Gary Pope
The Power of Sports Fandom
7 mins

When I was a lad in the mid-late eighties, I played a lot of basketball. And it was about that time a 6’6” guard was beginning to make a name for himself, seemingly from nowhere, at the University of North Carolina. Six months later I was paying £75 (£290 in today’s money apparently) for my Nike Air Jordan 1’s. And I was very happy to do so. Actually, I was ecstatic to have them - not sure if my Mum was quite so chuffed, but they did make me play better, honest. And pretty soon I had the socks, the shorts, the bag, the sweatband and several posters.

When the shoes went on sale in 1985 Nike expected to sell 100,000 pairs in its first year. Instead, it shipped 1.5m pairs in the first six weeks and the rest as they say on Netflix is “AIRstory”. Sorry. 

What a licence this has turned out to be. It’s been to Sports what Star Wars is to Entertainment. Nearly 40 years on, in 2022, the Air Jordan brand earned Nike revenue of $5.122Billion. That’s Nike, that’s not even the retail number. 

Our entire industry exists because fans want a piece of that thing they love. And sports is really do deliver the most ardent fans. But what is a fan and why are they important?

A few months ago we undertook our Global Family Study. We went to 10 countries and took in the views of 22,147 people. The study specifically explored the many aspects  of modern family life…including fandom.

65% of children aged 4 - 14 globally have a fandom - and this means that they are are ready to share with the world exactly what they think about their chosen fandom…and importantly part with their hard earned cash. 60% of revenue is generated by the most engaged fans. The number one way that children express their fandoms (39% of our sample) is to share them with family and friends. Next is buying or receiving products 31%. 30% of the Global Family’s children try to experience as many touch point and 28% are the geeks that want to know every detail.

The tribal nature of sports, the gladiatorial, visceral spectacle of it is inspiring - perhaps even more than a binge of Bluey.  Is it any wonder that we see armies of school children wearing their favourite football teams shirts? Sports create endring fans and those fans are the most important consumers that we can engage with.

The Global Family told us that they stick with their sports fandom through thick and thin; they get meaningful fulfilment that delivers those long lasting connections many brands can only dream about. There is an inherently charged emotional exchange in the world of Sports that is licensing rocket-fuel.

Who doesn’t love being a winner? If you are a fan of a football club, the feeling after that key Premier League victory is almost primal. Their win is your win and you are (often unashamedly) basking in their glory. If the team you support wins, it’s “we won” and not “they won”. Sports fandom is an ongoing experience and experiences make memories and memories are always worth investing in.

I still have those Air Jordan 1’s. From time to time I put them on and each time I do, that wave of fandom hits me and I am very grateful my mum bought me them all those years ago. Maybe I should tell her. 

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