Media & Entertainment Trends & Forecasting

Get them out to the ball game: How brands can leverage the power of sports fans

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As the summer of 2017 approaches in the US, there’s a veritable buffet for sports fans to enjoy. The Warriors and Penguins have been crowned champions but baseball, soccer, racing, golf and tennis now fill the schedule. I will be a part of the crowds this summer, heading to Connecticut to see the US national soccer team play Ghana, to Citi Field for Mets games, and to Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the US Open.

It’s also a time of change for sports teams and brands, as multiple sources of entertainment compete for our attention. We have more options to consume sports than ever before. Sports programming on television alone has increased by 160% since 2005, and this does not include the voluminous streaming options from services like ESPN3.

Fans are also changing how we watch sports, using a mix of devices, and streaming this content now more than ever. GfK Consumer Life has found that one in five sports fans watch live events on their mobile phones (+14 pts from Americans overall). Additionally, sports fans are more likely to own streaming devices like Apple TV or Roku (34%, +10 pts).

Facing these challenges, sports franchises and brands need to think creatively to keep fans engaged; here are a few ways they can do that:

  1. Emphasize experience. American sports fans want experiences when we show up at the stadium: 63% (+10 pts from Americans overall) agree that “experiences are more important than possessions.” It is the #1 attitude to life among American sports fans.  To keep us interested, ensure that fans have memorable and personalized experiences that reward us for the time we have invested. Recently, the New York Red Bulls hosted an event at ArteVino in Hoboken, NJ, where fans were able to paint pictures and drink wine with some of the MLS team’s players.
  2. Expand the idea of community. American sports fans are joiners: 48% agree that “the groups that I belong to say a lot about me” (+16 pts from America overall). While sports fans spend more time with friends on a weekly basis (4.9 hours vs. 3.5 hours). Staying continuously engaged in this busy world is difficult. Fortunately, sports leagues and franchises can nurture virtual communities with apps to keep fans connected – this makes sense given that sports fans are almost twice as likely as the average American to describe virtual interactions as just as good as in-person ones. The Rooter app was recently released to help connect fans of soccer and Indian online cricket during live events; an American version cannot be far away.
  3. Keep them active. American sports fans don’t just watch sports, we play them. Over half (59%, +35 pts from Americans overall) of fans play sports at least once a week, and 82% exercise just as often (+17 pts). If a team wants to get these fans to come to the stadium more often, a good way to reach them would be to sponsor a 5k race on game day like the NHL’s LA Kings or promote a weekly recreational league in the area. Brands can also align with sports entities that attract those who pursue an active lifestyle. An example of this is Michelob Ultra bringing their brand to active fans by becoming the official beer of the World Surf League.
  4. Tap into fans’ passions. Beer is a mainstay at American tailgate parties, so it’s not surprising that American sports fans are more likely to drink beer on a weekly basis (51% vs. 30% of total). While domestic beer remains popular among American fans, many are turning to craft beer. Nearly a third of the fans who drink beer have craft beer on a weekly basis. Collaborating with local brewers is a new and interesting way to increase the link between a team and its fans. Minnesota United FC of MLS has embraced this idea by working with Surly Brewing in Minneapolis to create the Rising North Pale Ale. Brands can also work to find partnerships that highlight tailgating food. NASCAR and Fox Sports recently teamed up with Allrecipes to create a food-focused social media community where fans can share their favorite tailgate recipes.

Using these strategies will help to strengthen relationships with sports fans and keep us coming to the stadium or tuning to whatever screen we prefer. By realizing that sports fans aren’t just customers – we can also be a team’s biggest advocate online, at the local sports bar, or in the stands – you can truly leverage the power of this group.

Adam Swift is a Senior Analyst on the Consumer Life team at GfK. He can be reached at adam.swift@gfk.com.

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