Sports: Trends and insights round-up for 2021

Graeme BruceBusiness Data Journalist
December 13, 2021, 9:20 PM GMT+0

In this piece, we’re rounding up the highlights of a year of sports insights and trends. 

Major league sport 

NBA Data from YouGov Global Fan Profiles reveals that the reach of the NBA is truly astronomical. In the Philippines over 60% of the population indicate a high level of interest in the marquee basketball competition. Next on the list is China (38%), closely followed by Canada (30%), whose Toronto Raptors are the only non-American team in the NBA. Other markets tested appear to have very strong NBA interest too. Only in Australia (19%), which has the widest time zone difference with the US, do numbers dip below 20%. That’s nevertheless very healthy. 

This year, we also looked at the global reach of the NHL. As some parts of the world begin to emerge from the clutches of pandemic restrictions and as the league starts the process of returning to normal, YouGov took a closer look at team fandom across those international markets. There’s no denying the love of hockey in parts of Europe. Once upon a time, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly mused publicly about a permanent presence across the Atlantic. Of course, that never came to be, but the league has hosted games in Germany, Switzerland and Sweden in recent years.

YouGov data was able to track the brand performance of the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros as they fought their way to the World Series in the US by looking at each team’s Buzz score – which measures positive chatter around the team. The Braves saw a substantial boost in their Buzz score leading up to clinching their playoff spot on Sept. 30, posting a 124% increase in the month of September, with modest gains thereafter. At the same time, the Astros saw an 86% hike in their Buzz score but continued an upward trend throughout their playoff run. While Houston scores lower than the Braves, the team experienced greater gains between the start of September and the last week of October.

Turning to the NFL – and specifically Super Bowl LV – YouGov monitored Ad Awareness of some brands who purchased commercial space for the big game. This year was particularly challenging for brands as they had to speak to a nation experiencing deep political strife while under COVID restrictions. The brands which saw the highest increase in Ad Awareness among Americans around the time of the Super Bowl were Rocket Mortage, Bud Light, Cheetos, Jeep, and Uber Eats. Stay tuned for a similar analysis in 2022.

Olympic sport 

As the postponed 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo drew closer, international data from YouGov shows just how popular each Olympic sport is around the world. Among global consumers in the more than two dozen markets in which YouGov conducts research via the Global Fan Profiles tool, swimming is most followed by fans of the games. Along gender lines, we see that male fans around the world are more likely than women to follow team sports, such as basketball and football/soccer, while women are more likely to follow gymnastics, both rhythmic and artistic, as well as diving.

College sport 

The NCAA’s policy change allowing athletes to sell their name, image and likeness (NIL) opened the floodgates to many college athletes cashing in on their fame. YouGov consumer research in the United States showed how valuable college athlete endorsements can be for brands. Roughly a quarter of American sports fans say they’re more likely to notice a product or service that is endorsed by a college athlete they like or follow (26%), according to YouGov purchase journey data. One in five fans would consider buying the product (20%), 18% would likely purchase the product and 18% would recommend the product. 

Football/soccer 

Perhaps the biggest news of the year in European football was the creation – and dissolution – of the European Super League. The initial news was met with a strong response from both the media and fans and data from YouGov BrandIndex reveals the extent of the impact the news had on the reputation of UK clubs ­­-­- Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City. Each team witnessed a heavy drop in its Buzz Score, which is a net score of the positive and negative things respondents have heard about a club. 

Women in sport 

Finally, we’d like to highlight our research on women in sport. Understanding how women’s sport is perceived around the world can provide marketers with an inside track on identifying where the greatest value lies. Although women’s sport is currently less popular than men’s, there is no reason it must continue to be so – as illustrated in our Women in Sport Report 2021. Among our findings, a plurality of global consumers (40%) cite a lack of media coverage as a reason why the public don’t engage more in women’s sports, while a lack of knowledge about the teams and players (35%), and limited marketing (30%) are also perceived as significant barriers. Read the comprehensive look at women and sport here.  

The sports world was one of the hardest hit industries in the COVID-19 pandemic. While 2021 marked the return to normal for most pro leagues, renewed anxiety around new variants threatens that recovery. YouGov will continue to monitor the situation of all aspects of global sport.

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