What was everyone worried about?

Having spent much of the last two years talking about how sport should be preparing itself for a barren spell in the wake of the pandemic, 2021 seemed to challenge that theory as rights holders – at the top table, at least – signed off on contracts worth more than any the industry has seen before.

Whether it was new domestic broadcast deals for some of the world’s premier sports leagues, cryptocurrency platforms throwing huge wads of cash at whoever would pay them any attention, or state-owned investment funds buying social institutions, substantial sums of money changed hands in sport over the last 12 months.

While each of those deals has the potential to bring about significant change within the industry, one thing has remained consistent – SportsPro has been following it all.


With much of the world still stuck in lockdown it took a bit of time for the sports industry to awaken from its festive slumber. However, that soon changed when World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) made the surprise decision to shut down its WWE Network over-the-top (OTT) service and migrate it to NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform in a five-year, US$1 billion deal.

Elsewhere in the US, Mark Davis added another Las Vegas-based major sports franchise to his portfolio with the acquisition of the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Aces, who themselves only arrived in Sin City in 2018 when the franchise was sold to MGM by San Antonio-headquartered Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

January also saw more American investment in English soccer as 49ers Enterprises upped its stake in Premier League side Leeds United to 37 per cent, having initially acquired 15 per cent of the club for a reported UK£10 million back in 2018. The investment arm of the National Football League’s (NFL) San Francisco 49ers would later increase its share again in November, this time to 44 per cent, with Andrea Radrizzani’s Aser Ventures continuing to hold a majority interest in the Yorkshire club – at least for now.

Meanwhile, tennis ace Naomi Osaka kickstarted a busy few months commercially by signing endorsement deals with Louis VuittonTag Heuer and Workday. Later in the year she also teamed up with Panasonic.

Other deal highlights:

Welcome to the team, Naomi!

One of the greatest athletes in the world, our newest brand ambassador @NaomiOsaka embodies the values of TAG Heuer’s #DontCrackUnderPressure motto, precision and an avant-garde approach on and off the court. Discover more at: https://t.co/uYchdYBpb0 pic.twitter.com/o9qzeUCBHB

— TAG Heuer (@TAGHeuer) January 19, 2021


Saudi Arabia hinted at what was to come in February when it became one of the biggest backers of the Ladies European Tour (LET). The kingdom’s state-owned oil company was unveiled as the sponsor of the Aramco Team Series, a new set of four events each offering a prize fund of US$1 million, which proved to be just the beginning of the country’s golf investments in 2021.

Speaking of those increasingly pumping vast amounts of money into sport, private equity firm CVC made its latest move through a partnership with the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB). The agreement, which – depending on who you believe – is worth somewhere between US$100 million and US$300 million, led to the creation of a new commercial entity to operate volleyball’s international events and attracted an experienced executive team including Finn Taylor, once head of Cirque de Soleil’s global touring show.

Meanwhile, Amazon made its first play in Australia by acquiring the domestic and global rights to events organised by Swimming Australia, which had been left in the lurch after seeing its deal with commercial free-to-air broadcaster Seven terminated due to the pandemic.

Other deal highlights:


The biggest sports broadcast story of this year and perhaps for several years to come landed in March as the NFL signed off on its new domestic television deals, pocketing more than US$110 billion over 11 years in the process. The agreements mean that the league will remain on CBS, ESPN/ABC, Fox, NBC and Amazon from 2023 to 2033, while also ensuring that games are distributed across a mix of linear and streaming platforms to legislate for a media landscape that is evolving at a rapid pace.

Media rights deals proved to dominate the month of March, which also saw historic contracts signed in European soccer. England’s Football Association (FA) announced pay-TV network Sky Sports and public service broadcaster the BBC as the new home of the Women’s Super League (WSL) in a deal reported to be worth UK£10 million a year, including production. DAZN also claimed its biggest deal to date when Italy’s Serie A clubs gave the green light to the subscription streaming service’s €2.5 billion offer, giving it domestic coverage of the top-flight competition until 2024.

