The Age of the Fluid Fan?

Last week I read a fantastically interesting report published by Sports Innovation Lab called ‘A New Age of Sports’. The wide-ranging report covered many facets of the sports industry, but something, in particular, horrified me… The Age of the Fluid Fan.

For a full definition of what a Fluid Fan is, I suggest you read the report but its key component was that a Fluid Fan is open to change, so much so that they would change allegiances to their sporting teams.

As a passionate football fan (soccer for those stateside), the idea of changing the team you support is one that would provoke ridicule amongst any self-respecting fan. Everyone knew a ‘glory-hunter’ at school. In my school days in the ’90s (yes I’m getting on) there was always someone who supported Man Utd but then decided to follow Arsenal when they began to challenge Utd’s dominance. These people were not taken seriously and treated as somewhat of a joke.

But as I read on, a realisation dawned… I too share traits of a fluid fan.

The report highlights that Wayne Rooney has over 17m Twitter followers compared to his current MLS team DC Utd (150k) and whilst there are a multitude of reasons for this, it struck me that I too followed DC Utds route to last years playoffs, solely because of Wayne Rooney. I also follow the English cricketers playing in the Indian Premier League.

This highlights one of the key elements of a Fluid Fan. The advent of globalisation, technology, and social media has, over time, taken sport fandom from a local level to that which is truly global. The Fluid Fan is now creating their own content, sharing among new digital communities and in an added twist, valuing a teams/players brand values over winning.

As a new age of sport fandom is coming upon us, new opportunities and many threats will affect teams and sporting bodies. Establishing a close relationship with their fans and connecting their brand story to the values of their followers becomes ever more important. In a saturated media market, clubs and sports need to fight harder for attention and ensure their captive audience stays just that.

In response, clubs are becoming ever more reliant on insights and will need to escalate their use moving forward. With more fans becoming fluid in nature, they stand the risk of quickly losing supporters or not taking advantage of new fans. By maintaining an always-on insights programme, clubs and associations can get closer to their fanbase and connect with their identity. Failure to do so will result in a loss of fans and in turn, revenue.

So, whilst I believe that there will always be the local fans, the hardcore that sticks with their team through thick and thin, the global market won’t share that same identity and will be far more fluid. If teams wish to protect and grow their revenue, they need to get closer than ever before to their fan base. Despite many failings of the industry, there’s never been a better time to be a sports fan. You can discover new sports, new teams, new players in the palm of your hand. I enjoy following the progress of English stars abroad. Whether it’s Jos Buttler smashing sixes for the Rajasthan Royals, or Wayne Rooney tracking back the length of the field to win a tackle and then play the perfect assist; it’s brought me closer to those leagues and now I want to attend an MLS game. There’s a world of sports out there for everyone to enjoy. So, whilst the idea of a fluid fan may stick in my throat essentially, I’ve played my part in it. I’m such a hypocrite.

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