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Fall Is The NFL’s Prime Time To Shine On Social Media

Since the NFL calendar year kicked off last April, the league and its teams have amassed over 14K branded posts on social media, engaging more than 39M followers. Some 1,225 deals have been activated across social channels during the same period.

How does this compare to NFL athletes over the last 12 months? Players have activated 1,707 partnerships via social media across 3,099 posts for a total engagement of nearly 42M. On average, the league and teams have been more active on social media so far this season than the players themselves.

Thanks to their team partnerships, 828 brands have been showcased on social media since the season’s start. Technology tops the category list by number of posts, closely followed by Alcohol, Financial, and Healthcare.

The top 5 brands by post frequency so far:

  • Bud Light
  • Gatorade
  • Socios.com
  • EA Sports
  • Microsoft Surface

Meanwhile, 848 brands have had a post with NFL athletes over the last year. For player posts, Apparel & Accessories leads the way by industry, followed by Retail and Non-Alcoholic beverages. Bud Light is the only crossover among the top 5 brands:

  • DraftKings
  • Bose
  • Bud Light
  • Lowe’s
  • Sleep Number

The NFL season is prime time for players to showcase their brand partnerships across social media. 

The top 5 posts by players and their brand partners (by engagement through September):

  1. Tyreek Hill x Soul Runner (102K)
  2. Josh Allen x New Era Cap (97K)
  3. Justin Jefferson x Oakley (82K)
  4. Chase Claypool x Jordan Brand (50K)
  5. Justin Jefferson x Optimum Nutrition (47K)

Teams are also leveraging their endorsement deals on social as the season heads into its 5th week. 

The top 5 posts by teams and their brand partners (by engagement in September):

NFL x Verizon (484K)

  1. Miami Dolphins x Gatorade (203K)
  2. Dallas Cowboys x Winstar World Casino & Resort (131K)
  3. Pittsburgh Steelers x Gatorade (116K)
  4. Dallas Cowboys x Bank of America (111K)

QSR Burger Brands Sponsorships

Not surprisingly, Quick Serve Restaurant (QSR) Burger brands are big players within US sports when it comes to sponsorship deals. In college athletics, 31% of the 153 brands have at least one partnership, while McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Whataburger lead the pack with 55, 40 and 34 deals respectively. 

The 5 major professional sports leagues are also prime targets for the category; 22% of brands have at least one deal with a team. Wendy’s (84), McDonald’s (63), Sonic (52), and Jack-in-the-Box (46) have the most partnerships with major pro teams. 

Properties with the most QSR Burger deals 

  • San Diego Padres: 15 (6 brands: McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Sonic, Jack in the Box, Smashburger, Hodad’s)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers: 13 (6 brands: McDonald’s, Jack in the Box, Wendy’s, In-n-Out Burger, Carl’s Jr., Shake Shack)
  • Houston Texans: 12 (4 brands: Jack in the Box, Whataburger, Freddy Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Foreign Policy)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks: 11 (5 brands: Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers, Jack in the Box, Whataburger, Sonic, Wendy’s)
  • Nashville Predators: 11 (4 brands: Wendy’s, Hardee’s, Sonic, Jack in the Box)

Across all property types, McDonald’s tops the deal list by a huge margin:

Top 5 brands ranked by total deals (Sponsorship & Media)        

  • McDonald’s – 925
    • The chain has over 100 deals with local news networks & shows
  • Wendy’s – 553
  • Sonic – 210
  • Burger King – 170 
  • Whataburger – 145

QSR Burger brands favor Instagram and TikTok for their social sponsorships: a whopping 86% of the 14 million followers engaged by the category’s sponsored posts span the two channels. Total engagement was higher on Instagram (with over 8.5 million) versus TikTok (more than 5 million). 

Social

Overall Category Stats

  • Total engagement: 16,088,219
  • Avg engagement per post: 1,363
  • Avg engagement per deal: 14,441
  • Total Deals: 1,114
  • Posts: 10,504 (9 posts per deal) 
    • Bally Sports Southwest posted the most (898 times for Jack in the Box)
    • QSR Burger brands averaged 876 posts per month in last 12 months

As a category, QSR Burger makes great use of prominent musicians and influencers to engage millions of followers.

