Sports industry trends in 2021

As we are moving towards the end of 2021, it might be a good time to review some preliminary results. What has this year brought to the sport industry and how has this industry fared in Russia in 2021? What new trends have emerged this year? Which of them could have been predicted? And most importantly, which ones will remain significant for a long time? Let’s try to make some predictions for the future.

Unlike in 2020, COVID-19 remained with us throughout the year 2021; when the global pandemic just broke out in spring 2020, nobody could really predict anything. It has become obvious by now that the coronavirus will not go anywhere in 2022 either; this means we need to learn how to live and grow regardless. There are certain trends in sport that have emerged largely due to the global pandemic as well as the resulting restrictions and safety measures. Other trends are due to changes in the industry itself. I will try to outline five of them, rather subjectively.

Offline to online transition in sports

Many competitions had to be postponed or canceled in 2021. Eventually, it became clear that for some sports, events can be held online. Among the trailblazers were rhythmic gymnastics, figure skating and even track and field athletics. Athletes competed at venues in different countries, even on different continents. Overall, the experience has been positive, although it must certainly be admitted that those were small tournaments and they felt more like a trial run in many respects.

Chess is a clear leader, with multiple tournaments held online this year. The 2nd FIDE Online Olympiad took place in September 2021, attended by national teams from 153 countries. We can assume that the trend will persist.

Those were trends in professional sports.

There are other segments though, such as fitness industry, that are also launching many online products. Numerous fitness clubs sell personal and group training sessions. Many clubs have started holding online workouts to minimize losses as much as possible. This year, some customers have returned to gyms while many found working out online more convenient. Thanks to online services, many fitness clubs have expanded their customer base, reaching customers from other cities. Therefore, this trend will continue to grow.

Digitalization of sports

Many digital innovations have already made their way into the sports industry. Sports organizations, including federations, professional clubs and leagues, are learning how to use digital marketing tools and SMM. It is a significant factor in increasing profits. Digital platforms and websites are already competing with television channels for sport broadcasts. In fact, we can say that sport events are increasingly moving online and this trend will be growing stronger — fast.

Sports entrepreneurship

This trend is not new; however, the pandemic has been a substantial boost to it. Many private sports clubs and schools have opened this year and quickly found customers. The running industry is booming thanks to the growing number of marathons and running clubs. Although this entrepreneurship trend remains limited to mass sports.

PR with a touch of scandal

The fourth trend is rather controversial because we are talking about fast promotion and rise in popularity of sports thanks to PR with a touch of scandal. Take, for example, figure skating and rhythmic gymnastics.

To be fair, we should note that sport federations have not been involved in this kind of PR as they usually focus on different goals and objectives. Numerous media outlets and social media platforms seem to have played a part in this. This year has been marked by many scandals, showdowns and bickerfests between the camps and teams of Evgeni Plushenko and Eteri Tutberidze. Their rumbles seem to have actually made figure skating more popular among athletes and viewers alike.

Another example is the performance of the Russian rhythmic gymnastics team at the Tokyo Olympics. We are so used now to the fact that our gymnasts are the best that their defeat came like a thunderbolt from a clear sky. Of course, it is hard for ordinary viewers and non-professionals to assess judges’ decisions, but thanks to extensive media coverage, we learned much more about rhythmic gymnastics and this sport gained even more popularity among the public and in the media.

Although truth be told, the popularity of these two sports is largely due to the achievements that our athletes continue to show for many years.

Perhaps this trend will somehow change but it should be admitted that the influence of the media and social media on the popularity of a specific sport will only be getting bigger.

Professional athletes and sport stars turned bloggers

There are many bloggers among active and successful athletes these days. Some of them have even more followers than the websites of their federations. This trend is new and it benefits both the bloggers and the sports they represent. This trend is definitely here to stay.

There may be more than five current trends in the sports industry but those listed above are the biggest in 2021 and we only expect them to grow in 2022.

By Vladimir Lednev, Vice-President, Moscow Financial and Industrial University Synergy, Research Director at the Faculty of the Sports Industry, Head of the Sports Management Department, Doctor of Economics, Full Professor

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