Sports Industry Outlook 2024

What’s Next in Sports: from GenAI to league expansion, PwC unpacks the hottest trends

Dive into the playbooks and articles below for the latest in trends and predictions about the sports industry for the coming year. From league expansion to AI-driven fan experiences to new trends in sports consumption, 2024 is going to be an exciting year for the industry.

Artificial intelligence — The MVP for personalizing sports 
Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing the sports industry by enabling personalization for fans at scale. From ticket buying to halftime snack delivery, AI-driven capabilities can elevate fan engagement, increase fan loyalty and boost revenue. But organizations should design these exciting new experiences while also prioritizing responsible AI practices and sound data governance.

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Streaming the game: How the rise of digital platforms is changing sports consumption
The rise of streaming services and direct-to-consumer (DTC) sports consumption is transforming how people watch sports. As traditional regional sports networks (RSNs) face challenges, leagues and teams are adapting by exploring over-the-air (OTA) broadcasting, creating their own DTC streaming platforms, and partnering with streaming organizations. Discover how this new era of sports consumption is changing the game for sports viewership and the strategies organizations are adopting to succeed.

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Game-changing moves: How league expansion is unlocking growth opportunities in sports
League expansion is thrilling for fans, and it also presents significant growth opportunities for the sports industry. From the NFL's potential European expansion to the NBA's consideration of domestic and international teams, leagues are eyeing new markets and larger audiences. Get ready for the future of sports as leagues tap into new territories and unlock new growth potential.

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Sports valuations are on the rise
In 2023, we saw major M&A activity across the sports industry, with teams being sold at record valuations. For example, an investor group led by Josh Harris (already part-owner of the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia 76ers) acquired the Washington Commanders for $6B, the highest value for the sale of a professional sports team ever. And in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators were sold for $1B, setting a historic high for an NHL franchise. From an international standpoint, foreign investment (specifically from the Middle East) continues to fuel valuation increase in soccer while Alpine F1 was recently valued at $900 million after securing significant investment from a group that includes the Ryan Reynolds led Maximum Effort. Investment sources are also becoming increasingly diversified, as family offices, sovereign wealth funds, and private equity funds expand their sports and entertainment footprints.

In 2024, we predict valuations will continue to rise, however, the rate of valuation increase may slow down. Ancillary businesses will be the likely beneficiaries of continued interest in sports investing. As funding increases, innovation in sports technology and live entertainment will continue at a rapid pace, setting the foundation for continued growth and expansion. Read the playbook.

Attracting fans and investment –– it’s game on for women’s sports
In 2023, women’s sports ushered in record-breaking numbers in viewership, attendance, sponsorships and media rights validation across several major sports. The NWSL achieved new heights in attendance and viewership on top of a transformative $240M media rights deal and the announcement of plans to add two new franchises in 2024. Meanwhile, the NCAA Women’s basketball championship game reached a peak of 10 million viewers, the FIFA Women’s World Cup garnered $300 million in sponsorships and the WNBA recorded its highest level of attendance in over a decade. This growth in key revenue drivers isn’t the only reason to be excited about the direction of women’s sports. Fans of women’s sports are a critical component of the future success of the leagues and teams they support. Sports leagues, merchandisers, broadcasters and other stakeholders are turning to data-driven approaches to better understand the attributes and behaviors of this important fanbase. A recent PwC-commissioned survey highlights how as a group, women’s sports fans are younger, wealthier and more tech savvy on average – a favorable set of traits that is poised to attract significant investment in leagues and events. Women’s sports fans are also more likely to identify as “avid” – they’re not just looking to watch games. They’re a passionate fan base who attend games, bet on games and buy team apparel.

We not only predict increased investment in women’s sports leagues in 2024 and beyond, but we also anticipate more financial backing of in adjacent experiences such as betting platforms and merchandise. The industry around women’s sports should capitalize on the growing momentum behind the sports and athletes themselves as well as the eager fanbase that underpins it all. Women’s sports have the chance to evolve from “the next big thing” to an economically sustainable sector that holds its own and yields influence in the dynamic world of sports.

Beyond game day — Entertainment districts are revolutionizing fan experiences
The days of fans rushing to the ballpark for the game and heading straight home afterward may become a thing of the past. A more exciting game day experience is emerging, where more often fans arrive early to enjoy shopping, dining and tailgating at the stadium complex's entertainment district. They stay post-game to celebrate at the team's sports bar or remove the bitter taste of defeat with some ice cream for an enjoyable, memorable experience regardless of the match's outcome. Today’s leading sports organizations are creating additional revenue streams and improving the fan experience through owning and operating mixed-use entertainment districts. These districts typically feature a combination of shopping, dining, entertainment, and office and residential space, providing year-round entertainment for visitors and further connecting the sports team with the surrounding community. In the past two years, entertainment districts have been included in new venue proposals for projects in each of the five major sports leagues. We predict that entertainment districts will become the focal point of every major new venue development project announced in 2024.

From screen to stadium: How sports stories are boosting engagement
The recent surge in popularity of sports narratives, including documentaries, shows, and other unscripted content, has been remarkable. This push isn’t solely driven by production companies and streaming services – leagues, teams and athletes themselves are actively participating. What unfolds off the court can significantly influence what happens on the court, impacting viewership, overall interest in sports, and, subsequently, ticket sales, sponsorships, and other sports revenue streams. Take the docuseries Welcome to Wrexham, for example. This captivating series followed the journey of Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney as they acquired and revitalized the modest fifth-tier Welsh club, Wrexham AFC. The impact of this series on the club is nothing short of remarkable. Not only has it led to a substantial growth in the club’s social media presence and fan base, but it has boosted team revenue. Ticket sales have seen a significant upswing since the series premiered, and the club is now able to embark on international tours, where stadiums are selling out and ticket prices are soaring through the roof.

