Meet “The New Sports Fan” in Infillion’s Latest Research

by | Feb 5, 2024

NFL Swifties. Gen-Z cricket fanatics. And Inter Miami FC followers who have never set foot in Florida. Reaching sports fans today is a lot more complicated than it used to be.

Sports fans have always been a coveted audience for advertisers. Viewers are famously engaged and deliver the rapt attention that brands crave, and brands sponsoring teams or games can get a goodwill boost from supporters. One study after another has shown that sports fans are more likely to pay attention to commercials, that they look favorably upon brands that sponsor their home teams, and that this receptivity is growing rather than shrinking.

For years, sports had stayed relatively analog as the rest of the world went digital, which meant that brands could stick to tried-and-true tactics. The Super Bowl still drew the enormous, multi-demographic linear TV audiences that advertisers craved, and its high-impact commercial spots continued to command both enormous media spend and peak consumer attention. Broadcast and cable channels maintained a strong hold on the rights to air professional leagues and championships.

But sports were inevitably going to be hit by the digital revolution. As a generation of fully digital natives reached adulthood, marketers needed to contend with the fact that sports fans had been transformed, too. From the sports they want to watch, to how they want to watch them, to the auxiliary content and experiences they want to consume around sports—to use an old cliche, it was a whole new ballgame.

Infillion is an advertising technology company that is built for the connected, always-on consumer. And our past research has shown that consumers now live in an era of “constant consideration,” one in which they’re absorbing media at a near-nonstop rate, and in which it’s more important for a brand to stay in touch with them so that the decision to purchase can happen at precisely the right moment for that individual. These insights have helped us shape our strategies for clients to meet this new consumer reality.

Which led us to the question: As the overall consumer has changed, how has the sports fan changed?

We decided to find out. In “The New Sports Fan,” our latest research report, we asked people who self-identify as sports fans to let us know what they’re following, how they’re following it, and how brands can best integrate into the fan experience.

 

Among the findings:

  • It was a long time coming, but live sports have firmly embedded themselves in streaming video. 46% of sports fans say they’re watching more sports on streaming than they were before 2020.
  • While marketers have been frustrated for years over Gen-Z’s weakened affinity for live sports, the right way to look at it is that this younger demographic is choosier about how they watch. 47% of Gen-Z sports fans say they’ve canceled a streaming subscription over a change in the live sports offering, compared to 29% overall.
  • Women’s sports are catching up to many men’s sports in popularity, with 32% of sports fans saying they enjoy watching women’s volleyball and 26% saying they enjoy watching WNBA basketball. That puts those sports on par with men’s soccer and hockey, and men’s NCAA basketball.
  • Younger sports fans are more likely to say they want ad-free options (73% of Gen-Z compared to 60% of sports fans overall) when they want sports on streaming. But they’re actually more enthusiastic about brands that find relevant ways to integrate into their favorite sports. 76% of them say they like seeing their favorite teams and athletes in ads, compared to 58% of sports fans overall. And 65% of Gen-Z sports fans say they are more likely to buy products or services that support their favorite teams, compared to 51% overall.
  • With the NFL playing games in Europe, and overseas soccer teams gaining substantial U.S. fan bases, the concept of “sports tourism” is booming – especially among younger fans. While only 26% of sports fans overall say they’d take an international trip to watch their favorite sport, that rises to 47% among Gen-Z fans.
  • The Olympics are prime real estate for reaching female sports fans, who our research found are 25-30% more likely than male sports fans to tune into the quadrennial games.

 

The New Sports Fan” is available for download here.

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