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How are Sports Leagues Recovering from Last Year?

How are Sports Leagues Recovering from Last Year?

The Olympics aren’t the only professional sports taking place this month. 

The NBA finals and the Stanley Cup finals took place in July, while regular season MLB play carried on. 

With the chaotic sports seasons last year, viewership and ratings were down significantly. Despite this, networks did a good job of retaining advertisers

This year, leagues are focused on reaching and growing audiences while the pandemic limits in-person attendance. In some cases, they’re using innovative ways to attract new crowds. 

While they try non-traditional methods, how are the “traditional” advertising trends faring?

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Sports leagues seek to recover losses

The sports industry lost about a third of its value last year.

In order to recover their losses, the NBA, MLB and NHL are seeking new ways to grow their audiences and bring in revenue. 


The NBA is trying to grow their audience with advertising aimed at global audiences and genZ. 

To reach global audiences, the league launched a new campaign, “That’s Game.” The ad features actor Idris Elba and will be shown in more than 200 countries. The ad calls basketball the sport of “poetry in motion,” and reflects on the sport’s history.

In an effort to reach younger audiences, the NBA partnered with Fortnite. Players can choose from 30 different NBA uniforms and join in on NBA Team Battles. There are also “player lockers” in the Item Shop, personally chosen by NBA players.

Even though viewership for the final championships were down this year, the way marketers evaluate the value of their partnerships is evolving. Engagement across different channels might matter more than T.V. ratings. This is why leagues now partner with other platforms or services—like Reddit, Snap, Twitter, Fortnite and DoorDash.


The MLB is also growing its international audience, primarily in Japan.

Japanese star pitcher and hitter, Shohei Ohtani, has the unique potential to become the new face of the MLB. Unlike other leagues who have big personalities that pretty much represent the sport itself (e.g. LeBron James or Lionel Messi), the MLB doesn’t have a key superstar yet. 

But Ohtani, who represents the Los Angeles Angels, is loved in the U.S. and Japan, and is surpassing the performance of Babe Ruth

The MLB just released a new thirty-second ad, “It’s Sho-Time.” The ad highlights Ohtani’s performance, plus his “heartthrob” nature. The ad positions the “first two-way all star in history” as a “phenom” and a “global superstar.” 

Baseball has traditionally found its primary audience in the United States, but with Ohtani’s outstanding performance, that might start to change.


The NHL brings in about $1 billion every year—but the majority (70%) of that is from ticket sales and in-person purchases. Without attendees last year, the league suffered financially.

As a way to bring in more money, the league began selling ad placements on helmets and jerseys. However, most fans didn’t like how the crowded advertisements appeared. 

The ad placements on jerseys won’t continue next season, but the helmet ad placements will remain.

MediaRadar Insights

As the leagues take new approaches to advertising, what are we seeing in traditional ad buys?

July was an active month for the three sports leagues. There were the NBA finals, the Stanley Cup finals, and regular season MLB play. These leagues and teams invested $4.9mm into digital, television and print advertising. 

Projected through the end of the month, advertising spending will total $8.5mm. Due to delays and shortened seasons, this is up 96% from last July*.

*However, Stanley cup finals and the NBA finals started in September of 2020, where spending from baseball, hockey and basketball leagues and teams totaled $16.23mm.

When we compare the championship months of 2020 and 2021 (September and July), we see that spending is down 48% (using projected July spend).

In July of 2019, spending from Hockey, Baseball and Basketball leagues and teams totaled $5.1mm. Though this would indicate that spending in July of 2021 is recovering and down just 4%, July of 2019 had no championship games, where spend tends to be higher.

Though the leagues are running new campaigns, overall spending on traditional advertising is down. As the NFL gears up, we’ll begin to see even more money pour in from this category. We’ll continue watching closely to see any changes in buying behavior. 

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