‘Tis the Season… for Reflecting on the Power in Sports in Modern Lives

Ahhh, the holidays. A time to reconnect with family and friends, a time to eat and shop, and for many, a time to watch sports. A lot of sports.

Several of our latest studies reinforce just how central sports are to modern lives and lifestyles, during the holidays and throughout the year, across nearly every conceivable market segment.  In particular, we see strong engagement with sports among Affluents – the one-fourth of the population that has $100K+ in annual household income, and which holds three-fourths of U.S. net worth.  They are coveted by advertisers, often hard-to-reach, and particularly engaged with sports.

Even if viewed purely from a sports perspective, the holiday season is a harmonic convergence – we’re on the verge of the NFL playoffs, college football is gearing up for its Bowl Season (and a long-overdue playoff format), and the NBA season is picking up steam (this year, Christmas Day features five NBA games spanning 12 hours, including a Lebron-tastic Cavaliers-Heat matchup designed to intrigue even the most casual fan).  And as a true homer, I am obliged to point out that where I live, in San Francisco, the buzz from the Giants third World Series Victory in five years is only now subsiding (although losing Pablo Sandoval stings – my ten-year-old son is a proud owner of a “Let Panda Eat” t-shirt, and my attitude is ‘say it ain’t so!’).

The holiday offers even more than a harmonic convergence of American sports events – it’s a perfect storm from a lifestyle perspective as well.  Many people (particularly Affluents) have the rarity of true time off in their otherwise 24-7 lives.  For some, the holidays are a time to connect with family – and for others, it’s a time of strained attempts to peacefully co-exist with family while avoiding a minefield of sensitive personal topics – sports remarkably fit the bill on both counts.

For media and marketers, particularly those interested in the Affluent marketplace, sports offer a hard-to-match trifecta:

Sports engagement is widespread.  More than seven-in-ten Affluents follow at least one sport, and fully half consider themselves ‘sports fans.’ Major championships draw in casual fans as well, generating huge audiences.  More than eight-in-ten Affluents typically follow the Super Bowl, and similar numbers followed the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.  More than half follow the World Series and March Madness.

Sports passion is widespread.  Many categories and forms of entertainment draw large audiences of those with casual interest, and small niches of dedicated enthusiasts.  Sports are distinct in creating large audiences of passionate enthusiasts, often in a dynamic comparable to a classic product purchase funnel. Consider college football. Two-thirds of Affluents are at least considering watching a bowl game, 42% are definitely planning on it, and one-fifth plan to watch “as many bowl games as possible” – figures that rise significantly among Affluent Millennial men.  In this, and in many other sports-related instances, moving down the funnel to hard-core enthusiasts also means moving toward concentrated sub-segments of young, high-spending, and otherwise hard-to-reach consumers.  By the way, count me among that “as many bowl games as possible” segment – and given that my rooting interests (Florida Gators & Michigan Wolverines) suffered through “disappointing-doesn’t-even-begin-to-describe-it” 2014 seasons, that’s perhaps the strongest statement I can make about the widespread passion generated by the bowl season.

Sports encourage real-time interactivity.  In an often time-shifted world, sports are rare in their ability to inspire live viewing.  More than seven-in-ten watched the last Super Bowl live, and more than one-third watched World Series games or March Madness games live.  Social media thrives with – and reinforces – real-time engagement.  Among Affluents following a major sporting event, about half saw related social media content, and about one-fourth posted related social media content.  In an era when many seek to avoid advertising, sports (particularly the Super Bowl) offer among the few “appointment-viewing-for-the-commercials-alone” attractions in modern media.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for nachos, and some quality time with my wife, my son and the San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl.

Want more?  Check out our recent White Paper written in collaboration with ESPN: Sports in Affluent Lives.