The American sports landscape is changing. Technology and demographic factors are producing a fragmented sports marketplace. With few exceptions, sports audiences are shrinking; while the NFL still draws about 1/3 of the Americans to view the Super Bowl, the NBA Finals and MLB World Series may reach fewer than five percent of the population. Most sports are shifting from mass media products to segment- or niche-oriented products.
This report investigates differences in the US fan bases of Football, Basketball, Baseball, Hockey, Soccer, and Esports. We explore fandom differences in demographics, psychographics, entertainment category preferences, fan behaviors, and celebrity ratings. We also explore patterns in sports fandom and profile the marginal fans of each sport.
Report highlights include:
Football has the largest fanbase, followed by Basketball and Baseball. Hockey, Soccer, and Esports appeal to less than 15% of the population. There are significant demographic and psychographic differences across fandoms, such as:
Amongst the big three sports (Football, Basketball, and Baseball), Baseball fans are the oldest, most conservative, and most religious. In contrast, Football fans score the highest on the psychological traits most associated with fandom.
Fans of niche sports like Soccer and Esports are far more conservative than the overall population.
Statistical analysis of fandom patterns reveals two primary segments. A Mass Media oriented segment focused on Football, Basketball, and Baseball; and a Niche segment more interested in smaller market share sports. This structure is interesting as it suggests a split between fandom for the sake of fandom and product-based fandom.
Analyses of Moderate (or almost) fans reveal fundamental insights into sports fandom. Core and moderate fans tend to score higher on metrics related to engagement with traditional cultural aspects. For example, the segment of moderate Baseball fans is more conservative and religious than non-fans. The segment of Moderate Esports Fans is also more socially conservative and has a significant interest in another aspect of engagement: gambling.
Overall, the results suggest two critical findings. First, the results indicate that fandom includes a social and a sport-specific component. Football is dominant because it dominates the social component. Second, sports fandom is rooted in traditionalism. A propensity for engagement with traditional or established culture is a critical element of fandom.
The Emory Marketing Analytics Center’s Next Generation Fandom Survey investigates the state of American fandom in 2022. We view fandom from multiple perspectives and have issued reports that explore how fandom varies based on Generations, Gender, and Political Ideology. The complete list of fandom reports is available here
As an example of the reports content the figure below shows Baseball and Basketball fans' ratings of 43 celebrities. The figure highlights that while there is a positive correlation in ratings there are also significant differences.
The correlation in ratings between Basketball and Baseball Fans is .92.The average celebrity rating by Basketball Fans was 4.53 compared to 4.38 for Baseball Fans. The higher average rating for Basketball fans further confirms earlier results that suggest that Baseball Fans are somewhat alienated from popular culture.
The Celebrities with the most significant gaps in Basketball fan versus Baseball fan ratings are LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Colin Kaepernick, Drake, Zendaya, Kanye West, and Will Smith. Baseball fans rated only a few celebrities higher than Basketball fans. These celebrities included Jennifer Aniston, Wayne Gretzky, Dolly Parton, and Mike Trout.
The full report can be found below: