What you need to know

The sports world radically changed in 2020 due to COVID-19 as the pandemic brought the entire industry to a near standstill across the globe. But as sports began to resume, the industry looked to new opportunities and methods to continue to reach and engage the massive number of sports fans across the country. Sports are ripe for innovation and across the industry, individual teams, leagues, athletes and brands have created original offerings to further the fan connection with consumers. Throughout the Report, Mintel looks to these new examples as signs of what is to come in sports in 2021 as these methods and innovations will become more widespread. While the pandemic continues to present new challenges for all industries, sports are well equipped to continue to engage the overwhelming majority of consumers across the country.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and the sports industry.

  • How the COVID-19 recession will affect sports in 2021.

  • How consumers will engage and connect with sports in the coming years.

  • The future trends set to take hold in sports.


For the purposes of this Report, Mintel has used the following definitions:

Sports entities refer to sports leagues, teams, and athletes.

A “sports fan” is any respondent who follows at least one of football, baseball, basketball, Olympics, soccer, hockey, tennis, golf, boxing/MMA, eSports or other sports leagues.

This Report builds on several titles from Mintel’s Sports and Gaming Library, including: Football in America – US, June 2020, Sponsorships and Sports Marketing – US, September 2020, and more.

COVID-19: US context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic; on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in the US. 

Across the US, state-level stay-at-home orders rolled out throughout the months of March and April and remained in place through May and in some cases June. During this time, referred to as lockdown, nonessential businesses closed, school districts across the nation closed or shifted to remote operations and almost all professional and collegiate sports across the world came to a complete halt.

During re-emergence, all 50 states have relaxed stay-at-home orders and allowed businesses to operate with varying levels of social distancing measures in place. The continued spread of COVID-19 infections has driven some states to slow down or reverse course on reopening plans. During this time, sports have returned to resume unfinished seasons or start their new seasons – all with no or limited fans in attendance.

Mintel anticipates the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021, until a vaccine is available.

Economic and other assumptions

The analysis provided reflects an estimated range of the market’s prospects in light of the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Our economic assumptions are based on CBO 10-year economic projections released on July 2, 2020. The CBO expects US GDP to fall by 5.8% in 2020 and recover to 4.0% growth in 2021.Unemployment estimates from the CBO indicate a 10.6% rate for 2020 and declining to 8.4% for 2021, which is slightly more positive than initial expectations (11.5% in 2020 and 9.3% in 2021) though expectations are that it will remain above 5% through 2025.

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