Shannon Sinclair, insight lead at media agency the7stars, reflects on what she learned about sports fans this year and shares the lessons we can take into 2022.
It’s been another emotional year for Brits, and it’s not just because lockdown finally ended after a grueling 18 months. This year’s summer of sport has added poignance to 2021, with an action-packed season of tears, triumph, and togetherness.
A fifth of the British adult population cried at least once while watching a sporting event this summer, roused by feelings of both joy and sorrow. This emotional release was just the antidote that despondent Brits needed post lockdown, and why we all found ourselves getting swept up in the excitement - regardless of whether we’d ever been sporting fans before.
In partnership with d.fferentology, the7stars conducted research amongst 1,000 Brits to explore and understand the importance of sport in our culture, and to unpick how brands can (and should) authentically be a part of this ever-growing passion.
Emotion is Key
The summer of sport 2021 was like none that came before. Over a third of Brits say they watched more sport this year than ever before, perhaps in part due to the sheer volume of sports available to watch after delayed events were finally allowed to go ahead. The most momentous and enjoyable events according to the nation were the men’s Uefa Euro, the Tokyo Olympics and Emma Raducanu’s triumphant win at the US Open.
However, what really kept us glued to the competition were the emotional stories of our athletes and teams, who were often competing against the odds to take part in their sport this year.
Watching their successes, we felt excitement (62%) and happiness (60%). But there was also frustration (11%), stress (11%) and tearfulness (10%) as competitors came up against challenges.
Emotional stories also helped sport reach a broader audience than usual this summer, drawing in those who are not regular sporting fans. For example, Emma Raducanu’s win was most popular among those who describe themselves as casual sports viewers, drawn in by her remarkable story.
Emotion is key, and this year has shown us that, but emotion has always come from the fans, and too often the fans get forgotten amongst the noise. We only need to look to the cancelled European Super League to see the consequences of not listening to how fans feel. The true power of sport lies within the passion of the audiences that engage, whether it’s a casual or more dedicated supporter.
What makes the passion we feel when watching sport so powerful is the shared experience. With nearly two-thirds (61%) of Brits agreeing that sporting events unite people, watching and celebrating an event this summer helped us feel connected to other fans (58%), as well as to the individual athletes or teams we cheered on (67%). Even long after the events ended, we were left with a lingering feeling of pride in our nation and in our local communities (74%), illustrating the enduring emotional impact of this summer of sport.
The lasting emotional impact of the summer of sport 2021 presents a golden opportunity for brands looking ahead to 2022. On the world stage we have the Fifa World Cup and Beijing Winter Olympics and taking place on home soil we have the Uefa Women’s Euro, the Commonwealth Games, and the postponed Rugby League World Cup, an action-packed calendar that looks set to surpass even that of London 2012.
The buzz around home tournaments, the sense of national pride and togetherness, and the heightened emotions are very appealing to many sponsors. Brands, therefore, have an exciting opportunity to partner with the broad spectrum of sporting events set to take place in 2022.
However, in order for these partnerships to drive brand engagement and business results, brands should think about how they can engage with fans in the longer term to be a part of the passion.
Be a Part of the Passion
Don’t forget fans.
Understanding the way an audience truly feels can unlock the potential for brands within sport. Brands should pay attention to fans, listen carefully and create more meaningful experiences that are entwined with the lifestyles of the audiences they are trying to connect with. Categorising and identifying the emotional profiles of audiences based on events will allow brands to tailor their activations, and in turn stimulate deeper connections.
Be a part of the whole journey. Whether you’re a hardcore sports fan, or a casual watcher, everyone goes through a spectrum of emotions, that goes beyond the event itself: from national pride, unity, elation to frustration. We are still relishing in this summer of sport, months after many of the events taking place. Instead of just being part of one day, brands should think about how they can engage with fans from the build-up to beyond, to build a more authentic and long-term engagement.
Have a reason to get involved. Consumers are increasingly aware of brand partnerships in sport, and brands will face scrutiny if they are seen as riding the wave of 'what’s hot’ without a reason for being there. Having an authentic story to tell is the single, most crucial tool in developing relationships with consumers through sport, and, as we’ve seen from 2021, connecting with fans’ emotions is a key factor in the formula of success.