It is not uncommon for supporters of their favourite sports team to proudly declare the number of years they’ve remained loyal to their respective club; phrases such as “I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember” are often commended from fellow supporters for their lifelong loyalty, and regardless of the wins or losses they experience, they remain fearlessly faithful. But why does young fan interest and engagement matter so much? Giraffe Insights have been working hard to find out.
Sport, in its loosest term, has proven itself as a vehicle for a whole host of benefits to people and society including individuals’ physical & mental wellbeing, as well as their individual, social, community and economic development too. The force behind using sport to change lives for the better has come from the top, which has been the emphasis behind Sport England’s investment strategy from 2016-2021, focusing on the customer, transforming how sport is delivered and ensuring the impact hits the majority, not the few.
Giraffe Insights, a youth focused insight consultancy decided to dig a little deeper, surveying 200 sports fans about the effect their involvement has on stakeholders of the industry, including professional sports clubs as well as the fans themselves.
The study found a significant contrast between how much money young fans were spending on sport-related expenses compared to fans who had developed their interest slightly later on in life; the former was spending an average of £11 billion more across their lifetime, based on current census population figures, clearly demonstrating the potential economic impact young people can have on industry organisations’ bottom lines. This startling figure equates to a massive 37% more across their lifetime, providing the industry with food for thought at the very least.
Individual participation in the sport itself was also somewhat affected by whether one was classed as an early or late supporter. Alex, an Arsenal fan from London, told us how he ‘supported Arsenal for as long as he could remember’, going on to explain how “as you get older you just stick around – I still play with the same people I played with when I was seven”. A positive correlation can therefore be seen between early supporters and individual participation in sport, providing incentives that permeate other areas of society. For example, based on this finding alone, the physical health of young people could see major improvements should government initiative capitalise on this, where encouraging young people to become fans of sports teams earlier on consequently motivates them to join a team themselves, increasing their physical activity. When considering how more than 2.3 million young people do fewer than 30 minutes of physical activity a day – less than half of the recommended amount – the push to inspire young people into taking an interest in sport seems that extra bit more critical.
Loyalty is arguably one of the most associated characteristics of being a sports fan, with many frowning upon those that decide to switch teams throughout their lifetime. Within our research, a reoccurring characteristic was the stigma associated with changing teams; lifelong Aussie Rules fan Michael, 53 from South Africa, exclaimed how that regardless of the fact his team St. Kilda had not won the Premiership since before he was born, that “did not constitute simply changing teams” for him, demonstrating the loyalty that comes alongside being an early supporter. The correlation between being an early or late supporter of a sports team and loyalty to that particular team is further illustrated by how 52% of late fans had changed the team they support at least once, compared to only 27% of early supporters. The reasons given for the maintenance of early fans’ loyalty included the risk of wasting a lifetime of investment into the club, as well as the embarrassment of switching due to the way this would be perceived by others.
Get in touch with Giraffe Insights to find out more about how you can reach, engage and further develop your understanding of this audience to make sure you are reaping all the benefits they can bring to your business.
Written by: Zara Billings
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 Quotes from Giraffe Insights’ qualitative interviews
 Quote from Giraffe Insights’ qualitative interviews