and communities will be paying attention to the sustainability of major sporting events, now more than ever before.
The Qatar World Cup carbon footprint: over 3.6M tons — and up to 10M tons by some estimates —more than many countries’ entire annual output.
- The Economist
Mercedes-Benz Stadium made an up-front $1M investment to achieve zero-waste, which sees a $400,000 yearly return in savings. Sustaining this costs just 13 cents per guest.
Eco-conscious partnerships and initiatives are being put in place for the 2024 Paris Olympics as organizers aim to cut the Games’ carbon emissions by 50% and offset the rest across the whole journey, from construction, to fan travel, to events themselves.
Nike Eco Basketball Hub
The project includes a basketball court created from 20,000 recycled sneakers donated by the local community in Serbia, a children’s playground, bleacher benches, and an outdoor gym.
Allegiant Stadium: Get Caught Recycling
Already aiming to be the greenest venue in the country, with massive waste-diversion and energy efficiency programs, Allegiant Stadium gets fans in on the action with "Get Caught Recycling” surprise and delight activations, where fans who properly sort their refuse can be “caught” and rewarded with team merch.
If sustainability is an investment, we are a natural partner. How can we champion our sports partners’ sustainability investments?
How can fans be brought in, a la Allegiant Stadium?
Hosted clients may have sustainability opportunities that they don’t even know about. How can we help?
Athletes often have more social media followers and more trust among fans than their teams, coaches, and even fan groups. Increasingly aware of their power and responsibility in their communities, these athletes want to collaborate on things that matter to them — big and small.
Athletes are a trusted way in for brands.
- Nielsen Fan Insights, July 2021
NIL legislation is creating a new generation of powerful, influential athletes. Name, image, and likeness legislation, otherwise known as NIL, has the potential to put hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions, into the accounts of elite high school and college athletes — incentivizing them to build their own brands and cachet as influencers.
- Revolt TV
Show Me Your Walk
Kevin Hart, Serena Williams and Steph Curry helped Chase launch a viral social media challenge and the first-ever virtual graduation celebration amid pandemic lockdowns.
#ShowMeYourWalk invited grads to show how they would walk, roll, strut, or dance across their own version of a graduation stage.
RISE to Vote
Responding to a rise in athlete interest in getting involved to better their communities, RISE to Vote educates athletes and their networks about civic engagement (such as voter registration drives), and how to use their power to better their communities.
Subway Vault at Super Bowl LVI
Athletes are humans, and not all of their interests tackle massive societal problems. Passionate about a delicious sandwich, superstars Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Trevor Lawrence designed and — onsite at the Subway Super Bowl activation — hand-signed their own limited-edition signature subs.
How might athletes be our co-champions of brand promises?
Conversely, as in the RISE example, how can we take a support role in helping athletes achieve their goals outside of sport?
Can exclusive (or not) events invite athletes to share and educate around their interests outside of sport?
Traditional achievement-at-all-costs sports brand messaging is giving way to a new era that prioritizes joy, confidence, and emotional satisfaction over performance perfectionism.
Opportunities for brands to explore a softer, more sensitive, or even more playful side to sports is especially relevant to a younger generation that considers any good feeling to count as wellness.
70% of adults globally plan to try a new fitness activity to boost their wellbeing while 60% of American runners go jogging to benefit their mental health.
- American Express, 2021 / Running USA 2022
Globally, 73% of those aged 13-39 believe that both conventionally healthy habits, such as working out, and unhealthy habits, like eating junk food, can be considered self-care – a far greater proportion than the 31% who practice wellness by sticking to a strict regime.
ASICS Mind Uplifter
Japanese sports brand ASICS created the Mind Uplifter app, which analyzes the mental impact of exercise via facial scanning and self-reporting. In September 2021, after surveying consumers’ state of mental wellbeing in England, ASICS surmised citizens of Retford in the Midlands most needed a boost and unveiled an exercise circuit in the town. Participants completed a self-assessment and facial scan pre-and post-workout to evaluate the impact on 10 emotional touchpoints, including calmness, positivity, and confidence.
