Marketers Could Replace Sports Sponsorships With Art Galleries & Aquariums

Before spending their next dollar, marketers might want to reconsider their sponsorship strategy and approach based upon consumer shifts.

As we approach the warm, gentle breezes of summertime when school children are on break, we tapped into our consumer insights tool, MRI-Simmons, to uncover some very interesting facts. Keep in mind that our goal is merely to see where consumer interest has been shifting over the past 2 years with summer-related activities. More importantly, we wanted to understand these shifts within the context of potential sponsorships or integrations by brands.

After all, as per Sports Pro Media, Major League Baseball (MLB) sponsorship revenue jumped 23 percent to US$1.5 billion for the 2023 season. Sponsorships with the National Basketball Association (NBA) grew more than 10 percent during the last season, reaching US$1.4 billion. Major League Soccer (MLS) revenue from sponsorships grew by a 16 percent increase, reaching US $587 million. The lift is fueled by two things: more sponsors (a.k.a. more advertisers) and higher prices. We asked, “Why?”

Using our tools, we wanted to see if fan interest in MLB, NBA, and MLS had been growing and warranted such increases in sponsorship dues. Or if people hitting the beach, aquariums, and zoos had been growing in this post-COVID era. Ultimately, we wanted to poke the bear in the eye a little bit to see if brands should reconsider their sponsorship strategy and approach. Here’s what we found.

MLB has lost nearly 4.8 million moderate-to-super fans in the past two years. That is a drop of 5.5% from the 2021 high of 87.3 million consumers. This equates to a drop in hot dog sales, TV viewers, apparel purchases, ticket buyers, and such. “Moderate-to-Super Fans” are those who rank themselves “4” or higher on a scale of one to ten, with ten being a “Super Fan.” College Football is experiencing a similar drop as MLB. 4.9 million college football fans left in the past two years. 5.4 million moderate-to-super fans left the NBA. 4.5 million left the NHL. 1.9 million left the NFL. The truth is that nearly all major sports entities have lost fans. So, why are marketers forking over cash to these leagues or teams?

What may be a surprise to you is the one place fans are growing is futbol (or American soccer). Consumer interest in international futbol has grown 11 percent, or nearly 4.1 million consumers in the past two years, reaching 40.8 million moderate-to-super fans. Even MLS has gained nearly 1.2 million new fanatics—and that’s probably got a sprinkle of Messi’s influence.

Where are fans going?

It appears to us that consumers are gravitating to passions and interests related to nature and the arts. Activities that could be close to home, tangible, and more authentic.

What we discovered is that going to the beach remains the number one leisure activity, attracting 73.3 million sunbathers. What has been more interesting is that it’s art galleries or shows and aquariums that gained the biggest growth of consumers over the past two years.

More than 6.7 million people gravitated to an art gallery/show in the past year, bringing total attendance up by 40% to 23.6 million people. And more than 4.6 million additional people rediscovered aquariums last year, bringing total attendance up 35% to 18.1 million. Zoos attracted 3.2 million additional guests, lifting total attendance to 31.9 million.

Those engaged in rock music performances have grown 3 percent in the past 2 years, reaching 20.8 million attendees. For a point of comparison, country music performances pulled 12.0 million attendees in the past year, and R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap pulled in 7.4 million, while other music performances drew 22.3 million.

All of this got us thinking that marketers could get more intimate, tangible, and authentic with consumers by creating a partnership with art galleries, aquariums, zoos, and musical performances—especially in priority markets. It got us thinking that consumers may have become “blind” to advertisers in stadiums or on-air during games and that leaning into nature and the arts could help the brand to breakthrough.

What are your thoughts?

Source: 2021 and 2023 MRI-Simmons Spring Doublebase USA

Source: Sports Pro Media (MLB)

Source: Sports Pro Media (MLS)


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