The rising personalisation of sports consumption

The rising personalisation of sports consumption

Bambos Eracleous, Partner for Sports, Media & Gaming, explores the growing phenomenon of the “on-demand fan” and its implications for sports and media.

Picture, if you will, a sports fan. What do you envisage in your mind’s eye? Perhaps it’s a diehard, season ticket-holding football supporter, enthusiastic, big-voiced participant in terrace chanting, committed to slogging it up and down the country, and sometimes further afield, to attend away matches. Fiercely loyal to the team, part of the crowd, scoffer of pies. There, come hell or high water, for the glory or the setbacks.

Fair enough, this is your classic archetype. Steeped in fandom, unwavering, tribal, a sports nut.

But most definitely not the only kind of sports fan. In the age of personalisation, a fascinating new breed has emerged, a different type of fan who takes a more curatorial approach to sports consumption.

In its report “Winning the Next Wave of Sports Fans”, R/GA calls them “on-demand fans” – an apt term that is hard to beat. So I’ll use it too. R/GA defines on-demand fans as bringing their own values and mindset as a consumer of culture to fandom. “They prefer a personalised fan experience that prioritises moments that are bigger and often separate from the game itself. These fans bring their personal values and interests to sports culture and favour moments within sports that reflect their reason for viewing. To these fans, culture is the inspiration to engage with the game.”

Put another way, they have an interest rather than an allegiance.

All of this is representative of a huge ongoing transformation in sports viewership and engagement. When R/GA surveyed 6,785 US Sports fans, it found that only 35% of sports viewing moments (such as watching live sports events on TV or other devices) can be defined as “classic sports viewing moments,” where viewers are mainly focused on the progress of the game and its outcome as they support their team or individual idol. “Go Andy, Come on you Spurs…” Therefore, roughly two-thirds of viewing moments are more nuanced. People are watching for entertainment, the cultural relevance of the game, the players and the personal relationship viewers have to athletes – or even the partners of the athletes, as evident with the fascination around Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce at this year’s Super Bowl.

Now that does not sound much like the archetypal avid fan I sketched out at the start of the piece, and purposefully so. Sports brands have a golden opportunity to extend their appeal beyond a cohort of Ultras to a huge audience with an interest in sports, but on their own particular terms.   

As I noted a few months ago, there is a move towards exploiting the “experience economy” of sports. We have already seen new stadiums built as multi-purpose venues, hosting events other than just sports. The next phase is to create entertainment hubs/zones designed to keep fans engaged with the sport/club whilst doing something different.

Media partnerships will also be vital going forward. Last month I wrote about the rise of sports-adjacent programmes, such as documentaries that tap into the glamour, passion and intensity of sport in a way that very much appeals to on-demand fans.

But there is more than one way to skin a cat, or indeed to take a penalty. As Deloitte observes in its report “The beginning of the immersive sports era”, the future of sports fandom could hinge on captivating younger fans with personalised and interconnected digital experiences.

Indeed, some younger fans only want to interact with sports content through online channels. New technology is helping enrich this kind of experience. An insightful Forbes piece explores how AI-powered videos can drive fan engagement in niche sports categories, and undoubtedly there are opportunities here for content creators and sports fans alike. Moreover, the ability of AI tools to learn an individual’s preferences obviously plays in to the personalisation aspect of on-demand fandom.

Sports deliver excitement but another reason for their mass appeal comes down to their relative simplicity. Even with more complicated sports, you can enjoy a contest without needing to understand the finer points of all the rules. Yet catering to the fast-growing importance of the on-demand fan is far from simple.

Off the field, many organisations need to up their game. The good news is, we have access to well qualified interim talent…on-demand. 


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