Fact or Fiction: Are Sports Consumers That Unique?


When it comes to sports fans the industry consensus has always been that they are a very unique audience. The belief is that they behave differently to regular consumers due to their incredible loyalty and therefore require a specialised marketing approach. 

It’s why there are entire agencies set up to focus only on sports marketing.  

As Professor Heath McDonald notes in his book Sport Consumer Behaviour:

When we think about the sport fan or participant, the image that comes to mind is often of someone who is highly passionate and committed. It’s the extreme fan with painted face, lots of team merchandise and dedication to seeing every game...The sports consumer is often portrayed as being different from other consumers – more passionate, more commitment and more loyal – especially compared to consumers of typical fast moving consumer goods.

So, is this a fact or fiction? 

According to a new study, “Are Sport Consumers Unique? Consumer Behaviour Within Crowded Sport Markets, (2018)” this is actually a fiction. Sports fans aren’t any more loyal than consumer goods customers.

McDonald finds that code hoppers (or perhaps better phrased as multi-code watchers) are real and prevalent; “Evidently, the vast majority of a sport league’s customers are in fact shared. This conforms to Ehrenberg’s important observation that customers are really other people’s customers who occasionally buy from you.”  

Some codes already recognise this. The AFL introduced teams into Western Sydney and the Gold Coast, as well as mandating that some teams play home games outside of their traditional home ground in places including Hobart, Canberra and Bendigo.

This penetration strategy enables them to reach more potential buyers by improving the physical availability of the league. 

A mass marketing approach is therefore, just as relevant to sports codes who should be looking to reach a diverse range of buyers and ensure that their brands are memorable and recalled at the right times. 

Broad category entry points such as, “what are we doing this weekend” are relevant and important for many different categories including sports leagues.  

Sport it seems, really is more than a (fanatics) game.

Matt Arbon