In sponsorship news, Manchester United reminded everyone that their brand remains in relatively rude health despite the team’s recent on-pitch struggles. A new shirt sponsorship deal with technology company TeamViewer will reportedly pay the club an annual €55 million, which is down on what car manufacturer Chevrolet was paying, but still represented a significant commitment against the backdrop of the pandemic.

Finally, the stateside sports betting craze continued to gather momentum with DraftKings committing a reported US$350 million over five years to become the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) first-ever official sportsbook and daily fantasy partner in the US and Canada.

Other deal highlights:

March saw Sky Sports become a domestic broadcaster of the Women’s Super League


Chinese streaming platform Huya provided another example of the large sums companies are prepared to pay for esports rights by offering CNY 2,013 million (US$310 million) to secure exclusive coverage of the League of Legends Pro League from 2021 until 2025.

In traditional sports, the National Hockey League (NHL) wrapped up the sale of its US media rights for the next seven years, announcing a deal with Turner Sports reportedly worth US$225 million a year. The WarnerMedia sports subsidiary was one of two broadcasters that replaced NBC as the US home of the ice hockey league from the start of the ongoing 2021/22 season. A month earlier, ESPN tabled a bid reportedly valued at US$400 million annually to secure coverage across its various platforms, in addition to the NHL’s out-of-market streaming package for ESPN+.

April also saw the money keep pouring in for the NFL which, according to Sports Business Journal (SBJ), secured an annual US$120 million over the next six years from its new data partnership with Genius Sports. It proved to be a lucrative month all round for North America’s major leagues, with Major League Soccer (MLS) adding Procter & Gamble as a sponsor in a deal that CNBC claims will amount to as much as US$100 million over five years.

Other deal highlights:


The month of May started with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) adding Google to its top-tier Changemaker sponsorship category, in a move that designated the technology giant as the presenting partner of both the WNBA on ESPN and the league’s playoffs. Other notable sponsorship deals in the month included chocolate brand Cadbury replacing the Qantas airline as the main sponsor of the Australian men’s national rugby union team, while Los Angeles 2028 added professional services firm Deloitte to a portfolio that also includes the likes of Salesforce, Delta Air Lines and Comcast.

Meanwhile, English soccer’s Premier League managed to stave off any potential drop in value of its domestic media rights by rolling over its existing arrangement with pay-TV broadcasters Sky Sports and BT, as well as Amazon and the BBC. There was also a boost for Spain’s LaLiga, which a secured a reported US$175 million year in its new US media rights deal with Disney-owned ESPN. Then, in Australia, it was confirmed that Paramount+, the ViacomCBS-owned subscription streaming service, would be launching Down Under with rights to the country’s top-flight men’s and women’s soccer competitions.

However, the biggest news of the month came when US telecommunications giant AT&T confirmed its intention to merge WarnerMedia’s entertainment, sports and news assets with media group Discovery to form a new company reportedly valued at US$150 billion. If and when the transaction goes through, it will no doubt have the likes of Netflix and Disney+ on alert – if indeed it doesn’t already.

Other deal highlights:

Discovery president and chief executive David Zaslav will lead the new business when the company’s WarnerMedia merger goes through


Another month, another landmark media rights deal in women’s soccer. This time it was between digital sports media specialist DAZN and YouTube, which have teamed up to make the Uefa Women’s Champions League available live and for free globally as part of a four-year deal.

Over in the WNBA, the Phoenix Mercury hailed what was described as the ‘largest team sponsorship’ in women’s sport history, signing off on an exclusive sports betting partnership with Bally’s Corporation, which has reportedly committed some US$66 million over the next 15 years.

Elsewhere, FTX continued to spend huge sums on sponsorship by striking a US$210 million naming rights deal with US esports organisation Team SoloMid. It was one of a number of partnerships hoovered up in 2021 by the cryptocurrency exchange, whose name is also now attached to the home of the Miami Heatthe International Cricket Council (ICC), the Mercedes Formula One team and Major League Baseball (MLB), among plenty of others.

