by Kirk Wakefield – January 2013
What makes a passionate fan?
A passionate fan devotes heart, mind, body, and soul to the team. The consequences of a passionate fan base are increased ticket, media, merchandise and sponsorship revenue to the team.
But what are the antecedents to fan passion? What causes fans to be passionate?
Researching passion across thousands of fans and all major sports, we can now explain the vast majority (~75%) of the WHY fans are passionate for a particular team and not a fan of another team. Teams become popular when it becomes part of CULTURE.
In Chicago, “Cubs fans are part of a special group; the best fans in baseball who get to call the best place to watch baseball their home, Wrigley Field,” explains Colin Faulkner, Vice President, Ticket Sales & Service with the Cubs. The experience fans get at Wrigley make it cool to be a Cubs fan and it provides a positive identity for fans. It’s become part of the Chicago culture.
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”550px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Fan passion is based on the team’s CULTURE:
Cool: Is the team cool, original, and different from other teams?
Unique: Does the team occupy a distinct space in the sports marketplace based on their exclusive logo, brand name, and singular quality, design, colors or style?
Love: Do fans love the players on the team? Are fans emotionally attached to players?
Trust: Do fans trust the organization running the team to be dependable, competent, responsive, and to act with integrity?
Utility: For what fans get for what they give up in time, effort, and money, what is the value of a ticket to a game?
Relationships: What does the image of the team say about fans to others? Does following the team bring social approval?
Experiential: Does the game environment allow fans to enjoy the experience and entertainment? Does the game experience build evangelists for the team?[/dropshadowbox]
We can score and rank teams on how strong the CULTURE is for teams in their markets. This data offers marketing diagnostics for teams and quantifies value for brands evaluating sponsorships.
We took a sample of 430 students at Baylor University to measure their passion for professional teams in Texas. Given our location 90 minutes away, students are biased toward DFW teams.1
1. Fan perceptions of team performance doesn’t necessarily predict passion. Students accurately see the Texans as one of the best performing teams and the Astros the worst, but this doesn’t correspond with how passionate they are about these teams. In fact, once we statistically account for the other elements of CULTURE, performance doesn’t help explain fan passion at all.
2. The Cowboys have not performed particularly well on the field in the past 15 years. Why are they so popular? Because they effectively position themselves as a cool, unique franchise with an exciting game experience. They have become part of the CULTURE.
3. The Spurs are frequently recognized as one of the best run franchises. While these students have a bias toward the DFW teams, they recognize the trust fans have in the Spurs organization.
4. The utility–or perceived value–of ticket prices is closely related to fan passion and the experience at the game. The true value of tickets is never a matter of cost, but always a matter of passion and past experiences.
What can teams do to build a CULTURE of passionate fans? Next month we’ll discuss, among other things, how organizations can build passionate fans by upgrading the experience and developing coolness.
“At Penn State football, if you missed the awesome touchdown catch, no worries. Pull out your smartphone and watch as many times as you want from multiple angles,” explains Mike Birdsall, FanConnex. “Don’t want to wait in line for food? At Stanford you can order food from your seat and receive a text when it’s ready to pick up at a special express window.”
1 Survey was taken the week prior to the Rangers falling out of first place.