When contemplating the power of sports narratives to drive popularity, the NFL provides another compelling example. While the league benefits from content such as the unscripted show Quarterback, which followed three NFL quarterbacks throughout the previous season, the NFL also experienced what is now known as the "Taylor Swift Effect." Taylor Swift's presence at NFL games this past season led to a substantial surge in viewership, introducing a fresh audience to the sport and igniting conversations beyond traditional NFL fans. The undeniable power of sports stories in driving viewership and engagement is reshaping the sports entertainment landscape. In 2024, we should prepare for more leagues and teams to focus their media efforts on telling more captivating stories about their athletes off the court, with the aim of enhancing viewership and fan engagement on the court.

The big gamble: Seismic moves in sports betting
Online sports betting is currently legal in 26 states, with state 27 on its way in 2024. Recently, FanDuel and DraftKings have dominated the market with a 39% and 34% market share respectively, but now two major players in the sports industry are fighting for a spot on the stage. The first is ESPN, who has partnered with Penn Entertainment. ESPN Bet, the rebranded platform under this collaboration, is live in 17 states and is expected to make a substantial impact within the industry. The strategic acquisition, valued at $1.5 billion, grants exclusive rights to the ESPN name, enabling them to leverage their vast online and broadcast platforms for fan engagement and awareness.

Similarly, Fanatics' acquisition of PointsBet allowed them to utilize their extensive customer database as they attempt to make a splash in this space as well. Fanatics Sportsbook launched in 2023 and is now available in five states, with a few more on the way. On the other hand, smaller sportsbooks like Fox Bet, MaximBet and FuboTV have faced closures, underlining the challenging environment for newcomers. While ESPN and Fanatics are far from newcomers to the sports world, they’re trying to enter an already saturated market. Considering the steep cost of acquiring new customers, and the current market dominance of major industry players, it will be interesting to see if either of these two companies can gain on the market leaders. However, establishing a strong brand presence is essential for their many other businesses. We predict that in 2024, even if these companies don’t dominate the market share in this sector, they can still enhance customer connections and gain valuable consumer behavior insights. Direct ROI from betting, however, might be slow to materialize.

NCAA Division I realignment makes for a wild ride
From 2023 into 2024, 28 Division I schools will begin playing in new athletic conferences with implications on competition, revenue, sponsorships, and name, image and likeness (NIL), the transfer portal and more. While realignment promises significant financial gains for universities and media companies —the Power 4 conferences are lined up to receive over $20 billion in media rights deals over the next five to ten years — it raises questions about the impact on the institutions, athletes, fans, and the NCAA itself.

Universities, conferences, media companies and brand partners expect top line revenues to climb from a wide variety of improvements that realignment will bring. However, some stakeholders may find the new NCAA landscape challenging. Conference realignment for student-athletes in sports like baseball, where teams play three-game series most weekends, makes scheduling a nightmare. The viewing experience for fans across all sports could be challenged by time zone differences and potential fragmentation of media rights.

We think conference realignment has only just begun. The ACC is locked into the least valuable media rights deals for another 13 years and some of their members may look to jump ship, making more transformation a real possibility. Private equity will likely enter college sports to help schools solve competitive and revenue problems. We may see non-revenue generating sports cut from athletic department budgets as the costs of fielding teams continue to increase. What’s more, NCAA President Charlie Baker, recently introduced a proposal to create a new subdivision within Division I that permits schools to directly compensate athletes through a trust fund.

We predict that in 2024 and beyond, college sports will continue to change.

Regardless of how realignment shakes out, it reflects a profound shift in college sports, where financial gains, market expansion, athletic program viability, and the future of the NCAA hang in the balance amid the changing landscape of college sports.

From underdog to MVP: Soccer is on the rise in the US
In the landscape of American sports, soccer’s popularity has paled in comparison to its global status. However, soccer has enjoyed a surge in the US over the past year due to three main factors: the rising prominence of US leagues, the growing accessibility to broadcasts and the emergence of US soccer on the international stage. Major League Soccer is one of the fastest growing leagues in North American sports, with the average franchise worth $579M in 2023, up 85% since 2019, and LAFC becoming the first billion-dollar franchise. Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest soccer player of all time, passed up other options in Europe and Saudi Arabia to play for Inter Miami. The Messi effect is well documented: skyrocketing ticket prices, viewership, merchandising and the overall acceleration of the league’s growth. In fact, Messi won the Ballon D’Or, the award for best soccer player of the year, right after his iconic World Cup win with Argentina and promptly brought the trophy to Miami’s training facility — something that was unfathomable just last year.

Last year’s exclusive Apple TV deal ($2.5B over 10 years) made MLS the first major league to be streamed exclusively, sparking a shift in how streaming platforms get into live content and games. Major European club teams like Real Madrid, Manchester United and AC Milan (with USMNT captain Christian Pulisic) all continued to play exhibition games in the US and were able to sell out major NFL stadiums. On the women’s side, the NWSL experienced historic growth, as attendances are up 26% from 2022. Expansion teams are being planned, with two new teams ready to kick off in 2024 and more planned for 2026. The league also signed a historic media rights deal to broadcast its games. We wouldn’t be surprised if the NWSL’s best teams play exhibition games in front of MLS-sized audiences of 50,000 fans in some of Europe’s most iconic stadiums this year. The US is poised to take center stage in international soccer, as it hosts the Club World Cup in 2025 and the FIFA World Cup, the largest sporting event in the world, in 2026. Soccer is gaining momentum in the US, and we predict that 2024 begins a three-year stretch of soccer reaching new heights in team valuation, TV viewership and game attendance.

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