BLOG | by Chris Todd

Defining Fans in the time of COVID-19: It Matters

The absence of live sporting events threatens the old ways of counting and understanding fans. This doesn’t have to be the case.

Simply put, times have changed…how people are spending their time, what they’re consuming and how they’re consuming are vastly different compared to 3 months ago.

As a result, a lot of teams are asking themselves questions like:

Just this last week in our latest wave of YouGov Sport’s COVID-19 Tracker, we reported that 42% of sports fans would prefer sports matches to resume with no fans in the stands (compared to just under a quarter – 24% – who supported opening the doors to fans). This kind of info is crucial in determining how teams and leagues will go about serving their fan base in the coming months as the new norm for viewing and consuming sports takes shape.

As well, it’s also just as important to understand where your team currently stands in the minds and hearts of your fan base … today!

Given the nuances and hurdles that hinder a fan’s ability to attend a game right now, organizations need to be able to know if fans are satisfied with their favorite team, whether they’d encourage others to support the team and how the team stacks up in comparison to other teams and entertainment options in market. And from a commercial point of view, looking specifically at corporate partnerships, it is imperative to be able to quantify how a team’s brand performance is impacting fans’ perceptions of the team’s sponsors.

Historically, teams have relied on third party data to learn more about their fan bases and calculate the total size beyond what they learn from ticketing data. Since defining what makes someone a fan is key in understanding the size of a team’s fan base, a couple decades ago, proxies were used to attempt to make something as subjective as someone’s allegiance to a team, objective. Most teams are familiar with the model of tracking how many games a fan has either attended, watched or listened to and that was the currency used for almost 20 years. And while this has served as a consistent proxy over time for tracking fans, we may be in for a rude awakening.

For example, imagine if you were asked to quantify how many fans a team has from March of 2020 until July of 2020. Using the legacy method for determining a fan base that number would be zero. No one has watched, no one has turned up, no one has listened to a game.

And yet we all know that that isn’t the reality – there are large portions of the general population chomping at the bit for sports to return. But very simply, the old model cannot and will not work in this scenario.

Now, more than ever, teams need to leverage up-to-date data that illustrates an accurate depiction of their fan base. Data that allows respondents to communicate which team they show allegiance to regardless of their location, frequency of traditional viewership and attendance. As well, tracking the quality of a team’s relationship with the fan base is just as important as tracking quantity because understanding an organization’s brand health is key to better serving their fans and corporate partners.

Don’t get me wrong, all of this data related to viewership and attendance is invaluable. However, it should be supplemented with fresh data that allows fans to self-identify in an ever-changing consumer landscape.

Even if we take the impact of COVID-19 out of the equation, there are many other factors that make this model of calculating fans a bit out of touch. Think about the millennial fan who hasn’t watched a game on traditional television in years, who doesn’t have the extra bucks to go to a game… but nevertheless spends his nights during basketball season repeatedly checking Twitter for the latest updates and highlights. Or perhaps it’s the transplant who now lives in another city, but spends his or her workdays with a browser constantly open to their team’s website and social pages in order to feel like they’re still in touch with their team.

All of these fans who matter never make the cut. Are you prepared to ignore them?

The converse of course would be the transplant who moved from LA to NYC. She loves hockey and loves her Kings. If we look back at her hockey consumption over the last year, she watched 15 LA Kings games on NHL.TV at home, caught 2 New York Rangers games on TV at the bar and even went on a date with her boyfriend to a Rangers game when the Kings came to town. Would you call this person a Rangers fan? Do you want to count her in or out?

Here are a few stats to support this long-winded critique of the norm:

Now, more than ever, teams need to leverage up-to-date data that illustrates an accurate depiction of their fan base. Data that allows respondents to communicate which team they show allegiance to regardless of their location, frequency of traditional viewership and attendance. As well, tracking the quality of a team’s relationship with the fan base is just as important as tracking quantity because understanding an organization’s brand health is key to better serving their fans and corporate partners.

Don’t get me wrong, all of this data related to viewership and attendance is invaluable. However, it should be supplemented with fresh data that allows fans to self-identify in an ever-changing consumer landscape.

Photos by Kyle DeSantis and Derick Anies

BLOG | by Chris Todd

CHRIS TODD
Vice President of Sales, North America

Joining YouGov Sport in June 2019, Chris brings nine years of global sponsorship expertise. Chris’ previous roles cover numerous areas across sports & entertainment from sports sponsorship, to athlete marketing, to commercial music licensing. Chris currently serves as the VP of New Business for both YouGov Sport and YouGov North America.

E chris.todd@yougov.com

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