Sports & Entertainment Marketing Trends for 2021

By Sam Steele & Lucy Cadel, 1 March 2021 | 8 mins read

2020 changed everything. Sports and entertainment marketing was turned on its head, and brands, teams, leagues, and fans had to find new ways of doing things, fast. As the dust settles on a year like no other, we’ve taken a look at how the sports and entertainment industry has adapted, and what the biggest trends of 2021 are likely to be. So, let’s dive right in.


Political stands in sport are no new thing – but what we’ve seen over the last few years is a growing support for sport as a platform for change, and for athletes to be the ones driving it. While the debate about athletes taking the knee, and its effectiveness in tackling racism, rages on, the simple fact is that politics and sport are no longer two separate entities.

I don’t have the education of a politician, many on Twitter have made that clear today, but I have a social education having lived through this and having spent time with the families and children most affected. These children matter... And as long as they don't have a voice they will have mine.
Marcus Rashford, Manchester United

Athletes, arguably, have more influence on society than the politicians elected to lead, and certainly have bigger social media followings to put to use in support of the causes that matter to them. Some argue that politics has no place in sport, but when the very people who stand up for equality and justice are abused daily on social media simply for the colour of their skin, it goes to show that this is an issue much bigger than sport.

We believe that 2021 will see more, and bigger, opportunities for sport to step up, learn and tackle these issues face on – especially with the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, EURO 2020, and much more on the horizon.


While investment in, and the promotion of, women’s sport is lagging far too far behind men’s games, the tide is turning. Sponsors, broadcasters, and content creators are becoming more and more aware of the potential of female teams and athletes across a full spectrum of sports. Take the W Series, for example. In 2018, this female-only racing series launched to showcase the talents of women drivers to the world. And, in 2021, the race calendar will consist of eight F1 support races.

2020 put a temporary hold on much of the progress made in women’s sport. However, we believe that 2021 will see it make up for lost time in this crucial target market. And we’re not the only ones…

2021/22 may prove to be the breakaway season for women’s sports revenues. Prior to Covid-19, matchday audiences, TV viewing figures and fan bases for women’s sports had been building at phenomenal pace. As social distancing measures lift, pent-up demand for live sporting events will collide with the growing fan base for women’s sports. Brands have a significant opportunity to seize the moment to explore new opportunities in the market, which have the potential to bring immense value, not only in monetary terms, but also as a signal for their support of gender parity.
Izzy Wray, Consultant, Deloitte’s Sports Business Group


Not just a big deal for the sports and entertainment industry, but in every facet of our lives, sustainability is set to be huge.

One competition that we are incredibly excited about is Extreme E – a fully-electric, off-road racing series that will see SUVs race in remote places across the world to raise awareness of climate change, and its effects.

Of course, brands – and the teams and athletes they sponsor – are also rising to the sustainability challenge. Which, if they want to keep their fans, is a smart move. While Adidas recently became the 1,500th apparel company to join the Fur Free Retailer programme – alongside Lacoste, North Face, and ASOS, no less – they have also been expanding their Our Icons go Vegan line – including their Stan Smith, Samba and Continental 80 sneakers.

We have already been exclusively sourcing more sustainable cotton since 2018, and will only be using recycled polyester from 2024.
Frank Henke, Senior Vice President of Sustainability, Adidas

Adidas are, however, playing catch-up. When it comes to big brands doing their bit, Patagonia are streets ahead. Instead of focusing on producing on-trend, fast fashion, their approach is to focus on the lifecycle of each of their products. 100% of the cotton used in their products is grown organically, 72% of clothing lines use recycled materials, and 100% of their down is traceable.

But their efforts aren’t limited to just their clothes. Every workspace is environmentally friendly, and is designed to minimal environmental damage. They use renewable energy sources, incentivise team members to use green transport, and even encourage customers to repair their damaged clothes, and inspire others in doing so. If a big brand like Patagonia can do it, there’s no reason everyone else can’t, too.


While all sports fans are itching to get back into their favourite stadium, and the appetite for live events will be MASSIVE, there are a serious amount of safety concerns to address before this can happen. Digital tech will continue to fill the void left by live sports, keeping fans invested in what’s happening with their teams, even when they can’t see them live. This is paramount for growing global audiences, too – as for fans further afield, for whom stadium visits are likely impossible, an engrossing matchday experience can be a valuable asset in retaining, and heightening, their interest.

In fact, information in a report from Deloitte suggests that one-third of football fans in the UK are interested in behind-the-scenes content from their teams – which is second only to attending matches when it comes to enjoying the sport. And, with the rise of platforms such as Twitch, watching is becoming almost as competitive as playing. BT Sport’s Watch Together functionality can see customers share the game with their friends through the BT Sport app, showing that broadcasters are trying to get in on the act, too.


It’s estimated that there will be over 250 million eSports enthusiasts worldwide by the end of the year – plus an additional 300 million occasional consumers – accelerated partly by COVID-19, but also by the fact that major investment is being made in the arena.

According to research by Verizon, gaming viewership is up 75% during peak hours in North America. And, as the industry is already bigger than music and movies combined, with a strong millennial skew, developers have sought to cash in on the opportunity.

In fact, OverActive Media has announced plans to build a 7,000-seat eSports and entertainment venue at Exhibition Place in Toronto, Canada. It won’t be ready until 2025, but 2021 is sure to see more announcements of this sort, as cities – and companies – battle for eSports supremacy.

Today is another important step in the evolution of OverActive Media. We are building a world-leading, 21st-century sports media and entertainment company and this best-in-class performance venue will be the chosen home for a new generation of fans that think differently about their entertainment choices and experiences.
Chris Overholt, President and CEO, OverActive


Formula 1, the NFL, and the Premier League were just three of the world’s biggest sporting properties to take to online events during 2020. And, while sports will be looking to get back to live events as soon as possible, there’s merit in strategies to maintain their virtual presence. 2020’s virtual NFL Draft was a monumental success, from an event marketing perspective, with an average audience of over 8 million – up 35% on 2019. Plus, through TikTok, they were able to capture 580 million views of their #GoingPro challenge to engage a younger audience amidst a less traditional marketing approach.

How the NFL blends its virtual and physical worlds for this year’s Draft remains to be seen, but we’re certainly excited to see what they come up with, given the success of last year.


The knock-on effect of the pandemic will be felt financially, for sure. Reduced budgets will lead to increased scrutiny on sports marketing partnerships, and brands will be expecting a decent ROI from their partners. The economic downturn could, however, open up space for more opportunistic brands in a buyers’ market. Sport, like many things, will rely heavily on data – making it more accountable, and measurable, than it already is.

2021 is, like its predecessor, a year like no other. While the world recovers from the effects of the pandemic, new opportunities will arise, and old ways of doing things will fight for relevance in a new, revolutionary market. Whatever the year holds, at Maverick S+E we’re ready to help you take advantage of this exciting, ever-changing market.