Do you know your audience? Are they sports fans or spectators?

We watch sports on TV and/or attend a live match because we simply love sports. Sports excite us, sports give us a chance to spend quality time with our families and friends, sports let us relax after a stressful week at work. And it doesn’t even matter if it’s football, handball, baseball or NASCAR. There are a lot of people around us who feel the same, and watch sports for the same reasons. We just love the excitement. And most of the times the atmosphere is amazing and the venues are sold out such as the one in the image below.

To be able to know what drives you to attend a game is sometimes hard to figure out even when you think about yourself. Now imagine a marketer and how difficult it is for him to figure out what every single attendee’s motives, attitudes and needs are when setting up a strategy and organising an event that will be attractive to most visitors, sponsors and media, and in the end generate revenue based on everything mentioned.


In this article, I will point out some factors to have in mind when trying to understand why and who are the people that would want to attend your sporting event. But before showing the factors to understand who and why, we first have to go a little bit deeper and start looking for the answers to following questions:

  1. What is so special about the sport product?
  2. How does the sport product meet consumer needs?
  3. Why do people consume sports, and why should we track their motives?
  4. What role does merchandising play as a consumptive response?

6 tips from NFL of Fan engagement

  1. The product is accessible
  2. Fans are invited to be a part of the team
  3. The brand embraces social media
  4. The game works to stay fresh
  5. Fan experience is constantly improved
  6. Partnerships are key

A growing industry

As we have seen, the sport industry is just growing, and all this to what?

The global sports markets’ total revenue has doubled in the past 10 years! That is a huge increase!!

In the image on the left, we can notice that the professional sport leagues have incredible revenue, especially the American sports.


Sport as a product

Sport is a product that is intangible as a service. Some sports or sporting events can last only 10 seconds such as the 100 meter sprint, or 90 minutes like a football match, but they are (most of the time) unpredictable. And, not to forget, many people are emotionally attached to sports. Sport as a product is quite complex and unique, and this is why you have to ask yourself (as a marketer): “How can I meet so many needs of a certain person to attract them to become a fan of my team?”

To be able to understand this complexity we need to start asking ourselves why?

Why do I go?

At least for me it is easy to just say: I like to follow my favorite teams and cheer for them and always hope that they will win. But isn’t that what most of us are doing? This is nothing a sports brand can guarantee to a potential fan. I, personally, can watch a game on TV by myself, but I rather do it with friends and family, and I would only attend a live match with friends and family. But I feel that goes for most people.

Fan vs Spectator

In this globalized world we live in today, time is a competitive factor to attract people to watch your sports team and attend your sporting event. And you aren’t only competing against the other sports teams in your league, you might compete against other sporting events in your town, or a lunch or people who might want to go to cinema instead. One research found that the difference between fans and spectators were that fans are more loyal, and are going to watch their team play several times per month. Conclusion: track people’s motives to market the right person with the right message.

Spectators vs Fans

Team identification with merchandise

Merchandise is an important revenue stream around sporting events and this factor could be improved when you have a better idea of what type of people are attending your events. In addition to this, merchandise is a means to build a stronger team identification and an increased feeling of belongingness to a team. It has also been shown that ”Consumers can experience a personal sense of success through their consumption of products such as merchandise”.
This is something NASCAR has done well. They reengaged the attendees who had been at previous races and created a throwback show to increase the fan base and a stronger team identification with NASCAR. With this throwback show they could activate and attract the attendees that had once visited before and had bought merchandise at that particular time. By identifying the ones that only attend the event once or twice, and making them buy merchandise, you have a chance to turn those people into regular fans. This allowed NASCAR to keep and increase interest in their events.


Next time you are hosting an event, make sure to ask who will come and why? The better you understand the needs of your audience, the better you can communicate and convert a spectator into a fan who is loyal and will keep coming back for more.

With a strong brand, it is much easier to gain people’s trust and increase revenue by intangible and tangible sport products.

What factors have you tried to apply? Which of these mentioned above work best for you? I would be happy to hear your story, so please contact me and let me know your thoughts.



Jakob Wikenstål

Jakob Wikenstål

Overtime Sports Marketing

If you have any questions about sports marketing, feel free to contact me at

Article sources:

Pritchard, M.P. 2013, Leveraging Brands in Sport Business, Taylor and Francis, Hoboken.

Photo sources:

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