How Nike Became the Most Marketable Athletic Brand, According to SportsPro

Nike isn’t just a winner on the basketball court or running track — it’s also the world’s most marketable brand in sports, according to SportsPro’s annual ranking.

The Swoosh earned the top spot for the second year in a row, beating out Adidas and Emirates, which placed second and third, respectively. The list used data from Hookit, a sponsorship analytics and valuation company that relies on artificial intelligence to evaluate social and digital posts from professional athletes, teams, leagues, events and venues. For this year’s ranking, the company analyzed postings from more than 30,000 organizations and athletes for the period of August 15, 2020 to August 15, 2021. The posts — on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, and Weibo — together promoted more than 8,000 brands.

Nike’s victory speaks to the brand’s ubiquity throughout the sports world, since Hookit takes into account every image of the Swoosh, Jordan Brand Jumpman logo or other Nike-owned intellectual property in a post, even if the athlete is sponsored by a competitor. As Nike is the official uniform and apparel maker for both the National Basketball Association and National Football League, among other teams and organizations, its brand name and logos are pervasive on social media — so much so that the athletic giant racked up 16,236 promoters throughout the year compared with Adidas’ 9,181.

The staggering 8.77 billion engagements on social media promoting Nike’s brand this year were worth $616.5 million in earned value, according to Hookit’s figures. Adidas, meanwhile, realized sponsorship value of $342.7 million.

SportsPro’s analysis found that among the top 50 brands, each relies on one or more of soccer, motorsport, basketball and cricket for a significant share of their value.

NorthStar Solutions Group, a management consulting group that worked with SportsPro on the rankings, also analyzed social media posts from the top 50 brands and discovered that “when these brands weren’t posting about the sports they sponsor, they emphasized three main social causes” — environmental responsibility, women’s empowerment and LGBTQ equality. Not coincidentally, these causes were also frequent topics of discussion among this year’s top 50 most marketable athletes (a list topped by Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and Ashlyn Harris), suggesting that brands will do well by authentically and regularly vocalizing their support for such important issues and aligning themselves with athletes that do the same.

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