It's 2100 and sport athletes costs way too much. The English FA has had enough of years of losses in the league and replaces the players in the Football leagues with a league of bipedals robots. In what ways would those robotic "athletes" build rapport with the fans considering that most of the revenues in a professional sport team is derived from fans buying merchandise, showing up to the stadium or paying to see the games on TV?
Since the main appeal of professional sports is to participate vicariously with the team, robot players could amp this to "11" by literally being under the control of the fans.
One could imagine lotteries where fans bought tickets and the winners received an "X box controller" gadget that allowed them to take control of the robot for a half or some pre determined time limit. Depending on the league rules, the robots could be totally controlled by the fans, or have general algorithms which provide parameters that the fans can only marginally effect. This way when millions of fans are screaming "kick the ball", the fan with the box can punch the "kick ball" control.
Since there are only a limited number of games, fans can also buy tickets to participate in training camps, exhibition matches and other events where the robot team is playing. Much fun can be had by mixing and matching sports: "Buy your ticket for Manchester United vs the Denver Broncos!". Since robots are quite adaptable, all kinds of bizarre and unlikely exhibition matches can be devised, ranging from fan controlled robots playing against a real soccer team to them playing water polo.
So long as the fandom feels they have equal chances to participate by actually "playing" in a match, then I suspect that the league will be rolling in money. If it ever comes out there is some sort of shenanigans in selecting fans to control the game, the scandal will rapidly destroy the fan base and the league (a powerful incentive to keep things honest).
I just finished watching a season of Battlebots on TV last night, so I think you could use the same approach. Each robot would have a different design (within parameters set by the league), and a different set of engineers & programmers making it work. The humans would build the rapport with the fans through interviews, press conferences, signings, etc, but the robot athletes would be the ones on the merchandise and the ones that the fans are cheering for at games.
You didn't specify that the robots would be autonomous, so I assume they would actually be controlled by a "player".
So, we have a professional player, who controls a machine, which is built by his team… hm, looks a lot like F1. I guess F1 does have enough fans and marketing, doesn't it?
Also notice that in F1 both the driver and his team usually have fans.