Meanwhile, there was outrage in France, where Amazon made an opportunistic move to secure the lion’s share of the domestic rights to French soccer’s Ligue 1 following the well-documented collapse of the Professional Football League’s (LFP) partnership with Mediapro. Canal+ was less than happy given that Amazon would pay just €275 million annually to show 304 top-flight matches per season, with the pay-TV broadcaster having a separate deal in place to show only two games per week for an annual €330 million, a price it believed had been inflated by the original Mediapro bid.

Other deal highlights:


Bally’s Corporation continued what proved to be a busy year of deal-making for the casino entertainment company by acquiring the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP), the premier beach volleyball tour in the United States. Among its promises are to gamify and incorporate interactive content into the sport, as well as to air tour programming on the Sinclair-owned, Bally Sports-branded regional sports networks (RSNs).

While Bally’s made its own bet on the future of professional volleyball, it was another gambling company that claimed a huge arena naming rights deal with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, who secured US$138 million as part of a 20-year agreement with Caesars Entertainment.

Over in Europe, Italian soccer giants Inter Milan joined Valencia in partnering with Chiliz-owned fan engagement platform Socios.com to promote fan tokens on their playing shirts. The deal, which is worth €20 million a season, has drawn criticism amid accusations that Chiliz is using fan engagement to disguise the other side of its business – cryptocurrency. Further evidence of the sector’s intentions to use sport to build credibility came in July as the UFC agreed a fight kit sponsorship with Crypto.com, which CNBC reported to be worth more than US$175 million over ten years.

Other deal highlights:

Bally’s acquired the Association of Volleyball Professionals in July


German sportswear giant Adidas found a buyer for Reebok in the form of Authentic Brands Group, which agreed a deal to acquire the Boston-headquartered business for €2.1 billion. The sale came 15 years after Adidas acquired Reebok for a reported US$3.1 billion back in 2006.

In other acquisition news, August also saw Britain’s McLaren Racing enter into an agreement to secure a 75 per cent majority stake in the Arrow McLaren SP IndyCar team, which made its return to the US open-wheel racing series in 2020 following a 40-year hiatus.

Elsewhere in motorsport,  Heineken made a significant investment in women’s sport by announcing a deal with the W Series, the single-seater motorsport championship for female drivers. The Dutch beer brand simultaneously confirmed that it will now be a sponsor of the Uefa Women’s Champions League club competition and the next two editions of the European Women’s Championship national team tournament.

The end of August brought with it further validation of Whoop’s fitness tracking technology, which raised US$200 million in a Series F funding round to give the company a valuation of US$3.6 billion.

That wasn’t the only big investment to take place this month, with sports merchandise firm Fanatics seeing its valuation climb to US$18 billion on the back of a US$325 million funding round that lured the likes of Jay-Z and Todd Boehly. With that, Fanatics has more than tripled its valuation since August 2020 amid plans to expand into areas such as sports betting, digital collectibles and media.

Other deal highlights:


There was major news in the world of talent representation as Creative Artists Agency (CAA) reached an agreement to acquire International Creative Management (ICM) Partners, which itself expanded into sport in October last year by purchasing the London-based Stellar Group. The deal was billed as the biggest union of two major agencies since WME, along with private equity firm Silver Lake, acquired IMG for US$2.4 billion in 2013.

Elsewhere, the Washington Capitals became the first team to take advantage of the National Hockey League’s (NHL) decision to allow jersey patch sponsors from the 2022/23 season, expanding its relationship with Caesars Entertainment in a reported US$6 million a year deal. Also in the US, the Los Angeles Clippers secured financial software provider Intuit as the naming rights sponsor of their planned arena in Inglewood, with Sportico reporting that the contract is the most lucrative naming rights pact in National Basketball Association (NBA) history.

Meanwhile, the Drone Racing League (DRL) hailed its largest sponsorship agreement to date with blockchain platform Algorand. That deal, which is reportedly worth as much as US$100 million over five years, will see the DRL launch blockchain-enabled ticketing services and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) on the Algorand platform.

