BLOG | by Victor Gras

As US sports make plans to return, are fans still engaged?

In the almost complete live sports blackout, teams and leagues have been looking for new ways to maintain fan engagement. From esports to remote drafts, necessity has been the mother of invention for sports marketing teams across America. But how successful have their efforts been in ensuring that sport is still part of the conversation in these trying times?

For this analysis, we turned to our Word of Mouth metric (“Which of the following sports events/leagues have you talked about with family or friends over the past two weeks?”).

Let’s start by looking at a sport which has managed to get the show back on the road – quite literally – NASCAR.

The proportion of Americans talking about the sport has rocketed this year, compared to the previous two Junes. In fact, NASCAR’s 2020 score for this metric doubles both its tallies from 2019 and 2018.

And this change wasn’t driven by bad news around NASCAR. Looking at the Buzz metric (which is a net sentiment score, taken from those hearing positive and negative news about the property), NASCAR enjoys the highest score of any of the sports we’ll look at in this piece – by far.

Now let’s look at a sport which hasn’t yet managed to begin – but is close to doing so.

MLB may have had some difficulties in shaping its plans for a re-start but our data shows that Americans are still very much engaged in the sport, with only a small change in the proportion of people talking about baseball, compared to previous Junes.

In fact, that’s been the case throughout the past three months, with the sport’s Word of Mouth score growing over each period.

Hockey would usually have completed its season by now and as a result, June is generally a month when Word of Mouth scores are declining.

But the break has not been kind to hockey chat and its score is significantly lower than we would expect for this time of the year.

That said, teams return to training camps later this month and we would expect scores to start climbing again as the league plays out its alternative format to find a winner for the Stanley Cup.

The NBA has seen a similar decline in its Word of Mouth metric score, which is now the lowest it’s been over the three-year period we’re looking at.

Having said that, its score has increased for each of the past three months – as has its Buzz score -as plans for the sport’s return get closer. So the NBA is on the up in 2020.

Finally, to the NFL, which records the second highest score for the month of June, second only to NASCAR.

Its score this year is, in fact, higher than it recorded last June and broadly on a par with its 2018 tally.

Word of Mouth for football has increased in each of the past four months, perhaps as fans gear up for a regular season schedule.

Overall, it is a pretty encouraging set of results for US sports. Even after long lay-offs, plenty of people are still talking sport and still positively engaged in America’s major leagues. When they begin properly, we can’t help but think they’ll be the distraction Americans have been looking for – and the source of much more conversation.

Photo by Headway

BLOG | by Victor Gras

Head of Client Services

Joining YouGov Sport in March 2018, Victor brings seven years of global sports sponsorship expertise. In his last role, he led Nielsen’s Market Intelligence activity across all US verticals, working with brands, rights holders and agency clients. He also worked previously with the New York Road Runners, where he helped TCS launch the title partnership of the NYC Marathon, as well as with the ASO, optimizing sponsorship strategies for the Tour de France and the Paris Marathon.