What trends can the sports industry expect in 2021?

Happy new year to one and all! Despite the coronavirus still prowling about, the sports industry remains innovative with its developments! 2020 has caused the sector to seek new ways to champion social inclusion, generate revenue, and engage audiences without much live sport. Whether you’re a sports fan, professional or enthusiast, here’s what 2021 has in store.

Influencer led-sport

Jake Paul vs Nate Robinson weigh in snapshot: https://bit.ly/2LcnYJv

Boxing has caught the new generations sports culture bug. YouTubers, creators and influencers are edging the sport towards an entertainment entity that has established multiple debates about boxings sustainability.

Online personalities KSI and Logan Paul have opened a realm of marketing opportunities for boxing since their fight in late 2019, promoted by Matchroom Boxing. Late January saw US influencer, Jake Paul defeat UK creator, AnesonGib, in a first-round TKO during Miami fight night. Jake then featured on the Tyson vs Jones Jr undercard against former NBA star, Nate Robinson where he fiercely stopped the retired basketball player in two-rounds.

The influencer/YouTube boxing extravaganza has established exceptional levels of brand awareness from the next-gen. KSI vs Logan Paul 2 gave DAZN over 79,000 new followers, the event was their 3rd best-selling fight of 2019, produced more PPV’s that AJ vs Ruiz and the DAZN mobile app became the most downloaded app during fight week.

Tyson vs Jones Jr drew in close to 1.6m PPV buys, where Jake Paul reportedly contributed to 40-50% of the total sales. The Ohio born has high ambitions for his combat sports career as he’s been involved in controversially challenging many MMA stars for a boxing match. Some names include Conor McGregor, Nate Diaz, Dillon Danis, Ben Askren and Michael Bisping. It rustled several feathers across the combat sports world, but he became Googles highest search result under ‘The UFC’, ‘Dillon Danis’ and ‘Conor McGregor’.

US rapper Snoop Dogg has teamed up with streaming service, Triller, to establish ‘The Fight Club’. This is a celebrity boxing league where high-profile figures can sign up to a series of fights. Plus, February 2021 could see the craziest but the richest exhibition boxing match ever held between 50-0, Floyd Mayweather, and 0-1 boxer, Logan Paul. Could the world go any wilder?!

2021 will see more upcoming athletes focus on branding themselves as multi-entertainers rather than pure sportsmen and women. KSI’s former boxing trainer and pro boxer, Viddal Riley, has applied this by establishing a YouTube channel, multiple music albums and a clothing line. His marketing efforts resulted in him receiving a contract under Mayweather Promotions. US sensation, Ryan Garcia, has also committed to becoming a social media star which sees him acquire millions of followers online and regular YouTube content collaborations with other influencers.

Influencer-led sport has changed the game. Sporting ability will always serve you well, but, building a significant following provides an athlete multiple ways to engage an audience.  

The evolution of sports commentary

More influencers, creators and personalities are gaining traction for reacting to sports events. UK YouTuber, True Geordie’s Kick Off show has grown to accumulate 890,000 hits on average. British creators AnesonGib, Behzinga, and Joe Weller, were official commentators for KSI vs Logan Paul 2; they brought a massive combined digital reach of 10m+ for a commentary team. Plus, Tyson vs Jones Jr saw US rap legend, Snoop Dogg, as an official commentator that garnered enormous social media attention.

2020 has altered sports content consumption habits. Influencers are now viewed as the modern-day idols for millennials. Not everyone is interested in hearing Sky Sports post-game analysis of the North London derby. Instead, fans want to tune into AFTV to listen to the heated words their fans have to say. The YouTube channel has 1.25 million subscribers alongside 913.5 million viewers, now that’s some extraordinary digital presence for average Arsenal supporters!

The attention from internet sports pundits marks a lucrative opportunity for broadcasters to boost commercial gain. Commentary options could become included in standard sports packages where sports fans can choose who they hear live match punditry from for a fixed price. Now wouldn’t that be a way to kickstart 2021!  

