Rivals on the Pitch – Global Football Fans Are United and Divided in Their Passion For the Sport.
Octagon’s global Passion Drivers™ study reveals what makes football fans tick thus providing the industry with quantifiable data to truly harness the power of football sponsorship as a vehicle through which to enhance brand value.
It is commonly known that football is the world’s most popular sport with a highly passionate global fan base of billions. For brands wishing to engage with a global audience, it can therefore be an effective platform off which to communicate brand messages and engage with one’s target consumers.
This was particularly evident during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, where the 15 global FIFA partners vied for consumer attention by tapping into the unrivaled exuberance that football fans have for their favorite sport. But, aside from national pride, what drives this intense passion that fans from different countries have for football?
Passion Drivers seek to provide this and many other answers to the key factors that ignite the passion fans have for football. Passion Drivers has been conducted in eight countries among more than 20,000 fans of each nation’s most popular sports. Football fan data is available for the UK, France, Germany, China, Australia, the USA and also South Africa.
In developing Passion Drivers, Octagon worked with the internationally recognized Wharton Business School and drew upon standard research methodologies already widely used by brand marketers and applied them to the sporting arena. Starting with a list of over 300 different drivers of passion, Octagon eventually narrowed this down to 12 Passion Drivers factors which form the basis of the fan profiles in each sport. In varying degrees of intensity and in different combinations, these factors contribute to the passion fans have for football and can provide critical information as to “why fans are fans”.
From a football perspective, the Passion Drivers results reveal a highly diverse fan base across countries. For example, fans from countries like the U.K., France and Germany, where a longstanding football tradition exists and the sport holds a dominant position, share similar motivating passions for the sport but with some subtle differences whereas fans from other countries, where football is less dominant, uncovered completely different motivating factors.
The relationship that Europeans have to football is first and foremost driven by Team Devotion. This factor truly differentiates ‘the beautiful game’ and its supporters from other sports in Europe. While it’s unlikely that fans of Germany and England will sing the praises of each others teams, German and English football fans are very similar in the relationship they have with the sport with the subtle difference that U.K. fans seem to be more team focused and avid than their German counterparts whereas the chance to gloat over fans of rival clubs is much stronger among German fans.
Compared to German and U.K. fans, Passion Drivers revealed that the French are less team-focused and more overall fans of the sport itself. For the French fan, the pure enjoyment that comes from watching football is oftentimes more important than which teams are playing and the outcome of the match.
Team Devotion isn’t nearly as important a driver of fan passion in developing football markets like China and South Africa where fan interaction is more sport focused and socially focused, respectively.
Chinese fans are primarily motivated by an overall love of the game that is grounded in their own playing experience. The skill exhibited by world-class players and strategy employed by the top clubs, regardless of where these teams come from or a players’ nationality, are far more important than the outcome of the match.
In South Africa, the opportunity football provides to socialize is the dominant motivator. Football also conjures a sense of nostalgia for many South Africans who grew up with the sport and appreciate the role football played in their personal and country’s history. The Team Devotion factor is growing in relevance, particularly in relation to the dominant PSL teams, which enjoy a loyal fan base, and is also likely to spill over to Bafana Bafana in the build up to South Africa competing as host nation in the 2010 FIFA World CupTM.
Looking more closely at the football fan profiles in South Africa, five distinct fan types emerge ranging from the largest avid fan typology, “Team Players”, whose strong association with the sport appears rooted in having grown up with football, there is an inherent love and sense of camaraderie with the sport and they relate to players and teams alike, to the smallest fan group, the “Football Household” fans, whose main emotional connection to football is through their affinity towards the international stars of today and an appreciation of the skill and technique involved in playing the game.
Simon Wardle, Octagon’s Vice President of Research and creator of the Passion Drivers study, believes that in European markets, Team Devotion starts almost at birth. By contrast, in developing countries such as China and South Africa, fans generally do not have such deep rooted team affinities.
In Australia and the U.S., football as a market influence remains in its formative stages, and the motivating factors driving fan passion in these countries are dramatically different than those found among European fans. Football holds a niche position in these countries’ sports landscape producing a cult-like fan base whose ‘first love’ is football. The U.S. and Australia are unique in their passion being primarily fueled by a current or past involvement playing or coaching the sport, a Passion Drivers factor called Active Appreciation.
Using the Passion Drivers data, football sponsors can tailor their activations to specific territories thus allowing their sponsorships to remain global in reach but locally relevant to consumers in each market.
At a time when sponsorship is often accused of lacking credibility due to insufficient quantifiable data to back up strategic recommendations, Passion Drivers can help create sponsorship leveraging programmes that can be quantifiably vindicated, are more closely aligned with fan preferences and therefore engage consumers in meaningful, lasting ways. With a deeper understanding of what drives fan passion for football, broad campaigns can give way to tailored initiatives that speak directly to a fan’s emotional connection to the world’s favourite sport.
Passion Drivers ™ is a registered trademark of Octagon.
Jo Ramsay graduated in law from the University of Cape Town in 1993 and developed a keen interest in the world of sport and sponsorship while working in the United Kingdom. She returned to South Africa in 1995 to take up a position at API (Pty) Ltd, now Octagon, and has since spent eleven years working in the sponsorship industry. Jo heads up Octagon’s Strategic Planning and Research team.