Top 5 deals by total engagement:

  1. McDonald’s: Kanye West – 1,649,229  (1 post)
  2. McDonald’s: Payton King – 1,501,758 (2 posts) 
  3. McDonald’s: Mariah Carey – 452,824 – 1,265,363 (13 posts)
  4. Checkers & Rally’s: Rick Ross (a franchisee) – 809,173 (5 posts)
  5. Burger King – Chase Hudson (Lil Huddy) – 646,162 – 3 posts

On TikTok–where 51 deals generated 86 posts, vs. Instagram’s 439 deals and 1,381 posts–QSR Burger brands’ average engagement per post (57,462) and per deal (107,889) eclipsed engagement on Instagram (5,949 and 19,771, respectively). 

Top 5 properties w/ QSR Burger-sponsored TikTok posts ranked by total engagement (minimum 2 posts):

  1. Payton King – McDonald’s: 1,501,758  (Influencer Payton King has the highest average engagement for QSR Burger-sponsored TikTok posts with 750,879 (14.23% of his followers)
  2. Mariah Carey – McDonald’s: 919,583
  3. Anthony & Ana – McDonald’s: 219,648
  4. Soy Nguyen – McDonald’s: 150,678
  5. Sofia Bella – McDonald’s: 90,598

As evidenced by the lists above, when it comes to QSR burger brands, McDonald’s dominates on numerous fronts. With total engagement topping more than 11M followers on social media, the chain garners a whopping 67% of all QSR Burger engagement. The megabrand also accounts for 35% of all QSR Burger posts–averaging 310 posts per month–and has 396 social deals that generated 3,727 posts over the last year.  

McDonald’s also averages engagement of 2,531 followers per post and 27,188 per property. The Calgary Flames posted the most for the brand in the past 12 months: the team’s 434 posts engaged 600,474 followers.  

On TikTok, McDonald’s also reigns supreme, with total engagement of 4,359,806 followers–a staggering 82% of all QSR Burger category engagement. Its 63 posts comprise 75% of the category’s sponsored posts on the channel, and average engagement numbers 64,115 per post and 136,244 per property, with 3.17% of the brand’s followers liking, sharing, or commenting on content. The rest of the top 5 QSR Burger brands have 10 properties and 14 posts combined on TikTok–meaning McDonald’s has 4.5 times more branded content on the channel than its competitors.  

Of the top 10 properties (ranked by total engagement) that partner with McDonald’s on TikTok, 8 are influencers; Mariah Carey and Celine Tran are the only non-influencers. The brand recently teamed up with TikTok viral sensation Tisakorean to drop “Static,” an end-of-summer anthem celebrating fans’ love of Sprite. 

On October 3rd, McDonald’s unveiled its first campaign with streetwear brand, Cactus Plant Flea Market, to launch a limited edition Happy Meal for adults: the Cactus Plant Flea Market Box. Predictably, the campaign is already getting heavy exposure on TikTok.

 

September Brand Power Rankings

As we charge full-force into fall, here are the top 30 most searched brands by sponsorship executives on the SponsorUnited platform during the month of September. 

Thanks to a high-profile deal with the New England Patriots and New England Revolution, eco-friendly hand sanitizer maker Shimmy debuted at #1 on the list, after becoming the official hand sanitizer of both teams and Gillette Stadium. 

While the partnership was announced in August, the brand has seen multiple assets with the Revolution this season, including ads on the videoboard, sponsored email content, and entertainment-related content showing fans doing the “Shimmy dance” at games. The “Shimmy Cam” has also captured Patriot fans cheering on their favorite team at the stadium in past weeks. 

Another list newcomer, OOFOS, landed in the #2 spot thanks to a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders–its first sponsorship with a pro sports team in the US–that named it the team’s Official Recovery Footwear. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr also signed a multi-year partnership with the brand, highlighting how the shoes directly impact his success on the field. OOFOS currently has 11 sponsorship deals, primarily within the endurance and action sports industries.