The Nike Well Collective
Nike has long been moving away from the Just-Do-It, performance-first focus that once defined their brand. Instead, with campaigns like Play New (launched in 2021) and How We Do (launched in 2023), Nike is embracing movement for joy and imperfect attempts. Just this month, Nike also announced a new wellness-forward initiative that is “designed to support wellness journeys for everyone” with a focus on five pillars of holistic health (movement, mindfulness, nutrition, rest, and connection).
There is a reason you can’t stop hearing about this sport. Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the US for the second year running, with 4.8 million Americans now playing it (USA Pickleball, 2022). A wheelchair-friendly, low-impact game, it combines elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis with a multigenerational appeal. Of the 4.8 million American players, 21% are under 18, 30% are aged 18-34, 20% are 35-54, and 30% are 55-plus.
Can our storytelling around sports and fitness allow for fun and imperfection?
What other sports allow for joy and ease to take center stage? In combination with Athletes as Co-Creators, what talent interests might appeal to a broader definition of wellness and self-care?
Health and wellness is the biggest asset a person can hope to achieve and retain. How can we support this just as much as we support traditional asset creation?
With increased diversity comes increased success for underplayed sports. Both new sports and those that have perhaps faded from the spotlight find new energy, new participation, and plenty of new attention.
Golf is gaining momentum as it skews younger and more diverse. In the US, 6.2 million young adults (18-34) count themselves as on-course golfers, while 5.8 million are off-course participants (playing golf at driving ranges, indoor golf simulators, or golf entertainment venues). Additionally, 37% of today’s junior golfers are girls, compared to 15% in 2000.
- National Golf Foundation, 2022
New sports following behind pickleball also gain traction as they appeal to audience’s desire for inclusive participation.
Netball: Netball is played in around 80 countries, by over 20 million people, and it’s strongest in Commonwealth nations, while also showing growth in Zimbabwe, Taiwan and the US.
Padel: One of the fastest growing sports globally, with over 25 million players in over 90 countries worldwide, with the term 'padel' searched 968,000 times a month globally.
Golf's New Groove
U.S. rappers Drake (owner of sportswear label Nocta) and Macklemore (co-owner of Seattle's indoor golf center Five Iron Golf) are among the high-profile figures striking recent collaborations with golfing brands.
Michelob Ultra x Netflix at Top Golf
In the spirit of Michelob Ultra’s slogan, “It’s Only Worth It If You Enjoy It,” Topgolf Scottsdale’s hitting bays were transformed into the Ultra Club experience as a fashion-forward and inclusive rework of the traditional country club environment. Toasting to a new era of golf and generation of athletes, the lively gathering kicked off with a longest drive competition, with VIP appearances from Serena Williams, Shaquille O’Neal, Nneka Ogwumike, Offset, and Tiffany Haddish.
United Airlines Supports Diversity on the Greens
United Airlines has endeavored to bolster Black representation in golf by supporting collegiate Black golfers through subsidies, career coaching and access to high-profile tournaments. Publicizing this initiative, a commercial features young Black Golfers stating: “Golf is ours. Golf is Black. Golf is mine. Golf is for all of us.”
If it isn’t your story to tell, don’t be the one to tell it. Instead, how might we provide a platform where authentic voices can take center stage?
What other sport experiences might be ready for an inclusivity shake-up?
Bring in the right partners. Whether external-facing or internal-collaborating, how can we make sure we have the right people involved?
Beyond the sports themselves, inclusivity in this industry is also breaking barriers to physical areas previously closed. While there is still much to be done here, organizations and brands are doing work on the ground to provide access to the inaccessible spaces.
“The thing is, I am a 6ft Black man with dreadlocks and when I run, I have to signal to other people that they are safe. I have to make sure they feel safe, and also, that they don't perceive me as a threat.”
