When you walk into a major league stadium, you’re met with bright signage of the sponsored arena, scoreboards filled with brand advertisements, courtside banners, sponsored seating areas, and much more. Before major league seasons were postponed/canceled because of the pandemic, sports marketing was an integral way for brands to increase brand recognition and reach potential customers. Despite recent news of major league seasons starting/continuing, fans still aren’t allowed in stadiums. With this “new normal” for sports, will people still be interested in following major league sports, and what does this mean for brands?

A CivicScience study of over 2,000 U.S. adults found that more than 60% of respondents for each major league sport do not plan to “very or somewhat closely” follow the remainder/start of the major league season. (Note that the NBA and NHL are continuing their 2019-2020 season and the MLB and NFL are starting their 2020 season). Among the four major league sports, people plan to “very or somewhat closely” follow this year’s NFL season the most (40%). 

To better understand this “new normal” for sports marketing, we looked closely at brands that have a strong presence in sports marketing: CPG’s, travel airlines, and pizza franchises.

CPG: Coke and Pepsi

Coke and Pepsi have always held a large presence in major league sports. Each year, people watch the Pepsi Super Bowl half-time show and we often see Coke commercials highlighting different sports teams and athletes. We found that while Coke is the overall favorite for those who plan to follow each league’s upcoming / continued season, those planning to follow the NBA are the most likely to be Pepsi fans (47%).

Travel Airlines: Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and American Airlines

Airlines also invest a lot into sports marketing. For instance, the Chicago Blackhawks play at the United Center, the Dallas Mavericks play at the American Airlines Center, and Southwest Airlines is the official airline of multiple major league teams. Southwest is undoubtedly a favorite among each league’s base (and the general U.S. population) but is most popular among those planning to follow the NHL this year. NBA fans are more favorable to Delta compared to other leagues’ bases while MLB’s base is the most likely to prefer American Airlines. 

Pizza Franchises: Pizza Hut and Papa Johns

Pizza Hut is a sponsor of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Papa John’s highlights famous athletes in their advertisements. According to our survey data, Pizza Hut is clearly the most popular chain overall. Those planning to follow the next NBA season are the most likely to be fans of Papa John’s when compared to the other teams’ fan base this season.

Could Esports be a Potential Route for Marketing Instead of Major League Sports? 

Esports, also known as electronic sports, is a sport competition using video games. With the world becoming more and more virtual, esports is a potential marketing outlet brands could put their marketing efforts towards. In a recent CivicScience study on esports, 5% of U.S. adults who didn’t follow esports are now following it because of the coronavirus cancelling/postponing sports season. Esports is a growing industry-by 2023, total esports viewership is expected to grow to 646 million.

Among U.S. adults who plan to watch major league sporting events, NFL followers watch esports the most (55%), which is 22 percentage points more than MLB followers. 

As the pandemic continues, will brands move into virtual sports marketing such as esports? We will just have to wait and see.