SBJ/Oct. 13-19, 2014/Research and Ratings

Soccer fans follow sponsors to social media

Avid soccer fans in the United States are more likely than fans of other sports to engage with brands that are aligned with the sport, according to the 2014 Sports Fan Engagement Study conducted by Catalyst on behalf of SportsBusiness Journal.

Soccer fans ranked No. 1 in being digitally connected to their sport through Instagram and on Twitter, where MLS has seen growth.
Photo by: USA TODAY SPORTS IMAGES
This is the fifth consecutive year Catalyst has conducted a survey of this type. In the survey, avid sports fans were again asked if they had ever formally connected with a brand on social media (e.g., “liked” a brand on Facebook or “followed” a brand on Twitter) that they had seen in connection with a sport or sporting event. That engagement could have been driven by the fan’s exposure to brand activations such as an online contest, TV commercial or venue signage.

A survey-high 84 percent of
soccer fans said that they, in fact, had connected and then taken action with a brand that was involved with the sport. It’s the first time in the survey’s history that this question generated an affirmative rate of more than 80 percent among any sport’s fan base.

More specifically, 36 percent of the soccer fans that had taken action indicated they actually had purchased the product or service, up from 29 percent in last year’s study, generating that question’s biggest such year-over-year change. In comparison, college football fans were the most likely to have purchased the product or service (40 percent), while NFL fans were the least likely (31 percent).

Soccer fans were also the most digitally connected. Of the seven sports measured in this year’s study, soccer fans were the most likely to use Twitter (48 percent), Google+ (41 percent) and/or Instagram (26 percent) to follow soccer. Two-thirds of both soccer fans and NBA fans used YouTube to follow those respective sports, tying for the highest rate in the survey.

Chris Schlosser, vice president of MLS Digital, said the survey results align perfectly with the league’s internal data.

“We’ve seen our combined audience on Facebook and Twitter more than double this season, and consumption of our digital content so far this season has jumped 220 percent [compared to the full 2013 season],” he said.

Millennials are known to be the most tech-savvy age demographic, and MLS’s overall fan base is among the youngest among the major U.S. sports properties, according to Scarborough Research. Additionally, Schlosser said that according to MLS’s internal research, the league’s millennial fans are even more connected to technology and more wealthy than that segment of the U.S. population in general.

He also cited the campaign “24 Under 24,” presented by Adidas, as an example of a digital campaign that has been embraced by fans and satisfied a marketing partner. The initiative highlights 24 young MLS stars; Adidas has sponsored the effort each of the five years of its existence.

Beyond tracking engagement with sponsors, the survey measured fans’ game-day-specific behavior as well.

According to the results, while last year marked the first time that more than 50 percent of the fans in the survey claimed to use social media during games, that use may have plateaued.

In terms of game-day usage, social media networks enjoyed a double-digit year-over-year increases in game-day use in our 2012 and 2013 surveys, but just over 60 percent of fans claimed to do so in this year’s study, flat compared to last year. For example, YouTube and Google+ (each owned by Google), Facebook and Twitter-owned Vine each saw an overall increase in their game-day usage compared to last year’s survey. In fact, fans’ use of Facebook during the game increased by 16 percentage points compared with 2011. Conversely, Twitter and Facebook-owned Instagram each saw a year-over-year decline in their game-day use.

Among specific sites in the genre, Facebook remains the most-used social networking site among U.S. avid sports fans and with Americans in general: 75 percent of the survey’s 2,195 measured avid fans have a Facebook account and use it in relation to sports, while overall, Facebook reported recently that it had 1.32 billion monthly active users as of June 30. As of August, Twitter claimed 271 million monthly active users.

Other findings from the study:

Soccer fans are more than twice as likely to use Instagram to keep in touch with the sport as are NFL fans.

A survey-high 80 percent of NFL fans use Facebook in some way to follow the league, but the league’s fans are the least likely to use any of the other social media sites measured.

NBA fans use Vine on game day 1.4 times more than the average sports fan does.

NHL fans are the least likely to be motivated by a coupon or discount to follow a brand on social media.

MLB fans care the most about a brand’s involvement with the sport’s charities.

For the third straight year, social media is used as a primary source of sports information more often than newspapers, radio and magazines. Only TV and nonsocial media websites are seen as better options by avid sports fans.

About the research

Catalyst, an IMG Consulting subsidiary, conducted national online consumer surveys throughout the month of August. Those surveys measured responses from 2,195 sports fans ages 16 to 64 in the United States, all of whom follow, discuss or engage with sports using digital media.

The data collection was administered by Repucom International.

Fans were able to participate in a survey for a maximum of two of the following leagues/sports: MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, professional soccer, college basketball or college football. The results here represent data from at least 500 respondents for each of those groups.

Fans were asked, “How big a fan are you of the following sports leagues? Please respond using a 1-5 scale, where 1 means you are not a fan and 5 means you are an avid fan of that sport.” Fans who selected a 4 or 5 qualified for the survey.

For the category of “professional soccer,” fans were self-defined as a “4” or “5” on a 5-point fan avidity scale for at least one of eight major international soccer leagues, including MLS and the English Premier League.

As an additional qualifier, the fans were later asked to indicate how many of their favorite team’s games they watch or listen to during the course of a typical season. A response of less than 25 percent of games played in any respective sport terminated the survey.

To be included in the final results, respondents also had to select at least one of 10 sites listed when asked, “Which of the following, if any, social media or location-based check-in services do you use to engage” for following their favorite teams. Those offerings included the sites and services featured in the survey’s results that are presented here.

The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4.4 percent.
IMPACT OF ENGAGEMENT

What actions fans took after “liking” or “following” a brand associated with a specific sport (2014 compared to 2013)

ACTION SOCCER NBA NHL COLLEGE FOOTBALL COLLEGE BASKETBALL MLB NFL
Bought the brand’s product/service 36% (+7 pct. points) 35% (+4 pct. points) 36% (NA) 40% (+4 pct. points) 39% (+6 pct. points) 33% (-3 pct. points) 31% (-1 pct. point)
Talked about the brand with others 51% (+11) 50% (+7) 50% (NA) 46% (+10) 44% (+3) 41% (-3) 41% (+3)
Posted/tweeted their own content about the brand 37% (+10) 35% (+8) 35% (NA) 29% (+5) 32% (+5) 30% (+8) 27% (+4)
Shared a post/retweeted content that the brand broadcast 41% (+6) 42% (+4) 35% (NA) 37% (+6) 37% (+3) 37% (+6) 39% (+8)
Nothing in particular 16% (-12) 15% (-12) 20% (NA) 23% (-11) 21% (-7) 22% (-8) 25% (-10)

NA: Not available; NHL was not tracked prior to 2014 study.

PREFERRED SITES

Survey question: Which of the following, if any, social media sites or location-based services do you use in relation to these sports? (Select all that apply)

  SOCCER NBA NHL COLLEGE BASKETBALL MLB COLLEGE FOOTBALL NFL
Facebook 70% 76% 72% 72% 77% 73% 80%
YouTube 66% 66% 55% 54% 47% 46% 40%
Twitter 48% 43% 43% 40% 33% 31% 28%
Google+ 41% 35% 35% 37% 32% 31% 33%
Instagram 26% 22% 18% 18% 16% 14% 11%

how do FANS engage?

Survey question: How do you engage on social media sites with the following types of content in relation to your favorite sports? (Select all that apply).

Game highlights 86%
Game scores/stats 86%
Postgame excitement 77%
Player stats 74%
Pregame excitement 73%
Photos/videos/articles of player injuries 69%
Photos/videos of bloopers 68%
Historic/nostalgic photos/videos 65%
Game debate/banter 65%
Q&A/interviews with coaches/players 62%
Polls and poll results 61%
Behind the scenes content 60%
Photos/videos that mock teams and/or players 56%
Fan offers and promotions 54%
Fan offers/promotions 54%

Why do fans engage?

What reasons fans gave for “liking” or “following” a brand on social media:

The brand supports their favorite team 56%
Provided a coupon/discount 44%
Offered an interesting ad or promotion 44%
Offered a contest where they could win a prize related to the sport   43%
The brand supports a charity/cause supported by the fan’s favorite team  43%
Gave the fan a chance to meet a favorite athlete 30%

what’s new?

Sports fans were asked what other social media platforms they use, not necessarily for sports. Usage of new apps:

Snapchat 23%
What’s App 13%
Kik 10%


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