- British Community Counselor and Founder of Emancipated Run Crew, Trojan Gordan
Historic areas and locations such as Liberty City in coastal Miami and Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles exemplify areas where marginalized groups are fighting for protected outdoor space.
- Sage Journals + NPR
Alpine skiing and snowboarding areas are also struggling to be more inclusive. During the 2020/21 ski season, 87.5% of those who participated in winter sports in the US were white, while only 1.5% were Black and 0.7% were Native American.
- Fast Company
The Surf Ghana Collective and LA’s Ebony Beach Club are examples of organizations that specifically focus on making the beach a welcoming, meaningful place to gather. Also, British walking group Muslim Hikers marked Ramadan this year by collaborating with European sports retailer Wiggle and Adidas Terrex to create prayer mats designed for outdoor use. It also installed signs pointing towards Mecca along popular hiking trails in the Peak District.
Nike x Fear the Water
In October 2022, a Nike campaign endeavored to challenge the stigma around Black swimmers through Fear of the Water, a short film by British artist Tayler Prince-Fraser, and a photo exhibition in London. The video clip narrates the emotions that a young Black boy experiences when entering a swimming pool.
Sponsor Education and Access
Grassroots groups and start-ups are making snow sports accessible for a broader remit of consumers. Washington State non-profit Edge Outdoors offers scholarships for ski schools, funded backcountry trips and instructor training for Black, Indigenous and other POC female and female-identifying individuals. Similarly, Vermont non-profit Unlikely Riders runs biweekly ski events for BIPOC consumers with free equipment, as well as sponsoring lessons and avalanche courses.
Breaking Financial Barriers
US retail giant Walmart and racquet sports booking platform Break The Love are offering Walmart customers and associates 125,000 complimentary reservations at pickleball venues nationwide. Players can rent equipment for free and access instructive video content.
The benefits of being active outdoors are well documented for physical as well as mental health. How can we help champion access to these spaces?
Are our activities accessible to all, both in terms of race and financial circumstances, but also regardless of gender, age, and any physical or psychological disabilities people may have?
Consider guardian-brand strategies. How can your brand protect or enable? Where might we be able to hold the door for others to come in?
Women’s sports are more popular than ever and yet the media attention they receive has not kept up. With younger girls still struggling to get into and stay in sports, some savvy brands are getting ahead of the curve to increase visibility of current female athletes that can inspire the next generation.
Women’s soccer is ascendant as the 2023 FIFA world cup is on pace to shatter attendance records for women’s sports with over 1 million tickets already sold in over 120 countries. Yet only 5% of U.S. sports media coverage is dedicated to women’s sports. Among U.S. sports fans, 74% cannot name a single brand sponsor of a women’s league.
- National Research Group, 2022
In 2022, U.S. women’s basketball and soccer leagues saw triple-digit growth in viewership — the latter saw a whopping 453% rise, with data indicating that women’s sports audiences are more diverse, younger and wealthier.
- Samba TV, 2022
It's Her Shot
NBA players often credit their time on public courts for giving them their start, but that space is not always friend to young girls, one of the reasons girls tend to drop-off sports as teens. So, DICK’S Sporting Goods and Nike decided to reimagine community courts with It’s Her Shot, a six-city live sports experience for young women ages 8-18, featuring shooting contests, open play, giveaways, grants to community groups and inspiring meet-and-greets with WNBA greats and influencers.
Sponsoring Women's Sports Network
U.S. beer manufacturer Michelob Ultra has signed on as the first main sponsor of Women's Sports Network, a free ad-supported streaming television service. Dedicated to 24/7 coverage of female sports, the channel launched in November 2022 across platforms including Amazon Freevee, Plex, and Tubi. Michelob is also the official beer of the NBA. By placing sports at the core of its marketing plan, it has become one of the fastest-growing brands in owner AB InBev’s portfolio.
