SportsPro Insight | Scoring the World’s 50 Most Marketable Properties

Not surprisingly, soccer dominates SportsPro's inaugural list of the World’s 50 Most Marketable Properties powered by SponsorPulse. SportsPro’s Ed Dixon studies the ranking to find out why the beautiful game reigns supreme.

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The beautiful game is also the sports industry’s most marketable. The Fifa World Cup has topped SportsPro’s first-ever list of the World’s 50 Most Marketable Properties for 2020, leading the way in a top ten dominated by soccer.

More than 250,000 people worldwide, aged between 13 and 64, influenced the list, with 185 global sports properties surveyed across 18 countries to compile the standings. SponsorPulse’s algorithm works by creating an Opportunity Score – one universal currency to compare global properties across sport according to seven key metrics – Engagement, Intensity, Momentum, Passion, Excitement, Consideration, and Favourability. The methodology, which is based upon surveys of over 30,000 people every month, studies the perception of consumers to accurately determine people’s behaviours and emotions towards the property, and how they react to sponsors of said properties.

The Fifa World Cup, the world’s largest single-sport event, led the way in all but one of the metrics, pipping the Summer Olympic Games to first place with an Opportunity Score of 44. It was joined in the top ten by six other soccer properties, including England’s Premier League, which ranked tenth and came out on top in the Intensity stakes.

Spanish champions Real Madrid (34) and Barcelona (33) were the next highest soccer properties, placing fourth and fifth respectively. The Uefa Champions League (30) and Uefa European Championship (29) came seventh and eighth, with English giants Manchester United (29) placing ninth.

For Fifa, it’s full steam ahead to Qatar 2022. The global governing body has the luxury of a two-year cushion to prepare for the tournament, by which point one would expect, or at the very least hope, Covid-19 has reached manageable levels. The stakes are high considering the stratospheric numbers at play for the World Cup. The 2018 edition in Russia added more than US$14 billion to the local economy, according to the tournament organisers, and was said to have been watched by 3.752 billion people across all platforms.

Such figures illustrate why the world’s biggest and best-known corporations pay top dollar to align with the showpiece event. The likes of Adidas, Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Qatar Airways all hold costly, multi-year deals to serve as Fifa World Cup partners, and all, incidentally, appear on SportsPro’s inaugural list of the World’s 50 Most Marketed Brands in sport. Soccer’s presence is also keenly felt in the 11th edition of SportsPro’s 50 Most Marketable Athletes list, which sees big-name stars including Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Mohamed Salah place inside the top ten.

For the women’s version of international soccer’s flagship tournament, France 2019 was seen as a seminal moment for the female game. It may still surprise some to find that the Fifa Women’s World Cup (28) ranks 13th in the 50 Most Marketable Properties – making it the highest-placed women’s sports property – but the numbers do stack up.

Last October, Fifa announced the 2019 tournament was viewed by a record-breaking 1.12 billion across all platforms, smashing the 750 million who tuned in for Canada 2015. Add to that the tournament’s €284 million (US$330 million) contribution to French GDP and it is clear to see why the excitement for 2023 hosts Australia and New Zealand is so palpable.

Olympics and NBA break the monopoly

Crashing soccer’s party are the Summer Olympic Games, the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Winter Olympic Games, with their respective scores of 38, 36 and 33 seeing them sit second, third and sixth.

Like that of the Fifa World Cup, the Olympic brand and its values resonate with audiences across the globe, with each edition of the Games generating huge viewership and driving vast digital consumption in most countries. Ongoing public support for the event, manifested in historic shows of national pride and sustained government investment, speaks to why it is such a powerful sponsorship opportunity for brands – provided they can afford to buy into an association, of course.

The NBA, which takes bronze despite having the second-lowest scores of Engagement and Excitement in the top ten, enjoys a similarly resonant, and relevant, brand positioning. Arguably the most international of the North American major leagues, the larger-than-life NBA reverberates inside the hearts and minds of fans at home and overseas thanks to its steadfast approach to athlete marketing, an innovative media and content strategy, and a laudably clear stance when it comes to social and political activism.

Boasting a level of glitz and glamour few sports properties can compete with, the NBA is also a magnet for commercial heavyweights and unparalleled star power. Nike, its official kit supplier, tops the 50 Most Marketed Brands list, while LeBron James, who summited the inaugural 50 Most Marketable Athletes ranking back in 2010, hits third in this year’s athlete standings. A generational talent who transcends basketball, and sport itself, James’ star shines as bright as ever, with his Los Angeles Lakers, now back on their perch as league champions, placing 15th in the 50 Most Marketable Properties list, making them the highest-ranked basketball team.

