The Science of Fandom: Insights Driving Sports & Brand Loyalty

Published by: Kirsty Koch


With the Six Nations rugby tournament captivating fans worldwide and my recently acquired knowledge of the football business (thanks to Ryan Reynolds and Welcome to Wrexham), it’s highlighted just how important fandom is to both individuals and communities but also the success of sports leagues and clubs.

We’ve been doing lots of work at RED C around what drives fandom and how it can be nurtured; insights that can not only help businesses operating in the sporting arena but also those outside, looking to deepen their own type of brand love.

Through our decades of working with global sports and entertainment brands, RED C has identified four fundamental pillars that underpin fandom: Relevance, Presence, Foundation, and Validation.

Relevance: fans need to feel they’ve got someone in their corner

Fans crave a sense of connection and reciprocated affection from their beloved teams. For global sports brands, fostering relatability often involves spotlighting local players, bridging the geographical gap between fans and their idols. Even in sports with limited local presence, such as the NFL or NBA, international player visits and community events cultivate a sense of belonging.  Examples like Didier Drogba’s impactful work in the Ivory Coast or Rui Hachimura’s (LA Lakers) influence on Japanese basketball enthusiasts highlight the importance of local relevance for global sports brands.

Presence: be visible and accessible to go the distance

Even out of season, engagement needs to be maintained via connection points that extend beyond match days; retail stores, apps and video games are just a few ways existing brands engage with fans.  However, aligning products and services to different levels of fandom is key.  We’ve seen from our work that the more passionate the fan, the more effort and money they are willing to spend on connecting with their favourite sport or club.  However, newer fan relationships need to be tackled differently; free gateway products are key.

Presence is not just physical: we understand the importance of hype and buzz on fandom – evidenced by how Welcome to Wrexham has catapulted Wrexham FC to global heights, with fans travelling from all over the world to watch their matches.

Foundation: get the ball rolling early and play the long game

We’ve found that sport fandom starts early and is often ingrained in identities from childhood.  Parents serve as crucial gatekeepers, passing on their passion for a sport, allegiance to a team and facilitating participation (from taking their child to their first football match to fixing up a basketball net in the back garden).  However, schools also play a pivotal role – many sports fans we‘ve spoken to are (or had been) participants in the sport themselves since primary school.  Igniting an interest amongst children either via school or extra-curricular clubs is the way to build the foundation for fans of the future.

Validation: fans need to feel proud batting for you

Fans want to feel a sense of pride in their affiliation – a strong CSR strategy can not only drive visibility but also validate fans’ sense of belonging to a greater cause.  Authentic, community-based initiatives that focus on grass roots sport provide powerful conduits with which to foster positive sentiment and further deepen fans’ relationship with a sport, league or club.

In addition, providing the opportunity for fans to engage with each other cultivates a sense of community beyond match attendance.  Creating events and initiatives that promote camaraderie, further solidify the fan base; this might be a social media fan group or in person events like sponsoring amateur tournaments.

For brands seeking to emulate the fervour of sports fandom, whether in sports or other industries, understanding these pillars is imperative.  If you’d like to find out how we can help your brand gain fans, don’t be the last player out, contact RED C now!