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Fandom Survey 2024 Preview

The Next Generation Fandom Survey is an annual look at sports and cultural fandom across the generations. We are about to begin data collection for the 2024 edition of the survey, and as a first step in the analysis, I am publishing some expectations for the survey. Publishing expectations is useful as it provides context for my thinking about the changes to the survey and reveals potential biases.


Over the first several years of the survey, the most notable result has been the drop-off in sports fandom amongst Generation Z relative to Millennials and Generation X. Other key results have included:


  • Relatively low sports fandom in the Baby Boomer cohort.

  • Differences in sport-specific fandom across generations. Baseball does better with older generations, while soccer and esports do better with younger people.

  • The weakness in Generation Z fandom is a sports issue, as Generation Z still has strong fandom in categories like music, movies, and fashion.   

  • Details from 2023 are HERE


These results have been consistent since COVID-19 and have left me with a somewhat pessimistic view about the future of sports fandom. My speculation is that technology and demographic changes have led to a weakening of the communal structures that create and support sports fandom. Entertainment fandom rates have not shown the same dramatic decline in Gen Z. Entertainment fandom is less dependent on community factors for various reasons, so these categories have seen less of a drop-off.


As we go into the 2024 data collection, several events and trends suggest sports fandom may be rebounding. I also suspect that entertainment fandom may be trending upwards as well. The Super Bowl produced a record audience, and the halftime show was the highest-rated segment of the program. The Super Bowl audience growth was likely driven by Taylor Swift’s appearance and her season-long support of the Kansas City Chiefs. The Super Bowl, Usher, and Taylor Swift are three positive signals of cultural passion. Football is America’s dominant sport. The halftime musical show was the highest-rated segment. Swift’s ERAs tour has set a modern standard for a musical tour and revealed the power and potential of fandom in Millennials and Gen Z women and girls. People seem to want to get back to shared cultural experiences.


There are several other recent happenings and trends that suggest a rebound in fandom. Early 2024 has seen Caitlin Clark become a household name, and a hotly contested 3-point contest between Sabrina Ionescu and Steph Curry was the highlight of the NBA all-star game. Women’s sports seem to be having a moment with unprecedented levels of media coverage and social media attention.


On the other hand, there are also indicators that fandom continues to be shaky. In sports, MLB’s World Series had historically low ratings. While Caitlin Clark is a breakout star, Men’s college basketball is attracting little attention. In entertainment, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has dominated the last decade of movie box office results but recently has suffered a string of failures. While some fandoms are booming (the NFL, women’s sports, music), others seem to be fading (MLB, college basketball, Marvel).


Making subjective assessments of fandom is challenging as the analyst is relying on anecdotal data points being processed through a set of human biases. With that as background, my hypothesis going into the survey is that we will see an uptick in sports fandom and entertainment fandom but that there will be winners and losers. My feeling is that the mood surrounding cultural products has improved, and people are looking for the shared experiences that underlie fandom. The intensity and size of the Swiftie community and record-setting NFL ratings suggest diverse segments are eager to engage in popular culture.


However, I also believe that any rebound in fandom will not be consistent across sports. The big winners will likely be the leagues and categories dominating popular culture. People want community, and being an NFL or Taylor Swift fan is the easiest path to being part of the crowd. I foresee a rebound in the sports and categories people use to connect with others. I think we may see further weakening for sports that are fading from mass market to segment/niche status. I also suspect that the trend of Baby Boomers becoming alienated from sports and popular culture will continue.


Predictions:

  • Growing fandom for the NFL but shrinking fandom from MLB and the NHL

  • Growing enthusiasm for music, especially in younger generations

  • A general strengthening in fandom in Generation Z but a further weakening in the Baby Boomer segment.


There are a couple of other items to note about the 2024 survey. First, I have added several questions specific to women’s sports. Women’s sports are enjoying a surge in attention from media and sponsors, but it is unclear how this translates to fandom. We are no longer in an environment where the media responds to fan interests. Fandom is now aggressively managed. It is hard to tell from media coverage how much actual fandom exists.


Second, the 2024 survey includes questions related to the political candidates (celebrities) involved in the 2024 presidential election. The 2024 presidential campaign is unusual in several respects. The Democratic base seems to have significant doubts about Joe Biden due to his age, and Donald Trump is a unique political figure in his ability to inspire both fandom and antipathy. The survey includes questions related to the political figures that may become involved in the campaign as Biden replacements, Trump running mates, or 3rd party options.   


We should begin publishing findings in mid-March. We will likely start with results from the political realm. While politics isn’t usually associated with fandom, it is a category that is driven by celebrity, identity, and passion. We will likely start our reporting with a look at some of the key figures in the upcoming presidential election.     

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Little Steve
Little Steve
09. jul.

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