The professionalisation of esports

Esports has sent shockwaves across the sporting landscape. While everyone’s been at home with little to do during lockdown, online content consumption rates have surged by over 39% across social media, gaming, streaming and TV.  

The ePremier League Invitational kept football fans entertained during the summer. This was a FIFA tournament amongst multiple players seeing millions of fans tune in. This year’s edition saw over 52,000+ peak viewers, 235,000+ hours consumed and 13,000+ average viewers tune in.

Many footballing stars and properties like Sergio Aguero, Gareth Bale and Aston Villa set up their own esports platforms to entice the next-gen. The narrative of sports supporters has shifted. Clubs are no longer the most precious assets for a general fan; the players are the ones with the most leverage.  

2021 will be the year esports edges closer to becoming professionalised due to the attention its grip on Gen Z & Alpha. The World Championship League of Legends (LoL) finals this year saw over 45 million peak concurrent viewers tune into the occasion, significantly more than a UEFA Champions League final!

Augmented Reality to shape up the future of fan engagement

COVID19 has forced sports content to step up with matchday absences proving a substantial fan engagement deficit. Some tech companies have found significant wins throughout the pandemic. They’re the ones who can capitalise on supporting sports properties to improve the stadium and home viewing experience through Augmented Reality (AR).

BT Sport and EE formed an AR partnership in 2020 for fans to access a 360-degree virtual in-stadium experience through the BT Sport app. Valencia became the first La Liga club to develop an AR partnership with ImagineAR to create a new entertainment entity for fans. The collaboration also supports upcoming sports medicine enterprises in the town, which links with Valencias project, ‘Startup Valencia’. The National Basketball Association (NBA) began producing live sports betting telecasts to encourage responsible gambling amongst its consumers through displaying real-time odds.

With sporadic spectator returns, virtual fan banners have supported fans to feel as close as possible to the game.

2021 will witness AR continue to revolutionise the industry through innovative game experiences. Videoboards will become treated like advertising space for consumers; sports stadiums could introduce larger video space in-stadiums for premium members to optimise gate revenue. Plus, digital avatars could become downloadable through club apps that act as virtual assistants for fans during a sports match.

Mass-spectator attendances will become even sweeter for the average fan. Sports events will become more personalised as clubs generate substantial volumes of data around their beloved fans.  For example, instead of consumers ordering food and drink at a bar, we could start seeing their requested beverages or meals being directly ordered to their seat in advance through innovative technology. 

Sports Streaming to dominate sports broadcasting

The prosperous rise of DAZN, Amazon Prime and Twitch has proven a threat for traditional broadcasters like Sky Sports and BT Sport. This is due to sports consumption habits differing due to the rise of next-gen audiences in sport.

Multiple sports properties have initiated joint agreements with streaming services last year. Arsenal, PSG, Juventus and Real Madrid signed up to Twitch to establish fan-orientated content for another engagement avenue with their global fanbases. Spurs’ released the ‘All or Nothing’ documentary on Amazon Prime, which boosted their e-commerce strategy by releasing documentary-tailored merchandise. Triller hosted the Tyson vs Jones Jr fight, and they’re planning to host an array of sport and entertainment content in the future from the successes achieved from the bout.

Streaming platforms have found their sporting achievements because they’re missions resonate with sport transforming into an entertainment business. This is why these channels will grow, and their rise will cause struggles for broadcasters like Sky Sports and BT Sport. Younger audiences will keep shaping modern-day sports culture and the norm of sports consumption.


2021 will be an exciting year that sees sports content tailored towards the next-gen, influencers leading the evolution in sports entertainment, a new era for diverse sports culture alongside technology leveraging a new sporting audience.

Published by Ashwyn Lall

I'm a First-Class Graduate in Sports Business Management who has worked across Local Government, Sport and the Third Sector. Throughout my career, I've developed a thriving passion to promote sport being used as a tool to bring positivity to the world we live in. This ethos has inspired me to create a website which champions this value through comprehensive online content for you to gain value from. Join me on this journey of discovering what sport can do to enhance society.

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