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| 3 minutes read

Sporting brands: About the sport or the athlete?

A new report published this month from the Women’s Sport Trust shows the positive impact and significant awareness being generated by high-profile sponsorships of women’s sport. One statistic from the report shows out of those surveyed, ‘29 per cent think more favourably of companies or brands that support women’s sport through their sponsorship, compared to 17 per cent that support men’s sport’.

The impact that individual sports personalities can have on a company’s brand equity can also be seen through the number of TV programmes and huge fanbases of programmes focussed on sports players and their journeys within the sports industry i.e. lifestyle focussed / behind the scenes sports content, which in turn has had a tangible impact on the popularity of the sport that they represent. 

For example, According to a YouGov whitepaper published this year, “The Global Sports Media Landscape”, the Netflix documentary ‘Drive to Survive’ which follows the lives and careers of Formula One drivers has seen its popularity continue to grow from its launch in 2019 to season 5 in 2023 (four times as many Britons were searching for the show in 2022 ahead of the season starting compared to figures in 2021 and those search volumes doubled again for 2023). The report states that for Great Britain over 6.8 million have watched Drive to Survive with the overall reach standing at 127 million views of any season. This has resulted in huge numbers of new fans for the sport. As noted for last year's season, fan numbers were record breaking with the CEO commenting "“F1 saw record attendance at its races in 2022 and we were once again the fastest growing major sport on social media". Similarly, with the second series of Break Point now out, it is perfectly timed for people to get under the skin of the real life issues affecting players as spectators watch Wimbledon.

We have seen this allegiance with individuals permeate even further. In the age of social media, as noted here, football clubs have been experiencing a new generation of fans who, rather than supporting the club, support an individual player. This is evidenced by huge spikes in social media following of club accounts when individual players join clubs. This unwavering loyalty to the individual players makes clear how crucial it is to pick the right brand ambassador in order to build brand equity, and in turn shows the importance of individuals protecting their own personal brand.

DLA Piper’s Women in Sport Initiative recently ran an online webinar presenting a cross border perspective on image rights (also known as personality rights in the Europe, or publicity rights in the US), their protection, exploitation and hot topics. The webinar, focussed on the legal position across different jurisdictions including the UK, Italy, Germany and the US with insights from Elena Varese, Kristina Fernandez Mabrie, Saskia Lais-Jansen and Claire Sng. To view this webinar, follow this link.

Hot topics covered in the webinar inevitably included the metaverse and for example issues with deep fakes as well as NFTs (also covered on a previous webinar by DLA’s women in sport group looking at the ability of NFTs to create gender and pay parity by allowing female athletes to control and monetise their image).

As per their report published at the end of June, IMARC Group expects the metaverse market size to reach USD 507.5 billion by 2028 from USD 71.5 billion in 2022; with reasons fuelling it including various factors, but of relevance here - the growth of demand for online games and availability of advance gaming consoles.

Similarly, a Metaverse report released just last month by the European Parliament’s Policy Department for Citizens’ Rights and Constitutional Affairs at the request of the JURI Committee suggests a huge impact. See page 145 of the report revealing a prediction that the metaverse could generate USD 4 trillion to USD 5 trillion across consumer and enterprise use cases by 2030. It is interesting that it also notes, amongst other things, that digital humans are an important part of the economic gains that are likely to be significant.

As far back as the Beijing Olympic Games, sport has been using virtual influencers (think Dong Dong) and we are seeing the growth of female athletes’ name, likeness and voice being used in gaming for example with the Women’s Champions League joining the FIFA game for the first time in 2023 (FIFA 23).

With the positive developments, we are also seeing risks emerging and growing around unauthorised uses of image rights such as deepfakes i.e. audio created to impersonate individuals without consent or payment. Indeed the UK is considering new law to require labelling of AI generated content to tackle AI deepfakes.

Generative AI will no doubt speed up the development of the metaverse so we watch with interest to see the speed at which use cases will grow and how this area develops from a regulatory perspective.

In conclusion, whilst the importance of individual branding within sports and for sporting brands continues to grow, the ways in which we protect and monetise these brands will also continue to become more important and complex. Companies and individuals alike will need to think of new ways in which they can protect and monetise their brands to ensure brand equity and, as a consequence, brand value.


uk, image rights, intellectual property, metaverse, advertising, media, sport, women in sport