5 minutes

Sports Fandom: Using Audience Insights to Improve Fan Engagement

What makes a fan a fan? Why do individuals love and support one team over another? For some, perhaps they remember their parent taking them to a game at a young age. For others, maybe their allegiance to a team is because of geographical proximity or because they are based in a city they love. While every franchise has the ultimate goal of winning, the number one goal is to win over the hearts and minds of fans to build a devoted following. Whatever the reason a fan feels allegiance to a particular team, sports franchises need to understand the individual motivations of their fans and tap into these emotional anchors to truly connect with them.

We live in an age where “performance on the scoreboard no longer translates to seat sales,” which means teams need to build a more significant brand experience that extends far beyond stadium walls. The professional sports industry is growing, and in North America alone is expected to reach a worth of $73.5 billion in 2019, says Forbes. In an expanding industry, franchises must face new realities: fans have less time, more choices, and high expectations.

“We in the sports business don’t sell the game, we sell unique, emotional experiences.” – Mark Cuban, team owner, Dallas Mavericks

If fans feel a meaningful connection to a team, they will be their strongest brand advocates. Organizations must understand the lifestyle of their fan, their consumption habits, and their interests and passions – outside of sports – on an intimate level. In the digital age, there are more ways than ever for sports franchises and their stakeholders to engage with fans and understand fan data at scale. However, the challenge facing franchises across the industry is unifying their fan information which to date has been siloed in disparate databases.

Numerous professional sports organizations have used Affinio to tap into fan culture and build data-driven unified strategies to reach and engage them. To illustrate how they might use these insights, let’s take a look at how the Affinio platform was able to identify the growing fan base of NHL’s new Las Vegas team, The Vegas Golden Knights.

USE CASE: Understanding the Growing Fanbase of the Vegas Golden Knights

Credit: Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights made their professional team debut for the 2017-2018 NHL season. In one season, the team has cultivated a solid fan base and in May 2018 became the only team ever to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural NHL season.

We used the Affinio platform to analyze the Golden Knight’s Twitter following (@GoldenKnights). Who are the fans of the new team?

Why Twitter for Sports?

Affinio can analyze any data set, from social audiences, CRM, to loyalty programs. For this exercise in identifying the core fan base of The Golden Knights, we chose to look to Twitter. Across the sports industry, fans use Twitter as a second screen during live sporting events to watch what’s happening and engage in real time. According to Twitter, “across key sporting events throughout the world, Twitter, on average, sees a +4.1% lift in unique visitors while other social platforms, in aggregate, see no significant change.”

Twitter is the only social platform to have a +4.1% lift in unique visitors during sporting events.

Below is the audience visualization or “Interest Graph” of the Golden Knights and the different fan segments they are attracting. What’s important to note is each cluster has their own motivation for supporting the team. How a franchise connects to each of these fan groups should differ.

We can see interest-based segments (clusters) of American Pop Culture Fans, Sports Dads, NHL Super Fans, and Pittsburgh Penguin Fans, to name a few.

Enhancing the Fan Experience

In the platform, we can dive into sections like Content to understand what content like the keywords, hashtags, images, influencers, and media sources are needed to create compelling content that fans will find engaging. What will resonate with Las Vegas Locals should differ from Canadian Hockey Fans.

We can also identify the top interests (outside of the Golden Knights) that these fans care about including brands, celebrities, charities, technology, and more. Below is a snapshot of the top 100 interests most relevant to Las Vegas Locals and, in contrast, the top 100 interests most relevant to the Canadian Hockey Fans.

Top Interests of the Las Vegas Locals Segment


Top Interests of the Canadian Hockey Fans Segment

With this data, we can learn a lot more about the interests, passions, and culture of each fan segment. To enhance the fan experience, this affinity data can be used to identify:

  • Favorite players of each community
  • What other sports teams they are interested in
  • What food these fans love
  • What music should be played during game downtime
  • The top celebrity affinities for potential appearances or commentaries
  • What giveaways would resonate with these fans
  • Which communities are adopting sponsor and team hashtags
  • What beverages should be in-stadium
  • Where these fans go to get news about the team
  • What types of team-related content each community engages with
  • Where pre/post parties should be held

These are just a few examples. By understanding the other interests of a fan base, franchises can make their fans feel like they are receiving a truly personalized experience that resonates with them.

To successfully hold onto the attention of fans and cultivate a following of super fans, they need to speak to them in the most relevant way possible and understand their motivations.  

The professional sports industry will continue to evolve and with it, so must marketers. In order to grow and cultivate fan bases, franchises will need to adapt and invest in understanding their fanbase. The lifestyle, motivations, and consumption habits of fans cannot be ignored and must be taken into account when building strategies, both on and off the ice.

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