Through our firm’s ongoing Back to Normal Barometer, we’re continuing to pulse consumer attitudes on sports, travel and leisure.
An emerging trend shows fan sentiment moving toward an inflection point. Our third wave of research, conducted just last week, shows nearly half of sports fans indicating they would currently attend a live sporting event without hesitation. This is up significantly from the 34% who felt the same back in early April.
Driving this phenomenon are growing levels of deprivation, revealed through a metric that measures sports fans’ desire for the return of the sports they follow most closely — and which different properties are continuing to provide meaningful opportunities for fans to engage and connect with them, even absent live coverage and related content.
Our late April scores showed that due to the suspension/cancellation of sports throughout the country, soccer fans felt the most deprived, followed by fans of basketball and baseball. Conversely, horse racing, where live races and coverage continued to take place, culminating in last week’s expanded Arkansas Derby, shows relatively low levels of deprivation among its fans.
The void of live sports has created a widening gap in levels of both fan deprivation and anticipation since the Covid-19 pandemic ground sports to a halt in mid March. Our research is clearly showing that sports like the NFL and horse racing are effectively engaging with their fans with meaningful content, in some cases on alternate distribution channels, while others have lagged.
It’s interesting to note that the top three sports experiencing the most deprivation also have large shares of its fan base who also participate in that sport, another important component that can drive connection absent the current season.
Over time, auto racing, football and mixed martial arts (MMA) are seeing the largest increases in their levels of deprivation and anticipation, with football fans experiencing the highest levels of anticipation for the sports return. Certainly, record-breaking viewership of NFL draft coverage is reflective of what our research has been showing.
NASCAR has also enjoyed success with its iRacing series and is preparing for a fanless return next weekend. MMA hosted its first fight card on Saturday night.
In general, we’re seeing those sports that have drawn a line in the sand and announced an anticipated return date, tending to score higher on the anticipation metric.