Global tax services and software provider, Ryan LLC, made its first appearance at #3. In mid-September, ​​Dallas-based Ryan announced its inaugural MLB sponsorship, a multi-year partnership with the New York Yankees. The deal gives the brand several hospitality assets for entertaining during games, with the goal of growing its business and brand recognition in the New York metro area. 

Watch maker INVICTA, another newbie to the list ranked #4. The brand has inked multiple deals during the last two months, including a licensing deal with the NHL for the rights to create a special collection honoring hockey. The collection will include all 32 NHL teams and will be available for purchase this season, which kicks off next week. Another partnership announced in August named INVICTA Official Timekeeper of the Las Vegas Raiders and Allegiant Stadium, where activations include displays on the game clock, billboards, and pop-up stores during the team’s home games.

The following brands rounded out the top 10: 

  • Turo
  • Truff Hot Sauce
  • Apple
  • Kellogg’s
  • Intuit
  • Coca-Cola

Laver Cup | Activations

The 2022 Laver Cup was held over the weekend at O2 Arena in London, England.

ROLEX, the founding parter of the Cup, along with Mercedes-Benz AGHEAD & UPS were some of the brands activating during the tournament.

Manchester Derby Sponsorship Outlook

This Sunday, Etihad Stadium will host the 188th edition of one of the greatest football games of the season: the Manchester Derby, with both Manchester United and Manchester City vying for the win to move up the ranks of the Premier League. Off the pitch, let’s compare the teams’ endorsement deals and social media clout. 

Since 2008, when Man City was bought by the U.A.E.’s Sheikh Mansour, the team had won the Premier League 6 times.

Man City’s success has attracted a slew of brand partnerships: the team has 69 sponsorship and media deals, while Manchester United has 60. In terms of sponsorships only, Man City’s 56 deals eclipse Man U’s 30. 

Manchester United has long been considered the most popular Premier League club with the widest fan base worldwide, making them one of the more exclusive teams in the league. Man U leads the Premier League on social media with an astonishing 184.7M followers combined across all channels. Man City ranks a distant 5th by this metric with 98.2M followers. Man U also dominates in total engagement with 21.5M followers–an average of 1.9M per brand–compared to Man City’s total engagement of 8.3M and per-brand average of 270K.

In the last year, Man U’s following grew 28% (vs. 16% for Man City), thanks largely to the team’s re-signing of Portuguese superstar forward Cristiano Ronaldo in August 2021. The English club gained over a million followers in the two hours after the club announced the news. 

Ronaldo’s staggering 733.1M followers across all social media–almost 3x more followers than both Manchester teams combined–make him the most followed (and arguably influential) person in not just football but in the world. His 23 deals leverage this unrivaled influence: his total engagement of 196M nets out to an average of 12.2M per brand and 2.2M per post.

Meanwhile, Man City star player Kevin De Bruyne currently has deals with 8 brands and a gross social following of 43.5M, and teammate Erling Haaland has 7 deals and tallies over 20M followers. Notably, Haaland’s posts with Dolce & Gabbana, Hyperice, Samsung, and MICROMILSPEC have racked up 10M engagements this year.

Rihanna To Perform At Super Bowl LVII

Last week, the NFL announced Apple Music as the new Super Bowl Halftime Show sponsor, replacing longtime sponsor Pepsi who leveraged the halftime show for 10 years. Superstar Rihanna was also named as the show’s headliner for the upcoming Super Bowl LVII in Glendale, Arizona, on February 12, 2023.

With nearly 350M social media followers across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok, Rihanna ranks 6th within music artists on social according to SponsorUnited’s recent Music Artist Report. Rihanna also ranks 6th in engagement, averaging 1.2M likes/comments/shares across her 30+ branded social posts over the last year. Her most engaged social post–with Savage x Fenty, a brand she founded with TechStyle Fashion Group–has over 5.5M engagements since January 17th. Notably, of the top 25 most engaging music artists ranked in the report, 20 are female.

Speaking of Rihanna and Savage x Fenty, music artists are increasingly betting big on their own brands–and winning. 4 of the top 5 brands with the highest social engagement during the last 12 months were Rare Beauty (Selena Gomez), JLO Beauty (Jennifer Lopez), r.e.m. beauty (Ariana Grande) and Savage x Fenty. Of the top 50 most engaging brands, those owned by artists garnered more attention.

