Sports have played a vital role in American society over the last century. Olympic teams have brought together the nation, professional teams have been a point of shared pride for cities, and college sports have been the foundation for alumni communities. Sports have been a unifying cultural force. However, technology and demographic trends seem to be weakening the traditional American sports culture, and the COVID lockdowns of the recent past have further disrupted fandom communities. In 2022 there is a question as to whether sports are still a unifying force.
Sports fandom shares similarities with other types of entertainment fandom and cultural passion, but it is also distinctive. Fandom is about social identity through cultural engagement. Fandom occurs when “something” is so compelling that people gain value by being a part of a community focused on the “something.” Fandom can occur across various categories such as movies, music, comedy, fashion, or even cultural institutions like colleges or consumer brands.
The connection of sports to places and geographies makes sports fandom unique. Being a sports fan is an explicit identification not just with the team but with the place and people the team represents. Sports fandom has been transmitted for generations through family traditions and broadcast media. As a result, sports fandom has been a life-long identity and a core part of local culture. However, changing demographics and mobile technologies may be disrupting the processes that create sports fandom. Sports fandom may no longer be automatic, and teams and leagues may face a new reality where they need to earn the fandom of new generations.
The Next Generation Fandom Survey is an annual study of American sports and entertainment fandom produced by Emory Goizueta School of Business Marketing Analytics Center in conjunction with faculty at Emory University, University of British Columbia, Georgetown University, and Purdue University. The survey questions over 2000 Americans. We publish the Survey results at www.fandomanalytics.com.
Insights from the 2022 survey include:
Sports fandom has dropped sharply from 2021 to 2022. This drop is consistent with declines in the national mood, but the reduction for sports is more substantial than for entertainment categories.
Sports Fans are significantly more engaged than Sports Apathetics across every aspect of the culture. This result suggests that a drop in sports fandom is a harbinger of further cultural alienation.
The younger portion of Generation Z and Baby Boomers have the lowest rates of sports fandom. However, different types of sports are fading in these two cohorts. Baby Boomers prefer “set piece” games like baseball, while younger people like the continuous action of sports like soccer and Esports.
Football remains the most popular sport overall and across all “genders” and generations. Other sports have different demographic strengths and weaknesses. The sports marketplace, except for football, continues to fragment.
Female sports fandom lags behind male sports fandom. Female fandom is strongest in narrative-driven sports like the Olympics and weakest in Esports. The most significant difference in male and female fandom behaviors is men are significantly more interested in gambling.
Politically conservative individuals have the highest rates of fandom but feel underappreciated by professional sports leagues. Conservatives may be the natural core sports fans as they score higher in the psychological traits most associated with sports fandom.
SURVEY RESULTS REPORTING
This is the home for the Next Generation Fandom survey. The first group of reports will include the following (links will be included when specific reports are published):
1. Highlights Report: The Highlights Report provides year-over-year comparisons and high-level trends.
2. Generational Fandom Report: The Generational Fandom Report provides comparisons of fandom across the Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial, and Generation Z cohorts. This report also includes a supplemental sample (~500) of Gen Z respondents that are used to compare fandom in older and younger Gen Z populations. More info HERE.
3. The Female Fandom Report: The Female Fandom Report investigates the attitudinal, behavioral, and motivational differences between male and female fans. More info HERE
4. The Conservative Fan: The Conservative Fan Report investigates how fandom varies across the political spectrum. More info HERE
The 2022 Next Generation Fandom Survey collected responses from April 8th to April 22nd. The sample is representative in terms of Race and Gender. Quota sampling was used to ensure relatively equal populations (~510) of Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The Generation Z sample includes about 1000 respondents. For the majority of analyses we report, we use a random sample of 510 members of the Generation Z group.
We define Generation Z as individuals aged 25 and younger, Millennials between 26 and 41, Generation X as 42 and 57, and Baby Boomers from 58 to 76. The baseline sample includes 2040 individuals. The baseline sample consists of 510 respondents from Gen Z, 511 Millennials, 509 Gen Xers, and 510 Baby Boomers. The larger (~1000) group of Generation Z respondents is used for Generation Z specific analyses. For the Generation Z focused studies, we define Young Gen Z’s as 20 and younger and Old Gen Z’s between 21 and 25.
The survey frequently classifies individuals as Fans, Neutrals, or Apathetics. These classifications are based on responses to 7-point scales where the subject is asked to rate their fandom (or other measures of liking). For the classification scheme, individuals rating their fandom at 6 or 7 are labeled “Fans,” ratings of 3 to 5 are labeled “Neutrals,” and ratings of 1 or 2 are labeled “Apathetics.”
Listen to more discussion on sports and entertainment fandom on the Fanalytics podcast.