It's a game of numbers

December 8th, 2023

By Dominic Curran @ MKTG

Numbers. Sports runs on them and not just to keep the score. Attendances, viewing figures, salary caps, franchise values, hot dogs sold. Numbers are everywhere and those numbers just become another statistic, another data point to be bettered season on season.

Well, here’s a game-changing number if you’re sat in the sports sponsor dugout.

In the last four years, we seen an unprecedented 67% rise among Millennial sports fans who view sports as playing a bigger role in their lives today.

How do we know this? Because we recently completed an exhaustive psychographic analysis of over 25,000 sports fans 18+ in 20 different countries – the third we’ve charted in a decade. Among the thousands of behavioral data points that we saw, this one was startling:

So now over half of Millennial sports fans see sports as more important in their daily lives – up from a third just five years ago. The immediate explanation would seem simple, but is it here to stay and what are the implications for sponsors trying to reach and engage sports fans?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder and few absences caused more heartache then Covid shuttering the sports world. The roaring back of sports after its enforced ‘prohibition moment’ is born out in steady or even rising TV ratings, attendance booms, and live streaming records across the board.

But behavioral data and global trends tell us this isn’t a honeymoon bounce but it’s a new type of fandom that’s here to stay.  

When sports vanished, we saw fans in a desperate bid to fill the void move from consumers of sports to co-creators of their own fan journey. In the last 12 months, there’s been an estimated 548 billion hours of livestreamed content across the globe – much of it fan made. One in five Millennials are now watching at least one live streamed show a day, posting on social jumped by 28%, and viewership of branded content on Twitch has increased by 211% in two years.

Add to this a confluence of emerging metaverse tech that was accelerated through the pandemic, from capable smart phones to VR to AR to just the simplicity of 5G that allowed fans to co-create their own content and connect directly with the previously un-reachable stars on the field.

Fans simply started to make their own stuff about the things they love to fill the void – for example there’s been a 42% increase of engagement with cause related programs in sports as its appeal widens to general culture.

Fans are even happy to see brands back in sports, we specifically measure fans receptivity to sponsor messages in sports & entertainment. Usually a steady graph, even this has soared 22% in the last few years.

So, we’re standing on the verge of a generational moment but how best do brands capitalize on it? Here’s four fast rules:

1.     Move at the speed of fans: the way fans engage with teams, leagues and sponsors alike is more diversified, digitized and demanding than ever and you don’t want to be left behind. Moving at the speed of fans doesn’t mean doing things fast – it means starting with the fan first. Truly understanding your target consumer’s behavior as a fan and then moving at their cadence, engaging them at their pace on joint terms

2.     Be memorable, be bold: Sponsorship can be a sea of sameness. To stand out you need to be bold with your selections and be more demanding of them

3.     Be relevant: Remove the handbrake to co-create your sponsorship activations with fans – don’t just shout logos at them but create culturally relevant ideas, born for brands but designed with fans as influencers

4.     Embrace technology that makes sense: With almost half of sports fans identifying as early tech adopters, lean into it for co-creation but don’t make the mistake of using tech for tech’s sake  

The numbers are here to stay. Having sports back for fans is like getting a piece of themselves back – a piece that’s central to their core, where the only numbers that really matter are on the scoreboard. And those numbers mean it’s the perfect time for brands to get off the bench and onto the playing field.