And while music artists have long added value to Cosmetics, Clothing and Alcohol brands, artists like Timbaland, Kanye West, and Dua Lipa are already charting the future of artist ownership in new categories. 

Timbaland’s Beatclub, a digital platform for music artists, aims to revolutionize the way music makers connect. Kanye West’s sports marketing agency, Donda Sports, now represents clients like NBA star Jaylen Brown and NFL star Aaron Donald. And superstar Dua Lipa released her first weekly lifestyle newsletter, Service95, in February 2022.

Roger Federer & Serena Williams Endorsements

While the storied careers of Roger Federer and Serena Williams–two of the best tennis players in the sport’s history–have just come to an end, both athletes are primed to continue their successful sponsorship careers off the court.

With over 34M total followers each on social media, Williams is the most popular female tennis player across social media, while Federer’s following ranks second behind Rafael Nadal. Though both were wrapping up their careers, Williams’ followers increased 7% in the last 12 months, and Federer’s following grew by 3%. This year alone, Williams and Federer have 4 of the top 5 social posts (2 each) across pro tennis players, ranked by total engagement.

Both athletes will almost certainly continue to leverage their powerful social platforms for brand partnerships. Williams’ 19 deals–among them Gatorade, Nike, Ubrelvy, Audemars Piguet, and Berlei–include 65 social posts, with total engagement (likes/comments/shares) of over 6M, averaging more than 324K per brand and 82K per post. Since 2020, Williams’ sponsored posts have averaged a total engagement of over 11M per year.

Racket Sport athletes have seen a total social engagement of more than 80M this year. Over 550 brands currently utilize these athletes in campaigns, with each brand garnering average engagement of over 140K per campaign.

While Federer’s sponsored posts since 2020 have averaged a significantly lesser total engagement of 1.4M per year, he’s focused on other promotional avenues over social media. Federer–who has the most deals among men’s tennis players by a significant margin over Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray–has starred in more than 8 commercials or marketing campaigns with brands including Rolex, On-Running, Uniqlo, and Switzerland Tourism, amongst others.

Female Athletes Dominate NIL Engagement

The evolution of “name, image, and likeness” (NIL) deals in college sports has been fast and furious since the NCAA implemented a policy in July 2021 allowing incoming and current student-athletes to earn money from endorsements. Women athletes’ dominance in audience engagement within this emerging landscape warrants a closer look, and may well compel brands that traditionally gravitate toward men’s sports to revisit their marketing strategies. 

Over the last year-plus, more than 730 brands have partnered with men in college sports–more than twice the 350+ brands that have inked deals with women. But despite female athletes’ relative lack of representation so far in the collegiate NIL space, they generate 4x the total audience engagement of male athletes, and 7x more engagement per deal. 

While men have inked over 1,000 total deals with 2,000 total social media posts–compared to the 550+ deals and 1,100 posts for women–female athletes tally a total engagement score of over 27M, versus 6.5M for male athletes. Women’s posts engage followers at nearly 8x the rate of men’s posts (48K vs. 6.3K), while their percentage of engaged followers also trumps men’s, at 5.5% vs. 4.6%, respectively. 

Women are also leading the way within each sport. While NIL deals in women’s basketball lag men’s basketball by more than 100, women’s total audience engagement numbers 5.4M, compared to 3.8M for men. Meanwhile, women’s softball athletes’ engagement on social media totals 1M–nearly 10x that of male baseball players–while their average engagement per post is 5x higher.

Olivia (Livvy) Dunne, a prolific TikToker and top gymnast at LSU, is one of the most popular athletes racking up NIL deals at the collegiate level. At 6M and counting, her staggering TikTok following exceeds that of all US college and professional athletes; Dunne currently partners with 13 brands on the app, with an average engagement of 634,683 per brand. Her total social media following of more than 8M has grown 56% in the last year, with an incredible engagement rate of nearly 9%. 

