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Sports have long been woven into the fabric of society. Cave paintings dating back over 15,000 years have shown people wrestling, swimming and sprinting. And since sports have come a long way from cavemen times, today they’re worth big bucks; the global industry generates $700 billion annually.

But sport would be nothing without fans. So, for the past four months, Canvas8 have been helping sports marketing agency Performance Communications better understand the fan. Ultimately, whether someone’s a fan of football or rugby, ice skating or esports, we discovered that all fans fall somewhere on a spectrum; from the casual fan (as in, the girlfriend who goes to a Man United match just to check up on her fella) to the superfan (the hardcore England lad who’s painted his house, decked out his car and tattooed his face with the club’s emblem). But what actually makes someone a fan in the first place?

We spoke to Dr. Daniel Wann, the leading expert in all things sport, to find out. Wann uncovered eight reasons why people become fans – including a social desire to connect with others and the classic case of escapism. Armed with Wann’s expert knowledge, we then spoke with industry experts and sponsors – Team Sky, Formula E, AIG and Nissan (to name a few) – as well as over 500 sports fans, to uncover eight core trends that’ll shape the future of the sports fan.


Supporting a team has never cost fans so much

As it turns out, sports fans make bad wedding guests and worse mourners – 14% of fans have accessed sports content at these events. And with 73% wanting to access content ‘whenever, wherever,’ while 51% expect teams to support local communities, they’re a tough crowd to please – and an even tougher crowd for brands to understand.

“Don’t go in as a brand and just bring your logo,” says Roel de Vries, global head of marketing and brand strategy at Nissan. “One of the richest things you can do is to make the experience better.” And with the cheapest ticket prices in football rising twice as fast as the cost of living, a third of fans are forking out a significant part of their monthly income just to be a fan – and as a result, they’re expecting more in return.

One thing’s for sure though – sport is an incredibly powerful force for positive change. Fans feel sport is a more influential driver of positive change than religion or politics, and two-thirds feel athletes act as role models in society. “Sport has the power to change the world,” proclaimed Nelson Mandela almost a decade ago. “It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.” And he wasn’t wrong.

Read more insights like this by signing up to the Canvas8 Library.

Hannah Elderfield is a Canvas8 behavioural analyst and a psychology graduate from the University of Kent. Outside of work she can be found shopping, walking her dog or attempting to curb her addiction to Nutella, not all at once of course.

03 Jun 16

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