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Volume 27 No. 88

SBJ Marketing: What To Expect In 2021

Due to an abundance of caution during these uncertain times, we’ve pivoted to a less-than-conventional introductory note. Fear not, however; it’s a contactless, and eminently more fluid, form of communication, showcasing pandemical agility. Our biggest concern for 2021: Has "gone viral" disappeared forever as an indication of something meritorious?


My daughter Clara Belle is still trying to get her money back for a March concert that wasn’t. We learned early during the pandemic, "refund" is now an anachronism; corporations in arrears would now much prefer that we "re-express our spend." 


Here’s to a more liquid 2021.

Looking Ahead To 2021

With apologies to longtime colleague John “Terrapin Station” Ourand, the self-styled Nostradamus of SBJ, here’s our crystal-ball look at the new annum in marketing terms. The caveat here is that live fans returning to sports venues will be an integral part of the alchemy fueling these developments.

So, any delays there will also mean a slowdown in the fulfillment of these otherwise obviously clairvoyant notions. 

Uniform Ads, Virtual Signage To Play Part In NFL Media-Rights Deal

Normally, the NFL can afford to wait until every new marketing add-on is thoroughly vetted before adopting them. However, with the advertising and media markets in the doldrums, and with every other big stick-and-ball sport offering or on its way to offering advertising on its uniforms, the NFL will need to reestablish itself in the competitive set.

We see the league either addressing uniform ads or selling virtual on-field signage for the first time as an integral portion of its new media-rights deal. Whether the NFL or its rightsholders will sell those is an intriguing question.

We’ll hedge this prediction as follows: If, after the forthcoming media rights deal, the burgeoning gambling category is granted an advertising presence within NFL programming for the first time, the resulting dollars should be enough to postpone on-field and on-uniform signage until the next round of negotiations. 

Consumer Confidence & Spending Will Be A Lagging Indicator

The succinct expression of this: When’s the next live concert or movie you are going to? Vaccines will provide some assurance, but establishing that "new abnormal" will take longer. "Math and science will help, but consumer confidence and spending within categories like travel and leisure will take time to catch up," said Learfield IMG College Exec VP/National Sales Andrew Judelson. All that pent-up demand means that eventually "it will be like ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the Roaring 20’s when the all-clear is sounded," Judelson continued. 

Added Scout Sports & Entertainment Managing Partner Michael Neuman. "I expect we will celebrate and embrace each other with epic reunions in 2021 … (but) We may be looking at the end of all-day travel itineraries for the sake of joining 1-2 meetings in person." A recent Scout study showed 70% who participated in a virtual event during COVID-19 were very likely to continue engaging virtually after live events return.

Fanatics Will IPO

We haven’t been asking about this since the NFL/AFL merger, it just seems that way. However, trusted sources tell us that when WinCraft was recently acquired by Fanatics, the “onboarding” process for some (all?) the former WinCraft employees included an offer of warrants. There are also those insisting that the WinCraft acquisition was as much about Fanatics acquiring WinCraft’s notable expertise in logistics as it was about entering the licensed hard-goods market. Surely, it's another capability with which to impress investment bankers, or shareholders. Perhaps it will be Fanatics the sports logistics company, instead of just Fanatics the sports-licensing powerhouse. 

The IPO market was pandemic-proof in 2020, raising more than $160 billion -- the most lucrative year for new issues since the original dot-com-boom. Doordash’s recent IPO left it with a market cap of around $50 billion at press time, while Airbnb’s was around $93 billion, ranking them in the top seven tech IPO’s ever. Were those the opening notes to a siren song for Fanatics?  

One (Or More) Stick-And-Ball League Will Approve CBD Category Sponsorships

So many athletes are using CBDs, and leagues investing in them is long overdue. The World Anti-Doping Agency gave its tacit approval here in 2018. We’ve seen sponsorships from this category within the IndyCar circuit, UFC, and various PGA Tour golfers, including Bubba Watson. The Tokyo Olympics will provide another stage on which the benefits of CBDs will be trumpeted. Leagues are the next logical step. A recession always foments sufficient economic pressure that one or two once-prohibited categories become acceptable. Having suspended testing for psychoactive THC products this season and last, we’d expect the NBA to be first here.

Determining who the leaders are in this category will be tougher that defining precisely when arenas will again be filled. There are thousands of CBD brands: Amazon lists seven pages of them. They’ve been knocking on league doors for several years. 2021 is the year we think one of them will open, after which the others will sheepishly follow, presumably without the pot-leaf logos that have become routine in the category.

Summer Olympics Will Be More Unifying Than Ever

Sports and society are looking for an event to celebrate throwing off the shackles of COVID-19. Call it “We are the World 2.” That message of global healing will be echoed around the world during the Tokyo Games. “These have the opportunity to be the most important modern Olympics,’’ said Wasserman President of Brands & Properties Elizabeth Lindsey. “This should be the first massive [post-pandemic] global event that looks normal -- and that’s something everyone will want to be attached to.”