Twins Hanna and Haley Cavinder, who play basketball for the University of Miami Hurricanes after transferring from Fresno State, are also scoring big in the NIL game. They’ve promoted 15 brands on their shared TikTok page for a total engagement of 1.4M, with each branded post averaging nearly 100K engagements. In December  2021, the WWE signed 15 college athletes to a partnership starring the twins.

Apparel & Accessories Leads In NIL Deals

More than 1,000 brands have partnered with collegiate athletes in NIL deals over the last 15 months, and that number continues to be on the rise.

Through August 2022, 1,637 NIL partnerships have been inked across college sports, which collectively include 3,381 social posts. Engagement across all deals stood at 34M– averaging 20,839 per deal–while average engagement per post numbered 7,069, with 5.14% of followers engaging.

Here’s a breakdown of the top 5 industry categories in the NIL space by number of deals, with a quick look at their respective leading players.

Apparel & Accessories

  • The Players Trunk : 60% of the brand’s overall NIL partnerships are with men’s college basketball athletes. 
  • Adidas: The brand has NIL deals with athletes in 8 sports, while 51% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes (21% women’s soccer; 15% softball; 15% women’s volleyball). 
  • American Eagle Outfitters: 46% of American Eagle Outfitters’ NIL partnerships are with college football athletes–30% of whom play for Ohio State. LSU gymnast Olivia Dunne’s 9 American Eagle Outfitters posts have racked up a total engagement of 2,333,957 so far. 

 

Technology

  • Players’ Lounge: 91% of the gaming brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes, of which 79% are football players.  
  • Epic Games: College football players comprise 54% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes. While female basketball players only account for 13% of its deals, University of Oregon’s Sedona Prince tops Epic’s partner list for highest total social engagement (25,489) and average engagement per post (12,745). 
  • Mercury NFT: 68% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college athletes:  62% in men’s Basketball and 6% in football. 

 

Quick Serve Restaurants (QSR)

  • Raising Cane’s: While 42% of the chicken finger specialist’s NIL partnerships are with football athletes, the brand is the only QSR that has a partnership with a (female) wrestler–Marlee Smith (Arizona State). Football player Stetson Bennet boasts the brand’s highest total and average engagement, at 46,964 and 23,482, respectively. 
  • Krystal: 59% of the Georgia-based burger maker’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (37% football; 12% men’s basketball; 10% women’s basketball). Georgia women’s soccer player Abby Boyan is its one NIL deal outside of football and basketball. 
  • Bojangles: 27% of the chicken-and-biscuit brand’s NIL partnerships are with female athletes (23% women’s basketball; 5% softball), while 52% are with football players. 

 

Financial 

  • FTX: 65% of the brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players, while 23% of FTX’s overall partnerships are with college athletes (17% football; 6% men’s basketball). Sacramento State men’s basketball player Deshaun Highler totaled 19 posts for FTX, with a total engagement of 33,233. 
  • H&R Block: 94% of the tax prep company’s partnerships are with female athletes. South Carolina women’s basketball player Zia Cooke leads its list of athlete endorsers: 5 of her posts for the brand scored total engagement of 200,248 followers. 
  • Current: 53% of the fintech brand’s NIL partnerships are with football players. Nebraska Women’s volleyball standout Lexi Rodriguez and Arizona State women’s wrestler Marlee Smith boast Current’s top two total engagements on social, at 8,628 and 1,858, respectively. 

 

Non-Alcoholic Beverages

  • UPTIME Energy: 44% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college softball players. It’s 1 of 6 brands (along with Magic Spoon, Champs Sports, DoorDash, DSW, and Met-Rx) to have a partnership with a men’s soccer athlete–Jared Panson of Brandeis University–and 1 of 2 non-alcoholic beverage brands (along with Rowdy Energy) to partner with a lacrosse athlete.  
  • Simple Truth: 55% of its overall partnerships are with men’s basketball players.  
  • Six Star Pro Nutrition: 24% of the brand’s total partnerships are with college basketball athletes (16% men’s; 8% women’s). It’s the only non-alcoholic beverage partnered with a (female) golfer: Stanford University’s Rachel Heck.   

