Mobile advertisers find a bright spot in the sports vertical

September 09, 2020

Tags: DSPs, Industry Perspectives, Marketers

John Bonanno


Sara Penchina


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By now we know that 2020 has been a disruptive year, to say the least. Perhaps one of the biggest bright spots we’ve seen to date is the current return of professional sports. While sports were on hold for the past several months, fans learned to get their sports fix when they could. For example, when Michael Jordan’s documentary “The Last Dance” was first announced, it had 5.9 million daily video views on Twitter. And when the NFL draft went virtual in late April, fans were eager for content resulting in 171 million monthly views for draft-related videos on Twitter. 

Fans are frankly ready for sports to come back, and they can get into the game more easily than ever via mobile phones. It’s where the crowds now cheer, roar, celebrate and banter. MoPub, a Twitter company, realizes too that with the recent revival of live sports content, mobile in-app offers a big opportunity for advertisers to capitalize on.  

You want to spend your money where people are spending their time, and that's increasingly on mobile. Sports streaming is set to capture audiences hungry for new content and live matches. Mobile is primed for timely marketing for food delivery, team gear, sports betting and second screening alongside matches. If you have the resources, this is the best time to be acquiring new users — while they're forming their app habits.

Amir Ghodrati, Director of Market Insights, App Annie


Unsurprisingly, the return of live sports had a predictable increase in sports app usage. Nielsen data even tells us that “from the time COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on March 11, all mobile users spent more time with their mobile devices, up nearly 20 minutes per day. Among sports fans, that increase was about 15 minutes more than usual.” One of the strongest examples of fans’ excitement was in the restart of European football (soccer). MoPub’s internal data shows a lift in app usage linked to professional soccer across Europe from May to June.1

Footnote 1: MoPub internal data showcasing daily active user (DAU) trends in soccer-focused apps from May 16 - June 17, 2020 (graph #1.)

The return of sports events (and conversation) is driving an increase in app downloads, time spent in-app, and daily active users

With the return of live sports comes the return of fans. In particular, fan engagement saw a spike leading up to the reinvigoration of several different European soccer leagues, showcasing the excitement for the return of live sports in any form. MoPub also saw a similar trend in the US with the resumption of professional baseball (which began July 23-24) and professional basketball (July 30) with daily active users in US sports focused apps across MoPub’s exchange increasing prior to the leagues starting up again.2

Footnote 2: MoPub internal data showcasing daily active user (DAU) trends in US sports-focused apps from July 23 - 24 through July 30, 2020 (graph #2.)
App Annie US-specific estimates from April 2020 through August 2020 looking at the increase in app downloads via iOS and Google play combined, tied to sporting events like the NFL draft in April and the restart of sports leagues like the MLB in June and the NBA playoffs in August (graph #3.)
App Annie US-specific estimates from April 2020 through August 2020 looking at the increase in time spent in-app on Android Phone tied to sporting events like the NFL draft in April and the restart of sports leagues like the MLB in June and just before the NBA playoffs in August (graph #4.)

Which ad formats are seeing a spike?

From an advertising perspective, where there are users, ad dollars tend to follow. Sports apps typically focus on more traditional ad formats like banners and medium rectangles, and — although it varies by region — the combination of banner and medium rectangle tends to comprise the majority of sports publishers revenue (65+ percent3) with medium rectangle usually commanding a price premium over banner ads, globally. 

3According to MoPub internal data looking at global sports-based apps

What does this mean for mobile advertisers? 

Look ahead to key sports season-related dates and plan your budget and strategy accordingly 

MoPub data shows that sports app user growth typically happens a week or so before the sports league in question restarts. The sooner advertisers organize their strategy, the better prepared they will be. In fact, according to eMarketer, 36% of agency and brand marketer respondents who were surveyed about budget allocations say that they’re willing to shift advertising budget to sports programming later this year. As our industry shifts and we all continue to monitor the rapidly evolving situation, the continued appetite for sports content tells us that the opportunity to spend or allocate budget towards in-app could be right around the corner.

Identify opportunities available across different regions and ad formats

Although sports apps tend to focus on banner and medium rectangle, the massive changes across our ecosystem could provide an opportunity for advertisers to reconfirm their ideal balance or experiment with new formats like native or fullscreen, for example. We currently have a sports inventory package available to quickly get you started on targeting this supply. To activate, simply reach out to your MoPub team or contact

Despite macroeconomic headwinds and a reduction in marketing budgets, mobile’s unparalleled reach and engagement is still luring strong growth in mobile ad placements.

Amir Ghodrati, Director of Market Insights, App Annie

What happens next?

While it remains to be seen how the National Football League’s fall season will take shape in the U.S., MoPub has put together some predictions for what we expect to happen if the season progresses, based on MoPub internal data and App Annie insights. 

  • We’d expect to see an increase in football and other sports-focused app users in advance of the season opener 

  • We’d expect to see an increased focus on both sports betting and fantasy football apps 

Sports might look different under today's circumstances without fans in the stands, but fans will take what they can get, and many will turn to mobile apps to engage with the kind of content that can satisfy their sports cravings. As we observe the next iteration of sports in a COVID-19 world, we hope that any and all games can continue as safely as possible for the players, staff, and coaches. In the meantime, we'll review and share relevant data that might be helpful to advertisers during this time. For more information or to learn more about our offerings for advertisers, you can reach out to us at 

About the author: John Bonanno, Revenue Manager

John is a Revenue Manager on the Client Analytics Team. He joined MoPub in early 2020 and focuses on translating data trends into actionable insights. John's interests include books, music, and college sports; he tweets from @johnebonanno. He has been working in adtech for the last 4 years and was previously at Integral Ad Science (IAS).

About the author: Sara Penchina, Global Content Marketing Manager

Sara has 5+ years of B2B marketing and communications experience for companies in the advertising, marketing, tech, and media industries. At MoPub, she's currently focused on developing and executing content marketing strategy and activities supporting MoPub's market education, brand awareness, and lead generation initiatives. She lives in Brooklyn and is a certified yoga instructor. When she's not at work, you can find her at a barre or yoga class, practicing boxing (her latest fitness obsession), or planning her next trip. 

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