Fans are the soul of sport. Without them, sports don’t exist. That’s why it was such unsettling news when we discovered that global sports fans feel a growing disconnect from professional sports.
The above is an excerpt from the executive summary of a recently-released survey conducted by Momentum Worldwide which was based on quantitative and qualitative input from 2,000 sports fans in the UK, US, Brazil, Spain and Japan. The results, were to borrow their word, unsettling to say the least.
Right out of the proverbial chute is 83% of respondents agreed with this statement: “Sponsors never consider the fans.” So it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that only 55% of respondents would currently consider trying a particular brand or product as a result of a brand sponsorship.
However, there’s a bit of a strange dichotomy at play here according to Mike Sundet, Senior Vice President, North America Director Sports & Entertainment at Momentum Worldwide.
“One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises (from the survey) we discovered was the willingness of fans to accept brands and sponsorship,” says Sundet. “In an era where consumers are increasingly looking to avoid commercials – where the emerging and growing media behaviors are the use of DVRs and blocking banner ads – sports fans are looking for brands to step in and play a role.”
So on one hand you have fans raising their hands high in agreement that brands don’t care about them, but on the other hand there’s fans who openly state they welcome brand involvement as witnessed by the 88% of fans who believe sponsors can create new opportunities for their favorite sports and teams, and another 86% who would not object to seeing even more sponsorship in sports.
“The challenge that the fans have issued is an exciting and promising one which is: Do better,” says Sundet. “Brands, be a part of our experiences, but if you’re going to take part, be memorable, be meaningful, and give me something that makes my experience better. I think our industry is poised to meet and exceed that challenge.
While this was a global study my assumption was that if we dug deeper we would see different patterns established with a given area of the country.
Sundet wholeheartedly agreed. “Absolutely; as with any study, we could continue to dig and identify regional nuances,” he told me. “But what was more interesting was the strong similarities across markets. Sports fans, while having cultural differences, generally see things similarly. They share the willingness across the board to have brands be a part of experiences, and that’s universal enough an insight to guide the course of how we can improve experiences and brand performance across borders.”
Dan Farell, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals also believes geography plays a lesson. “It would make sense that Midwestern fans may be more responsive to sponsors–slower pace lifestyle and less ‘noise’ in the markets.”
Farell added that Cardinals’ fans respond well to brands that promote with the club. “They will pursue offers and added value activations that we develop with our sponsors,” he added.
Here are some additional findings which speak to the differences by locale.
• Brazil’s passion: 72% of fans say they are most passionate about sports teams and players from the country of their birth, with Brazilians (76%) agreeing with this statement more than any other country.
• UK’s fan apathy: Research indicated the growing feeling of distance from pro athletes was particularly strong in the UK, and least felt in Japan.
• International empathy: Over half of all fans say their team’s performance has a strong impact on how they are feeling. This is particularly strong in Japan (64%) and the UK (62%).
• Spanish resistance: Fewer Spanish fans (39%, vs. 50% of all fans, 65% of Brazilian fans) believe advertising enhances their experience. Spanish fans (25% vs. 16% of all fans), believe the main purpose of sports is to keep people fit as opposed to serving as entertainment. A recent study into athletes and social media by Momentum Worldwide family agency PMK•BNC found that Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal—who has the highest personal social media following—saw less engagement on branded posts in his social media vs. personal ones, representing that this resistance may be cultural to Spain.
• Japan cheers for sports overall: More Japanese fans (42%, vs. 13% of all fans) state it is more love of the sport itself that drives their fandom, rather than love for a specific team.
• Globalization: Fewer fans in the US believe the globalization of sports enhances fan experience. 9% fewer US fans agreed with this statement compared to fans globally, and almost 30% less than fans in Brazil.
Lessons To Learn
Sundet says the most important takeaway is that it’s imperative for brands and marketers to create platforms that put the fans at the center.
“It’s fan-first, brand-centric, idea led. That’s the path ahead. Brands and properties are both talking to the same consumer, and the surest way for everyone to win is to put the fan first and create opportunities to improve their experience. When we do it the right way, pushing past transactional sponsorships into collaborative partnerships that drive real experience, everyone wins. Fans are willing to reward the brands who do it best.”
Get your copy of the entire survey and findings here.