With every new year, the adage that “hope springs eternal” comes to mind. But our most recent sentiment data from sports fans seems to flip that convention on its head.
Read to the end for a big silver lining to the hovering cloud.
But first, at the risk of sounding like Debbie Downer, some alarming insights from our mid-January attitudinal pulsing showed double-digit decreases from the fall in several key measures.
In October of 2021, 53% of sports fans strongly agreed that “People around me seem relatively happy.” That plummeted to 37% mid-January. Of a similar ilk, we now see just over a quarter strongly agree that “America is better off now than it was four years ago.” That sentiment was at 38% in October. Perhaps most alarming is that just 37% of American sports fans strongly agree that they are optimistic about the future of our country -- down 13 points from 50% in December of 2020.
There’s a lot to attribute to our winter of discontent. A further look at the data showed significant levels of concern over inflation, crime, national divisiveness and the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
When it comes to the latter concern, our most recent data showed an alarming shift in confidence over the efficacy of the vaccines, with a 19 point dip from 64% who strongly believed that they were effective in keeping Americans healthy and safe last October, to just 45% in January, as Omicron peaked.
But the negativity stops here. From a more than half-full perspective, fans are back out and about again. In a key metric that we’ve looked at since March of 2020, we now see 91% re-engaging in favorite activities without hesitation.
We’ve learned to live within the circumstances. And I’ve often observed that sports continue to serve as an oasis from the stresses of daily life. That fact continues to show great opportunities for sports, which can provide the flexibility and escape that fans covet.
Good, bad or indifferently, the same January data shows just over half of fans indicating that they would or do wear a mask or facial covering at indoor sports events. Withholding any value judgements, recognize that this at least indicates a sense of safety and control within the sports environment, and those are the two key triggers that we’ve consistently seen to motivate a return to pre-pandemic behaviors.
There’s something greater, perhaps, that is driving the phenomenon of a return to pre-pandemic behavior with favorite activities like sports, and I look back to the term originated many years ago by futurist Faith Popcorn: “cocooning.”
As originally used, cocooning was a reference to people staying close to home and comfort in times of uncertainty and discontent. Here, I update “home” to be replaced by the motivating environment of sports activities.
As further evidence of this trend, I look to the renaissance of participation in, and engagement with, golf -- which the industry has observed over the past two years. Taking it further, our most recent golf industry research shows that 54% of private clubs saw membership growth in 2021, compared to only 19% just 10 years ago. Nearly half (43%) report full memberships and/or maintenance of a waiting list for new members.
The new cocoon is a powerful lever for sports marketers that are a part of it.