July might have signaled the dawning of a new era of global sport, with a deal that may have gone under the radar of many (and even within sport and entertainment industries). Italian football giants AC Milan, and sports and entertainment agency Roc Nation, agreed to what was dubbed a “unique, industry-first partnership”. Roc Nation is, of course, best known for its music mogul founder, Jay-Z.

The move follows a collaboration between AC Milan and Roc Nation to host ‘From Milan with Love’, a virtual live event in May that honoured frontline workers in Italy and beyond, and featured some of the world’s most successful music artists.

The new partnership will ensure collaboration across seven verticals: philanthropy, music programming, merchandise, third-party collaboration, branding and creative activation, execution of digital strategy, commercial sales, cultural events and experiences.

The deal could signal a step-change in how we view sports clubs and the diversification of their brands. Today’s mailer will explore some examples of partnerships across those 7 verticals, and we will give our predictions of how we expect sports teams to change as a result.

Sport and music – an ever-closer marriage

The most extravagant, but also one of the most well-known overlaps between sport and music can be found at the Super Bowl.  Roc Nation signed a wide-ranging deal in 2019 covering the Super Bowl half-time show and involvement in the league’s activism campaign, Inspire Change. The arrangement led to Shakira, a Roc Nation client, conducting the headline performance earlier this year. The event highlights how the influence of a sports entertainment agency (like Roc Nation) could be felt over here in European sport.

Naturally, there are financial and cultural barriers to repeating this type of activation across the entire world of sport. The Super Bowl half-time show, which runs for roughly 15 minutes, has been known to cost upwards of $10m, quite a significant sum of money (especially given that the headline acts are not even paid for their performance!). In addition, European audiences are notoriously more resistant to the commercialisation of the live event, across a range of sports, than their American counterparts. So let’s take a look at other approaches to these kinds of sport and entertainment partnerships, which are increasingly common.

Music programming

Sports teams are constantly looking to leverage their brand to more global audiences, and music has the potential to span continents and cultures in a way that much of sport has been unable to do to date. The partnership between NBA team Toronto Raptors and Drake’s record label, OVO Sound, illustrates the mutual benefits of such an agreement. The deal has allowed the Raptors to increase their brand’s reach across the world through their ambassador agreement with Drake, who’s a globally recognisable artist capable of promoting the Raptors’ name on his world tours. For Drake, his label’s name is now synonymous with the Raptors, and emblazoned on the team’s training facility in his home city.

Cultural events and experiences

Only a minority of sports can claim to achieve such global reach organically with their live offer. Formula One does so by nature of its season of touring Grand Prix races, covering locations as varied as Bahrain to Belgium, and Silverstone to Shanghai. The nature of esports means that it also has the potential to be conducted anywhere in the world in its live form. Notwithstanding a potential future where the Premier League and La Liga take fixtures all over the world, similar deals will take greater precedence in order to allow sports teams to globalise their brand.

There has been a huge increase in the use of sports teams’ home stadiums for entertainment and multi-sport purposes, bringing teams notable reputational and revenue perks. Plans have recently been unveiled for the UK’s largest indoor arena to be constructed on Manchester City’s Etihad campus, which could host tennis, boxing, MMA, ice hockey and basketball, as well as music concerts. For Manchester City, the project would undoubtedly make the matchday experience more of a draw for visitors, and could be expected to stimulate revenue growth through ticket sales and merchandise.

The arena in East Manchester could hold 23,500 and host up to 120 events a year

Digital strategy

A recent agreement between FC Barcelona and Sony Music points to another type of partnership: digital strategy. The deal ensures that the football club’s stars and big-name Sony Music artists will collaborate to create enticing audio-visual content for Barcelona’s already-vast fanbase, while the club also has access to the music giant’s vast audio catalogue on its social channels. One could expect to see similar initiatives in the future, perhaps between AC Milan and Tidal, the Jay-Z owned music streaming service, as part of an expansion of his relationship with the 18-time Serie A champions. Such an agreement could, for example, give Milan’s fans access to exclusive playlists curated by players and high-profile supporters.

Sports and philanthropy

Consumers, including music and sports fans, increasingly demand that their favourite artists, players, teams and brands show what they stand for and demonstrate a commitment to social justice. The past few months alone have indicated that sport and music icons are not afraid to challenge injustice and become voices for change. Roc Nation has demonstrated its credentials in amplifying its clients’ voices and facilitating their philanthropic pursuits in some particularly prominent ways:

  • Marcus Rashford signed to the organisation shortly before he forced a government U-turn with his successful campaign for free school meal vouchers for children.
  • Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings also signed as a client prior to being pictured at a recent Black Lives Matter protest in Birmingham.
  • Roc Nation supports the philanthropic work of Siya Kolisi’s Kolisi Foundation (the first black captain of the South Africa men’s rugby team), which vows to help disadvantaged communities in his native South Africa.
  • In the music world, clients such as Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Meek Mill, and founder Jay-Z all have their own foundations, charities or campaign groups.

This all reflects the reality of a new era of (particularly young) athletes and musicians who passionately champion causes in the public eye. With fans demanding the same of their favourite teams, cross-industry partnerships will facilitate more opportunities for philanthropic ventures. In turn, this will enable teams to give back to the community, and nurture a better reputation for themselves worldwide in the process.

Tyrone Mings joined a Black Lives Matter protest through Birmingham city centre on 4th June

Our predictions

With all of these developments in mind, we have composed our top 3 predictions for the future of sport entertainment partnerships in the coming years:

  1. Sports stadiums will increasingly adopt more multi-purpose functionality in the next 5 years, with expanding opportunities for live music, esports, and MMA in particular
  2. Music artists will agree partnerships with sports teams to become ambassadors, leading to major expansions in merchandising opportunities for both parties
  3. Expect sports brands to increasingly put their charitable ventures front and centre of their global image. While continuing to invest in their immediate local communities, teams will also eye opportunities to engage with major global issues, elevating their brand beyond sport and captivating new audiences in the process

Look out for some of these developments in the near future, and if you have any predictions of your own about the future of sport and entertainment, we would love to hear them.