The evolution of America's love affair with sports

And how brands are changing the way they engage with sports fans

Americans love sports. 85% of the US adults follow at least one sport (Mintel). In the past, that love meant cheering on your team at the stadium, arena, rink or other in-person venue. Or watching with fellow fans at your neighborhood tavern or in your friend’s basement. But how we follow sports is evolving.

In a recent Commerce House study, Sports Lovers (those who love to or want to engage with sports) told us that they consume 60% of their entertainment at home. And 1/3 say they consume more than 80% of their entertainment at home.

66% of Sports Lovers have
an annual household income
between $25K and $75K

The average cost for a family
of 4 to attend a single NFL
game is around $435

The primary reason? Cost.

Not surprising when you consider that 2/3 of these Sports Lovers have a household income of between $25k and $75k. They self-identify as middle class, worry about economic security and seek to remove debt from their lives.

And the cost of attending professional sporting events has only increased in recent years – for example, NFL ticket prices increased an average of 22% from the 2016 to 2017 seasons. With an average ticket ranging from $30 for an MLB game to $90 for an NFL game, a family of four would spend anywhere from $120 to $360 on tickets alone. Add to that the cost of parking, concessions and merchandise, and an in-park experience becomes out of reach for many American families.

So of course the majority of Americans prefer watching their teams from home. But the challenge for sports leagues is keeping those fans engaged when they’re not captive in the stadium or arena. While these fans might love their teams, they’re increasingly becoming distracted viewers. 1/3 of sports fans regularly check email, social media or text, and 1/5 are surfing the internet while watching (Mintel).

Given the Sports Lover’s propensity to distractedly watch games from home, what’s a team or league to do to keep fans engaged? How can they enrich the fan experience from home? And ultimately, how can they stay relevant in the minds of those fans?

Connect with them where they connect.

Over the course of the last few years, we’ve worked with the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) to do just that. By creating a credible, independent voice for the referees, one that both humanizes them and creates a more positive image of the work they do, we’ve been able to engage with fans and become increasingly relevant in the sports media conversation.

In our most recent effort to connect with NBA fans, we sought to harness the excitement of the 2018 NBA Finals by co-hosting a live Twitter event – the #RefWatchParty – running in real time during Game 3 of the Finals, providing commentary on officiating within the game (and officiating in general). The idea was simple. If fans (and sports media) are watching the game while checking social media, why not entertain them, educate them and give them new insights to the game they couldn’t get anywhere else?

The night of the game, the NBRA team virtually huddled with the Commerce House team to post perspectives about game calls and answer fan questions. In real time.

Prior to the event, fans and the sports media were skeptical. But after the event, fan and media enthusiasm and engagement were more than expected. Not only did the majority of participants say they were enjoying the event but in the course of an evening, we more than doubled the NBRA’s Twitter followers, from 30k to over 71k.

By joining the conversation in a relevant and timely way, the NBRA engaged fans, amplified their voice and left them wanting more. In fact, many fans and members of the sporting media have asked for #RefWatchParty to continue. We’ll take that as an invitation to continue connecting and engaging with fans across all the platforms they live on. Invitation accepted.