Professional sports remains a core pillar of global entertainment and culture, with billions of fans attending match days or tuning in from the comfort of their homes every week.
As a result, the industry continues to achieve unrivalled commercial success, generating billions of dollars in revenues annually - approximately 33% of this coming from lucrative sponsorship deals. Franchises and teams continue to effectively maximise sponsorship inventory in access points that are perceived to offer high levels of exposure to audiences - weaving the presence of the brand’s identities and messaging into the matchday experience.
From stadium naming rights to venue signage and assets such as kits or vehicle liveries, brands invest significant marketing spend for exposure to dedicated fan audiences, establishing awareness and association amongst these communities. Recent insights from PWC suggest this trend will only further accelerate, with global sponsorship revenues forecasted to surge by 71% to over $109 billion by 2030.
The NFL, in particular, saw record sponsorship revenues in the 2022/23 season, reporting $2.7 billion across the 32 clubs, an increase of almost 50% from the prior year. The business model has proven resilient to turbulent economic conditions, evolving from passive placements to more complex activations that deliver clear and measurable business outcomes for brands.
In an effort to support long-term industry growth, sports franchises and rights-holders have begun to explore new ways to engage their audiences - particularly with engaging diverse international audiences, with leagues such as the NFL now opting to play league games in Europe and Mexico to maximise reach and generate international interest in the sport.
Collaborations with celebrities, influencers, and alternative entertainment franchises have also unlocked new opportunities for leagues - with recent examples such as Toy Story’s ‘Funday Football’ animated shows providing an innovative approach to engaging next-generation audiences and providing an educational introduction to NFL football in a familiar and fun animated environment.
With over 3 billion players globally and growing, gaming has also proven a highly effective medium for intensifying relationships between rightsholders and diverse audiences, transforming passive attention into active fandom. In particular, sports simulation titles, through years of development and refinement, now offer 1:1 recreations of real-world sporting environments that enable audiences to access and recreate experiences they could historically only follow.
Bridging The Gap
Unlike traditional sports, where fixtures are predefined and limited to a schedule, digital stadium environments are permanently accessible, enabling unprecedented 24/7 consumption and subsequent exposure to branded content. Through mirroring traditional inventory, such as pitchside hoardings, billboards, and stadium screens, advertisers can deliver messaging in contextually relevant virtual spaces where fans have come to expect the presence of advertising - further bridging the authenticity gap between real-world and virtual experiences.
Gaming as a medium can be seen to complement existing sports business sponsorship models rather than disrupt them, empowering teams and their corporate partners to deliver unique activations that truly transform fan experiences.
This was reinforced in 2021 when, during my time at Electronic Arts, we pioneered the world’s first virtual stadium sponsorship deal with Pizza Hut in the fan-favourite Madden series. The milestone deal demonstrated the transferable value of existing real-world partnerships in premium gaming environments, unlocking a new channel for direct and targeted communication with fans.
Bidstack Sports builds on this vision to revolutionize traditional models for sports fan engagement, sponsorship revenues and media valuations by enabling rights-holders to monetize their virtual sponsorship inventory in parallel with real-world agreements. Bidstack’s technology enables the instantaneous deployment of targeted messaging within a continuously evolving portfolio of premium sports simulation titles.
Most recently, Bidstack Sports announced a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Washington Commanders. The iconic NFL franchise broke new ground as the first club to utilise NFL PRO ERA, an award-winning and best-selling VR title by StatusPRO, as a dynamic messaging vehicle for cross-promotion. The collaboration extends the team’s commercial presence for existing and future club partners into immersive virtual stadiums - unlocking a whole new audience for brand partners.
As more leagues and franchises adopt this technology, it will continue to underpin a new commercial frontier for the entire sports industry - transforming the volume and value of traditional sponsorship assets by extending their reach into currently untapped new mediums.