 

The top 5 brands by number of deals in the NIL space are:

  1. Hooters: 40% of the brand’s overall partnerships are with college football players. One of its notable NIL deals outside the sport is with University of Arkansas golfer John Daly II, son of professional golfer John Daly.
  2. Players’ Lounge (see above)
  3. FTX (see above)
  4. Raising Cane’s (see above)
  5. Degree: The deodorant brand has deals with athletes across 11 college sports; 24% of its NIL partnerships are with female athletes.  

Across NIL Partnerships, Social Media Reigns Supreme

While many brands are singling out top players to partner with, some are casting a wider net–like Hooters, which in August signed 51 offensive linemen from 10 top college football programs.

And although brands are integrating college athletes into their marketing in various ways, social media remains the top go-to tactic for them all–utilized in over 90% of NIL partnerships.

Following is a snapshot of social engagement garnered by these deals (which average 2 posts per partnership) across college sports through August 2022. Top deals are ranked by average engagement per post, with a minimum of 3 posts. 

College Football

A perennial fan favorite, college football’s NIL deals number 598 and include 1,235 posts. Total engagement across all posts was 2.7M, averaging 4,564 per deal, while average engagement per post was 1,618, with 4.17% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Braden Galloway (Athletic Brewing Company): 22,875 
  2. Shedeur Sanders (Beats by Dre): 11,244
  3. Bryce Young (Cash App): 8,490
  4. Bryce Young (Logans Roadhouse): 6,870
  5. Bryce Young (Subway): 5,873 

Gymnastics

Despite having just 52 deals with a collective 88 posts, women’s gymnastics trumps all other college sports by social engagement, with a whopping 19M across all posts, averaging 224,327 per deal. Average engagement per post was 74,776, with 5.48% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Olivia (Livvy) Dunne (Vuori Clothing): 401,619
  2. Olivia (Livvy) Dunne (American Eagle Outfitters): 259,329
  3. Olivia (Livvy) Dunne (Bartleby Technologies): 126,714
  4. Jordan Chiles (GK Elite): 7,323
  5. Elena Arenas (Starface World): 3,688

Men’s Basketball

With a total of 328 deals spanning 635 posts, men’s basketball–another high-profile fan favorite–boasts total social engagement of 3.8M, averaging 11,710 per deal. Per-post engagement averaged 4,198, with 4.54% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Adrien Nunez (Celcius): 31,376
  2. Shareef O’Neal (Savage x Fenty): 29,448
  3. Deshaun Highler (The GLD Shop): 18,880
  4. Deshaun Highler (VKTRY Gear): 12,778
  5. Jimmy Sotos (Celcius): 8,244

Women’s Basketball

At 5.4M, women’s college basketball’s total social engagement is second only to women’s gymnastics–averaging 23,163 per deal, with 234 total deals spanning 430 posts. Average engagement per post was 8,828, with 4.51% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Hanna Cavinder (PSD Underwear): 138,537
  2. Casey Ferguson (Wingstop): 76,540
  3. Jada Williams (GymShark): 49,610
  4. Zia Cooke (H&R Block): 40,050
  5. Jada Williams (Spalding): 20,764

Baseball

Though baseball’s storied standing as one of America’s all-time favorite sports is undeniable, its following at the college level–on social media, at least–pales in comparison to others’. With 52 deals encompassing 92 posts, total engagement was just 161,000, averaging 3,100 per deal. That said, its social followers–though few in number–are devoted: per-post engagement averaged 1,119, with a whopping 9.79% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Tim Elko (Raising Cane’s): 5,381
  2. Landon Sims (J. Parkerson Jewelers): 1,753
  3. Cayden Wallace (Academy Sports + Outdoors): 1,507
  4. Taylor Young (Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys): 542
  5. Steele Netterville (Gordon McKernan Injury Attorneys): 356

Softball

With 83 deals encompassing 159 posts, softball’s total engagement was 1M, averaging 12,427 per deal. Average engagement per post was 4,352, with 5.17% of followers engaging. 

Top deals:

  1. Lauren Burke (REVOLVE (Eminent): 12,736
  2. Montana Fouts (H&R Block): 5,614
  3. Jayda Coleman (Win Reality): 2,133
  4. Baylee Klingler (Outback Steakhouse): 1,176
  5. Kaley Mudge (Garnet & Gold): 1,058