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2021 Social Valuation Rankings

Examining the Top Brands and Partners Across U.S. Leagues

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Social Media
January 18, 2022
June 21, 2022
 min read

Scrolling through social media is often the most convenient method of finding highlights of your favorite team, getting player updates before setting your fantasy lineup, and interacting with other fans during game action. But as you navigate your timeline to learn all the latest news, you can expect to see brand logos and mentions with nearly every thumb swipe. Successful brands recognize the potential for reaching people en masse is ever-present on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and among the most reliable ways to do so is by partnering with professional leagues and teams. These partnerships include everything from sponsored social content to strategic logo placement on jerseys, helmets, and fields of play to ensure visibility in highlights and images. We evaluated every post across the NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS in 2021 to determine which brands generated the most value through their partnerships on social media. Our results are a compilation of companies that were featured most prominently through text or image mentions on social media channels from the five major leagues and their teams. The top 25 from each league collectively accounted for more than $954.7 million worth of brand value from 310,955 posts. Our study highlights each brand’s share of value based on average impressions and average engagements, among other metrics.

Kia Drives Engagement for the Association

When the world’s best basketball players converged on Atlanta last February for the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, they each donned jerseys emblazoned with Kia Motors’ logo on the left breast. As a result, every highlight clip shared on social featured the brand’s imagery for all fans to see, ensuring broad exposure for one of the association’s longest-tenured sponsors. Kia is a mainstay on NBA channels by virtue of serving as the title sponsor for the Summer League and All-NBA teams while also being the official vehicle of the NBA playoffs and carrying partnerships with 13 teams – including the Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, and New York Knicks. Therefore, its place atop the 2021 NBA social valuations rankings comes as no surprise. With more than $90 million worth of brand value earned, Kia’s partnership with the NBA was the most lucrative team-league partnership in American sports last year. The figure represented 14.18% of all brand value generated by the top 25 NBA accounts in 2021. State Farm Insurance and AT&T rounded out the top three, earning shares of 11.88% and 10.07%, respectively. Overall, the NBA generated 5.34x more social brand value than the next closest league in our study – the NFL.

Sunday Spotlight Shines on Nike, Bud Light

From September until February, the NFL dominates sports fans’ social interactions. Starting with the morning pregame shows and continuing through Al Michaels’ Sunday Night Football sign-off, fans across the country feverishly refresh their feeds to monitor league-wide action every Sunday. And that does not even account for the interest in recaps, previews, midweek games, and offseason chatter surrounding the combine, draft, minicamps, and preseason. The wealth of content shared by the NFL and its teams provides ample opportunities for league partners to promote their products to a vast fan base. The two that benefited most during 2021 were Nike and Bud Light, which combined to earn 26.88% of all brand value the league’s highest earners generated on social media last year. EA Sports, Invisalign, and Miller Lite – all with a share exceeding 6% – completed the top five. NFL league partners averaged nearly 862.4K impressions and 7.3K engagements per post, both good for second among the groups we collectively studied. The NFL’s average engagements were bolstered by EA Sports, Gillette, Nike, adidas, and Invisalign, whose averages all surpassed 10K.

CCM Hockey Is a Power Play for the NHL

The National Hockey League has substantial commercial potential no matter where you look. The boards at every rink in the league are flush with sponsors, logos are present at center ice, and teams have helmet partners whose branding is clear and obvious with each face-off and goal celebration. Still, equipment sponsors are king for the league with a wide footprint across the U.S. and Canada. CCM Hockey and Bauer Hockey secured the top two places in our rankings, though the gap between them was significant. CCM is the clear frontrunner, having earned 15.91% of the league’s brand value share. The most influential reason for the more than 8% difference between CCM and Bauer was the sheer volume of content featuring each. Bauer earned 4.8% more engagements from its posts, but CCM had 2.44x as many posts throughout the year, ensuring its place as the market leader. Bud Light finished third in our rankings with a brand value share that trailed Bauer by only 0.12%. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Scotiabank, GEICO, and adidas followed, with each receiving more than 5%.

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Nike’s Baseball Impact Is a Home Run

Baseball purists decried any type of corporate branding on uniforms for years in hopes of maintaining the status quo of team logos standing alone on jerseys. But the appeal of more revenue ultimately won the day when Major League Baseball entered a 10-year deal with apparel giant Nike prior to the 2020 season. This past season was the first 162-game campaign since the agreement to place Nike’s swoosh on team uniforms went into effect, and it paid swift dividends for the company. The iconic logo helped Nike earn 27.6% of MLB’s social media brand value share in 2021 – the largest share of one league’s value any company enjoyed last year. Nike was present in 7,023 posts affiliated with MLB and its teams, while the rest of the MLB’s top ten partners in terms of value share combined for 7,516 posts. But Nike’s presence was not the only reason for its success. It was one of only four MLB partners to average more than 10K engagements per post – the others being State Farm Insurance, McDonald’s, and BB&T – and it exceeded the league’s average impressions per post by 96.6K.

Adidas Serves as Pitch Perfect MLS Partner

Though still relatively young compared to the other four major North American sports leagues, Major League Soccer is expanding rapidly while earning new fans and marketing opportunities in the process. MLS has added a new team in four of the past five years, and Charlotte FC is set to make its debut next month followed by St. Louis City FC in 2023. With teams in every corner of the U.S. – and three north of the border – league partners are eagerly jockeying for position and competing for visibility on social channels to share their brand with a growing audience. In 2021, adidas led the way, earning a 16.54% brand value share from the league and its teams. Audi was a close second behind the apparel manufacturer at 15.17% despite only featuring in 22.7% as many posts. The car brand was successful thanks to more than 118.6K average impressions per post, compared to only 89.6K for adidas. Engaging content was also the recipe for success for Herbalife, the jersey sponsor for LA Galaxy, which placed third in our MLS rankings. Herbalife won the league crown for both average impressions per post and average engagements per post at 198.1K and 2K, respectively. Other MLS jersey sponsors – including Etihad Airways, American Family Insurance, and Zulily – also eclipsed 100K impressions per post, demonstrating a clear boost to each brand.

NBA Partners Dominate Overall Rankings

The NBA flexed its social muscles in 2021. More than 67% of the brand value generated on social media by the 25 highest-earning sponsors across each respective league was earned through the NBA and its teams. Furthermore, each of the top 10 brands in our overall rankings has ties to the association. Nike, which also generated value through content associated with the NFL, MLB, and MLS, earned the top spot with a 12.7% total share of brand value. Kia Motors used its NBA influence to secure second in our list, while State Farm Insurance parlayed content from the NBA and MLB into third place. Among brands with no NBA affiliation, Bud Light, adidas, EA Sports, Pepsi, and FedEx were the only ones to crack the overall top 25.

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