Fan Engagement Fandom Agency Leadership

The 2023 Fan Intelligence Index: How YouTube mastered fan attraction

By Owen Laverty, Chief Innovation Officer

Ear to the Ground


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October 23, 2023 | 7 min read

Owen Laverty of Ear to the Ground digs into the methodology and findings of the agency’s latest ‘Fan Intelligence Index’, in which digital giant YouTube has bested stalwarts from the sport and alcohol sectors.

Fans at a festival, under a shower of paper money

Ear to the Ground's Owen Laverty unpicks the agency's new Fan Intelligence Index / Pablo Heimplatz via Unsplash

In 2023, the worlds of sports and gaming have both seen remarkable growth, moving beyond the constraints of the global pandemic. As a result, now is a good time to evaluate which brands are having a true impact with fans.

Our fourth edition of the Fan Intelligence Index, released a few days ago, is designed to do just that. Winning with fans increasingly revolves around cultural relevance, a factor that’s become more challenging to quantify and measure. Our latest research tackles that challenge by measuring the attractiveness of brands in sports and gaming, to fans, giving us a clear single metric: the Fan Attraction Score.

Though it centers on one metric, the index offers a wealth of intelligence into what it takes to connect with fans. It also identifies the brands making the greatest impact this year.

The #1 spot: The YouTube generation

What stands out to me is the emergence of a new generation of fans who are shaping the future of our industry. This shift is most evident in YouTube’s rise to the top of the rankings, surpassing long-standing giants like Nike, PlayStation, and Adidas – brands that have dominated these passion points for decades.

The presence of YouTube at #1 and Spotify at #5 demonstrates what we have learned from Nike and Adidas in previous years. Winning in the worlds of sports and gaming isn’t just about being ‘endemic’ or splurging on sponsorship deals. It’s about storytelling, offering windows into culture, and collaborating with diverse talent. YouTube and Spotify have embraced these principles, and the new generation of fans loves them for it.

Are alcohol brands underperforming?

But what’s equally fascinating, as demonstrated by the research, is that merely being ‘endemic’ doesn't cut it. In fact, of the nine sportswear brands in the top 100, fans show something like indifference to three of them. Spending colossal amounts on sponsorship deals doesn't guarantee visibility either; three of the most significant beer brands find themselves in the bottom ten in our ranking.

The underperformance of some of these surprise lowest-ranked brands underscores a persistent truth for the new breed of fan: failing to align with fan values results in fans turning away. This is especially evident in the alcohol sector, where there needs to be a wholesale change in how brands think about connecting with younger fans through sport and gaming sponsorships.

7 keys to fan success

In today’s landscape, merely existing in sport and spending at high volumes are not enough. Fans are discerning, well-informed, and highly attuned to authenticity. It’s no longer adequate to strive for relevance alone; brands must establish genuine connections. Thus, the index presents ‘seven keys to success’, drawn from the triumph of YouTube and the shortcomings of brands like Heineken and Budweiser.

1. Show up consistently

Make a commitment to ongoing cultural presence. Brands like PlayStation exemplify this, consistently and authentically engaging with cultural elements from fashion to music.

2. Create portals into culture

Curate experiences that enable fans to discover new things. Platforms like Spotify and YouTube excel in delivering curated cultural experiences to their users.

3. Tell deeper stories

Know the ‘why’ behind your brand and weave narratives that emotionally resonate. Brands like Patagonia and New Balance harness storytelling, creating deep connections with their audiences.

4. Work with diverse talent

Engage personalities that align with the brand’s story and ethos, fostering genuine connections with fans.

5. Invest in innovation

Always evolve to meet the expectations of informed audiences. Brands like Nike exemplify innovation that resonates with fans.

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6. Ensure fan immersion

Focus on the complete fan experience. Google stands out as a brand that pays meticulous attention to every facet of the customer experience.

7. Reflect fan values

Establish genuine, authentic connections by resonating with fan beliefs on pivotal issues like equality and sustainability.

Discover where the world’s top 100 brands rank in the eyes of the new breed of fan when it comes to fan attraction by downloading a free copy of Ear to the Ground’s Fan Intelligence Index.

Fan Engagement Fandom Agency Leadership

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Ear to the Ground

Ear to the Ground is an award-winning strategic creative agency that specialises in sports, esports and gaming. We create highly impactful and effective campaigns...

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