On the endorsement front, rising tennis star Emma Raducanu capitalised on her shock US Open triumph by claiming her first major endorsement deal with the Tiffany & Co jewellery brand. The Briton, 19, would later go on to sign agreements with bottled water brand Evian and French fashion house Dior before the year was out.

Other deal highlights:


The hugely controversial Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United was finally waved through in October, bringing to an end Mike Ashley’s troubled tenure as owner of the struggling Premier League club. The deal was approved a day after it emerged that the kingdom had resolved its long-running dispute with Premier League broadcast partner BeIN Sports, but English soccer’s top flight insisted that the piracy issue had little bearing on its decision, stating instead that it had received ‘legally binding assurances’ that the Saudi Arabian government will not effectively own the club.

It was hardly the end of Saudi spending in October, which also saw the country’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) unveiled as the main backer of LIV Golf Investments, which plans to pump US$200 million into golf’s Asian Tour, with a new ten-event series set to be introduced in 2022.

Over in India, two Indian Premier League (IPL) expansion franchises sold for an eye-watering US$1.7 billion, bringing the number of teams in the world’s leading T20 cricket competition up to ten. India-based conglomerate RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group committed US$964 million to acquire the Lucknow-based team, while CVC bought the Ahmedabad franchise for around US$736 million. The Glazer family, which owns Premier League side Manchester United, were among the interested parties to miss out, although they would later be successful in acquiring a team in the new UAE T20 League.

Other deal highlights:


A partnership between arena operator AEG and Crypto.com saw the naming rights to Staples Center change hands in what is arguably sport’s biggest endorsement of cryptocurrency to date. The deal, which is worth some US$700 million over 20 years, is said to be the biggest arena naming rights contract in history, eclipsing what SoFi paid to sponsor the Los Angeles home of the NFL’s Rams and Chargers.

Meanwhile, NBC’s decision to end its 16-year relationship with the NHL – and to shut down some of its other channels such as NBC Sports Network – was vindicated in sensational style as it retained the US rights to the Premier League amid fierce competition from CBS and ESPN. A US$2.7 billion bid was enough to keep English soccer’s top flight on NBC for another six years, with the Comcast-owned company almost doubling the amount it paid for its current contract in 2016.

In what proved to be a hectic month for deals, golf’s European Tour confirmed that it would be renamed the DP World Tour from the start of the 2022 season as part of a new title sponsorship agreement with the Dubai-based logistics company.

In basketball, the NBA announced a US$1 billion, eight-year betting data and streaming partnership with Sportradar, which will hand the league a three per cent equity stake as part of the deal, starting from the 2023/24 season.

Other deal highlights:

In a few years, when every person in the world holds crypto, we’ll all look back at this historic moment knowing this was the day cryptocurrency crossed the chasm and went mainstream. https://t.co/aSq3MvTNm0

— Kris | Crypto.com (@Kris_HK) November 17, 2021


The year came to an end with the finalising of several major deals that had been bubbling away throughout 2021, including the sale of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins to John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group (FSG), which adds another storied franchise to a portfolio already comprising English soccer club Liverpool and the Boston Red Sox baseball team.

Elsewhere, private equity finally found its route into European soccer through Spain’s LaLiga, where 37 of 42 clubs voted through CVC’s €1.994 billion investment in the country’s top two divisions. Among those to oppose the deal were the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona, who alongside Athletic Bilbao had tabled a last-minute alternative to no avail. That was soon followed by LaLiga tying up its domestic media rights contract for the next five years, agreeing a €4.95 billion deal with pay-TV broadcaster Movistar and DAZN, which will broadcast five games per matchweek.

There was also major institutional investment in Australian soccer, as Silver Lake pushed through its US$100 million purchase of a 33 per cent stake in the A-Leagues following the unbundling of the competitions from Football Australia.

Meanwhile, holding company Endeavor turned its attention to baseball by purchasing nine Minor League Baseball (MiLB) teams, including those affiliated with the likes of the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants. The company, which owns the UFC and Professional Bull Riders, has created a new subsidiary to oversee the operation of the teams.

Other deal highlights: