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Volume 22 No. 44
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Study shows drop in fans receptive to sponsors

Sports properties continually promote the breadth of their fan bases. However, for sponsors considering those properties, passion is far less important than how sympathetic those fan groups are to sponsor messages. Expressing it, from the sponsors’ side, as a math equation: receptivity > avidity.

That’s the conclusion from an MKTG/SRI study of 3,000 consumers — fans of sports, music, entertainment and foodies among them — trying to determine what makes them responsive to sponsor messaging.

The bad news for marketers: This is the second version of MKTG’s “Decoding” study in five years, and the percentage of “non-receptives,” or fans who tune out sponsor messaging regardless of their level of avidity, increased dramatically — from 20 percent to 29 percent.

“Audiences, in general, have tuned out commercial messaging,” said Mike Reisman, MKTG president of sports and entertainment. “We also attribute that to media fragmentation.”

The online survey of 18- to 64-year-olds, taken in June and July (see chart), found 23 percent of fans are “receptive,” or responsive to sponsor messaging. The largest segment, 48 percent, were termed “selectives,” or those who are “on the fence” regarding sponsors, valuing their contributions but not always engaging.

Some intriguing results emerged when examining demographic groups surveyed. Millennials (31 percent receptive) were considerably more open to sponsor messaging than Gen-Xers (22 percent receptive) or baby boomers (16 percent receptive).

“Especially regarding millennials, that seems counterintuitive,” Reisman said, “but while they demand a more authentic message, they see a brand’s relationship with things they are interested in as a demonstration of authenticity.”

Looking across sports properties, women were more receptive than men, 27 percent to 22 percent. Within specific properties, the biggest discrepancy was within MLB fans: 31 percent of females therein said they were receptive to sponsor messaging, compared with 22 percent of male MLB fans. Among college football fans, it was 31 percent female to 24 percent male; and for NASCAR fans, it was 44 percent to 38 percent.

Ethnically, Hispanics were the most receptive to sponsor messaging at 33 percent, compared with 23 percent for African-Americans, 21 percent for Caucasians and 18 percent for Asians.

Marketers considering sponsoring a niche sport will be pleased by the study’s finding that those properties have more fans receptive to sponsor activity. Half of all surfing fans, 46 percent of all action sports fans and 39 percent of endurance sports fans consider themselves “receptive.” The study notes that those properties are more likely to be supported by powerful endemic brands, “closely aligned with the lifestyle.” Similarly, emerging sports have high receptive scores: obstacle racing (49 percent), esports (47 percent) and MMA (36 percent).

As for sports sponsorship alternatives: entertainment (36 percent), culinary (32 percent) and music (31 percent) all have higher receptive rates.

For any sponsor, converting the selective group into receptives is central. The study notes a dramatic difference in social media consumption between the two groups: 61 percent of receptives said they “enjoy the access I get to athletes/artists through social media”; just 34 percent of selectives agreed. While 46 percent of selectives said, “I get most of my sports news through social media,” only 24 percent of receptives said they do.

“Sponsorship, regardless of whether it’s sports, arts or whatever, remains one if the most effective ways to target particular groups,” Reisman said. “We just want to refine who’s being targeted and how sponsors activate against them.”