VISA x Women's World Cup
During the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Visa ensured the best fan experience by providing 1,600 upgraded point-of-sale terminals in nine official venues in France, point-of-sale terminals enabled with Visa sensory branding, commemorative contactless Visa prepaid cards and payment-enabled wristbands. The results found that fans across France tapped to pay using contactless payment technology for more than half of purchases. VISA also pledged to spend as much on marketing the women’s tournament as it did on the men’s World Cup the previous year.
Hyundai "The Women's Game"
For the last FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2019, Hyundai created a pop-up museum dedicated to the history of the sport, with art, artifacts, and in-depth storytelling. Tied into their True Passion campaign, Hyundai kept women’s stories front-and-center and helped to offset the existing, male-dominated FIFA museum.
Your brand has a huge opportunity here to make a name for themselves among a growing audience. How could we lend strength to amplify the reach of female sports?
Who do we already work with who might be a fantastic collaborator in this space?
How might your brand inspire or encourage younger generations to stay invested in sport?
Loneliness and isolation have taken a bigger place in our lives than previous generations. To combat this, people are hungry for new ways to find community.
Just a decade ago, the average American spent roughly the same amount of time with friends as Americans in the 1960s or 1970s. But we have now begun to cast off our connections to each other.
- Washington Post, 2022
Lacking social connection can increase the risk for premature death as much as smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.
- U.S. Surgeon General, 2023
A multi-day UK-based fitness event with workout classes, wellness workshops, dance parties and forest rides, with a focus on group activities that form new bonds with solo festival-goers.
Coachella x Absolut x Hey!VINA
Absolut dedicated their festival presence to helping festival goers meet their new BFF by teaming up with self-described “Tinder for friendships” Hey!VINA. Cocktail pairings and musical duos rounded out the theme, along with friendship quizzes, on-site meet ups, and a metaverse extension to connect like-minded women.
JPMorgan Chase’s owned Sweatworking event platform is a perfect platform to embrace this trend. Talent and thought leadership bring people together, but the real magic happens after they complete workouts or competitions together. When endorphins rise, barriers to connection fall, leading to genuine connections not seen at other networking events.
Sports can be a social glue. How can our brand leverage sports to bring people together over a common cause, goal or ambition?
Are there priority markets where loneliness and disconnection may be outsized problems that we can help address?
Fans at one of our current properties already have their fandom in common — how can we help them find all the other thing that could connect them?
With increasingly sedentary lifestyles and a lack of leisure time, people are struggling to fit good fitness habits into their routines. At the same time, quiet quitting, falling productivity and inflation-diminished wages are leading workers worldwide to prioritize their wellbeing. With a typical 40 hours a week spent at work, these two trends increasingly overlap.
More than a quarter (27.5%) of adults and 81% of teens failed to meet the World Health Organization’s weekly recommendations for physical activity in 2022.
- World Health Organization
72% of Americans aren’t getting enough exercise.
Thirty-six per cent of the world’s countries promote physical activity through workplace programs. Global Gen Zers are 20% more likely to engage with corporate wellness packages than employees from other generations.
Arc'teryx x Strava: Outer Peace
Seeing the benefits of these small bouts outdoor exercise, Arc’teryx and Strava created the Outer Peace Challenge. Any Canadian participant who used Strava to record 20 minutes of outdoor activity, four times a week received an Arc’teryx discount code for use in-store or online. Over 155,000 people participated.
J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge
The J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge is a proprietary event series that serves as a catalyst between work and wellness. Companies participate as teams and are encouraged to train together, motivate each other, and bond before, during and after the event. Tying into our previous trend around loneliness, we also know that globally, people who have a best friend at work are more than twice as likely (32%) to be satisfied with their workplace than those who don’t (15%).
Interlude's Work-Focused Content
The London-based company Interlude connects institutions with a library of science-backed productivity-boosting breaks. The subscription-based B2B brand is pushing for breaks to become an accepted, integral part of work routines.
Budgets are also a way that people manage their daily lives. Could your brand assuage inflation-driven worries about money for fitness?
Are there other habits that feed into a person’s success that your brand could authentically encourage?
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