A Look Back at 2023: US Major Pro Sports Teams Hit $6.7 Billion in Total Sponsorship Revenue

9 November 2023

SponsorUnited, the leading global sports and entertainment intelligence platform tracking over 1.6 million sponsorships and endorsements for 330,000 brands, today released its 2023 Year in Review, Sports & Entertainment Marketing Partnerships Report, analyzing a year filled with unprecedented growth and unique partnerships.

Key findings include:

US Major Pro Sports Surge
Major US sports teams secured a record-breaking $6.7 billion in sponsorship sales, marking a 17.5% year-over-year (YoY) increase across MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLS. MLB led the way with a 23% increase, buoyed by increased fan engagement and new sponsorship opportunities such as jersey patches, which were adopted by over half the teams in the league. The NHL was not far behind at 21%, thanks to innovations such as digitally enhanced dasherboards (DEDs).

NIL Continues to be Lucrative
It has now been over two years since the NCAA introduced NIL (name, image, likeness) rules that allow college athletes to profit off their image, and 2023 was a banner year for brands looking to enter this burgeoning space. 550 ambitious brands—including Shake Shack, Hey Dude, and Universal Pictures—ventured into NIL partnerships for the first time, collaborating with top collegiate athletes. Southern Methodist University (SMU) women's volleyball player Alex Glover led the charge with 19 new deals this year, the only athlete to accumulate 10 or more new brand partnerships.

Coca-Cola Dominates the Sports Sponsorship Space
Coca-Cola stands head and shoulders above every other brand in the sports sponsorships space with nearly 1,000 brand deals (938), almost double the next closest top brand, its main competitor Pepsi (499). Rounding out the top five are Gatorade (493), Adidas (446), and Nike (448). Coca-Cola also reigned supreme in celebrities & influencers brand deals with 41, as well as music artists brand deals with 17. In other spaces, Nike topped brand deals with international athletes (280), Bacardi Rum had the most deals at music festivals & venues (84), and BetterHelp was the most active sponsor amongst media properties (78).

The Power of Athletes as Influencers
2023 was a very big year for certain athletes and coaches whose impact on and off the field led to massive successes. Soccer superstar Lionel Messi's move to MLS' Inter Miami CF this year drove incredible growth for both his new team and his new league, showcasing the power of an athlete boasting 610M social media followers and 28 brand partnerships. In women's sports, Angel Reese, after her NCAA Women's Basketball Championship win with LSU, witnessed a staggering 145% increase in brand endorsements, reaping the rewards of exposure in a national stage for an athlete who was already among the top benefactors of NIL before the tournament began.

AI Brands Break Ground in Sports Sponsorships
With AI at the forefront of many conversations in many industries, it should be no surprise that AI brands have inserted themselves in the sponsorship space. Over 100 companies, including Caktus, who strategically focused on influencers in high school and college sports, especially on platforms like X and TikTok, jumped into the sponsorship space this year. The NHL led with 45% of AI sponsorships across US major pro sports.

"The explosion of the AI industry this year has shown limitless potential for sponsorships going forward, as brands can connect with fans in many new and different ways," continued Lynch. "Surprisingly, only 152 AI deals surfaced in the last year by an industry valued at nearly $100B USD. The sports and entertainment space is ripe for AI partnerships to skyrocket, and I believe they will. We are beginning to see a new chapter of data-driven, hyper-personalized, and more quantifiable sponsorships, and it is very likely to continue into 2024 and beyond."

Barbie and Taylor Swift: Entertainment Juggernauts
There was no bigger story in entertainment this year than the runaway success of Barbie. The Warner Bros. film grossed over $1 billion and resulted in nearly 300 different brand collaborations, mostly on TikTok to target younger demographics.

Meanwhile, Taylor Swift continued her reign over pop culture thanks to her Eras Tour selling out stadiums across the globe, multiple re-recordings of older albums, and a high-profile relationship with NFL superstar Travis Kelce. Her only partnership—which is with Capital One—resulted in more than 1.6 million engagement on branded posts, more than soccer sensations Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.