Another property worthy of a mention here is the Paralympic Games, which came in at 36th with an Opportunity Score of 19. Para-sport’s blue-riband event has gone from strength to strength over the past two decades, helping to build the profiles of countless athletic talents and transform societal attitudes towards disability in countries worldwide. Its score, incidentally, puts it above the likes of the Indian Premier League (IPL), tennis’ French Open and the Tour de France (48th).

The NFL fumbles 

The world’s most lucrative sports league finds itself in a comparatively low 19th in SportsPro’s rankings, which suggests annual revenue does not neatly correlate with consumer sentiment. 

A staggering US$16 billion generated in 2018 alone – having posted earnings of US$11.09 billion in 2014 – wasn’t enough to prevent the NFL from achieving a slew of middling scores on this year’s list; the league placed 31st and 34th for Engagement and Favourability.

Business-wise, at least, the NFL juggernaut continues to roll on. League partners Barclays, Anhesuer-Busch InBev, Nike, Pepsi, Gatorade, Ford, Electronic Arts (EA Sports), and Under Armour all feature in the 50 Most Marketed Brands. A hefty rise in TV rights, coupled with relaxed team ownership and debt rules, may have fuelled an increase in NFL franchise valuations, but just two teams – the New England Patriots (17) and the Green Bay Packers (15) – make an appearance here, finishing down in 42nd and 50th respectively.

The Dallas Cowboys, valued at US$6.1 billion according to Sportico, do not feature, having also topped Forbes’ list of the world’s 50 most valuable sports teams for the fifth straight year with an estimated valuation of US$5.5 billion. Meanwhile the New York Yankees (16) were the only baseball property to make the grade, scraping to 47th. Major League Baseball (MLB) itself did not even feature inside the top 50.

The NFL had to settle for 19th on the list and has only two teams in the standings

Game on for esports

The burgeoning esports industry has two names in the standings, with League of Legends (28) in 12th and the Call of Duty League (17) in 41st.

Having emerged as the leading competition in competitive gaming, the last year has seen LoL reach several commercial milestones. In August, it struck an agreement with Chinese platform Bilibili, securing the online entertainment platform exclusive broadcast rights to all LoL global tournaments. The three-year deal is reportedly worth in the region of CNY 800 million (US$117 million), and was shortly followed by Spotify entering into what it hailed as a ‘first-of-its-kind’ partnership to become the official and exclusive audio streaming partner for LoL events.

The title’s developer, Riot Games, also now implements in-game branding opportunities during official broadcasts, helping to attract the likes of Mercedes, Oppo and Louis Vuitton. The trio join a growing list of companies eager to make inroads in a property whose World Championship was the most watched esports event of 2019, totalling 137 million hours of viewership, according to Esports Charts.

Having launched its inaugural season this year, the Call of Duty League makes it onto the list at the first time of asking. Speaking to SportsPro in the summer, the competition’s commissioner Johanna Faries said the “appeal and the relevance of Call of Duty as a brand cannot be overstated”. This has been exemplified by the United States Air Force, Outerstuff and Mitchell & Ness joining Mountain Dew, PlayStation, SCUF Gaming and Astro Gaming as league partners.

Perhaps more tellingly, Activision, the makers of Call of Duty, claim that, since its initial release in 2003, the first-person shooter title has generated more revenue than the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and double that of the cumulative box office of Star Wars. 

Amid the Covid-19 financial fallout, Faries said that esports “is better positioned for the future than more analogue, more traditional forms of competitive content and sports leagues”, something that has no doubt helped maintain the allure of Call of Duty, and competitive gaming as a whole.

Added to that is Newzoo estimating that the global esports market is now set to generate revenues of US$950.3 million in 2020, down from the market researcher’s pre-pandemic estimate of US$1.1 billion. Global advertising spend for the year is also set to rise 9.9 per cent to US$844 million, according to WARC.

The sector is by no means immune to Covid, but the upbeat mood surrounding gaming suggests more of its properties – and perhaps even athletes – could feature in future editions of 50 Most Marketable. The virtual side of the sports industry is looking very healthy indeed.