The early days of the pandemic forced a pause in brand activation strategy for live esports events as some brands put their sponsorships and exhibiting activities on ice amid event cancellations. This is reflected in the number of esports sponsorships deals, which contracted in 2020 after a massive leap the year earlier. Still, as data from Nielsen Sports Sponsorglobe contained in Nielsen’s 2022 Global Sports Marketing Report [download page] makes clear, last year brought about a new influx of sponsorship deals.
The number of publicly announced esports sponsorships deals reached 2,254 last year, per Nielsen’s count, up 26% from 1,785 a year earlier. Considering that 5 years earlier, in 2016, there were just 463 publicly announced deals, last year’s figure represents an impressive rise.
Brands are clearly trying to reach a burgeoning fan base. Data from Nielsen Esports Fan Insights indicates that half of esports fans around the world only started following the activity in the past 2 years. And in the past year, the fan base grew more quickly for females (+19%) than males (+12%). With the fan base for the 35-40 age bracket expanding at the same rate as that of the 18-25 bracket (each at +14%), Nielsen notes a “diversification of gaming and esports fandom.”
Broadly speaking, brands seem likely to reap the rewards of sports sponsorships. In analyzing 100 sports sponsorships between 2020 and 2021 in 7 markets across 20 industries, Nielsen reports that they fueled an average 10% lift in purchase intent among the exposed fan bases.
Moreover, data from Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising report indicates that 81% of respondents either “completely” or “somewhat” trust brand sponsorships in sporting events, a figure above TV ads (78%) and second only to recommendations from acquaintances (89%).
As for sponsoring businesses, the study reveals a huge increase (+1,100%) in new sports sponsorship deals by crypto/blockchain/NFT businesses between 2019 and 2021, growing to surpass the number of sponsorship deals by insurance (+27%) and airline (-28%) companies. (The Automotive sector remains far ahead of the pack in terms of sports sponsorships.) Perhaps not so coincidentally, separate data indicates that sports fans display an above-average interest in cryptocurrency and NFTs.
Looking ahead, Nielsen forecasts that blockchain company investments in sports sponsorships will grow by 778% between 2021 and 2026 to reach $5 billion USD, on par with sponsorship spend by IT software/hardware companies and drawing closer to Automotive sponsorship spend.