Why Sports Deprived Fans Will Reach for Summer Sports

Sports Fans and COVID-19

During the spring and summer months, my house’s “white noise” becomes less of a soothing background sound and more of a constant wafting in of baseball announcers’ gripes and celebratory cheers from the TV set. No matter the time of day, I’ve grown used to hearing the familiar sounds of fans in the crowd, home runs hit, and strikes thrown. These sounds are absent this year, and I - for one - miss it! But I bet many others miss it even more than I do.

Data from our most recent MRI-Simmons Sports Fan Engagement Study reveal that more than 6 in 10 Americans miss sports to some degree. That’s 158 million people! It’s no surprise that men are hit the hardest, as 78% are “Sports Deprived,”* with almost half (49%) missing sports “very much.”

Sports fans have not only lost an avenue of escape, but they’ve lost a tried-and-true, longstanding way to bond with others. Since the suspension of most professional sports back in mid-March, Sports Deprived Fans are at a loss; 32% feel disconnected, 29% feel sad, and 26% are frustrated.

New Fans, New Opportunities

Media companies are also feeling this pain and have been forced to get creative with alternative content. After all, sports are a major reason that Sports Deprived Fans subscribe to cable/satellite TV subscription services (55%, 141), streaming services (35%, 143), and streaming TV packages that offer live TV (34%, 142). They are a prime audience for advertisers, as 61% notice sports advertising on TV (141), 51% pay attention to these ads (139), and 45% are very/somewhat engaged with the ads they see on TV during sports broadcasts (141).

Luckily for media companies and advertisers, this group has continued to watch anything sports-related they can get their hands on – classic games, sports documentaries, and movies. Entertainment TV, streaming shows/movies, and live TV have also helped fill the gap sports once had in their lives. Now though, after months of silence and unplanned shifts in media habits, we’re finally seeing the emergence of live sports trickling back into news feeds and TV schedules across the country

Leagues are doing everything in their power to make up for the last few months’ suspension of games/events. MLB spring training has been condensed to two weeks of social distance scrimmaging and temperature checks. Major League Soccer is back, albeit with a slight caveat that has turned soccer players (and fans) into bewildered “morning people” with games as early as 9am. Golf and NASCAR are also up and running again, although some industry experts feel these events are more “made-for-TV events than anything resembling a collective experience.”

These examples show that nothing is off limits when it comes to bringing sports back to the American people. As this new wave of sports events emerge, leagues, sponsors, and marketers are being handed a unique opportunity to reach a new subset of fans who are thirsty for sports content of any kind. In particular, 30% of Sports Deprived Fans will tune into whatever sport/league comes back first – regardless if they were previous fans or not. This equates to nearly 48 million sets of eyes – all with the potential to become fans of sports they may not have paid much attention to in the past.

So, marketers and sponsors – listen up! It’s important to size up and learn about these new fans as different leagues come back on air. While old fans are undoubtedly tuning in, no matter the circumstance, a brand-new group of consumers have potential to become “part of the team.” And without live ticket/game day revenue streams, it’s up to TV networks and streaming services to meet the increasing demand of the American people to bring sports back to the masses – in any way possible.

But while bleachers may be empty and games eerily quiet, you can count on living rooms across the country to be gearing up for some long-awaited sports watching.

To learn more about the Sports Deprived Fans and other insights from the newest MRI-SImmons Sports Study, download our report, Sports Fandom in the Age of COVID-19, now.

*Sports Deprived: consumers who miss sports very much, somewhat, or slightly.
Niki Harwood
Niki Harwood
Niki Harwood is a Senior Custom Analyst at MRI-Simmons. With a background in both qualitative and quantitative research, she enjoys bringing large data sets to life in an effort to help clients understand consumer behavior at every level.