Sport Fandom in the world of Twitter

By Olly Wilton

Company

Sport Fandom in the world of Twitter

By Olly Wilton

Sport has long been synonymous with Australian culture — from the Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, (OI, OI, OI!), to the lasting legacy of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. 

Twitter, meanwhile, has become part of the fabric of sporting conversation over the past decade, providing a new platform for fans to engage in debate and get unfiltered access to their favourite athletes.  

It’s only recently though that we’ve seen the landscape for sport shift in ways no one could have predicted. With the pandemic changing the face of live sport as we know it, we’ve seen the online world evolve considerably as virtual fandom becomes more significant than ever.

Here at Twitter we’re excited to share new research, conducted in partnership with Crowd DNA, that underpins the inextricable link between modern sport and social media.

Broken down into five key takeaways, the research findings uncover the deep-rooted emotional affinity that Aussies have with sport, and the role that Twitter has come to play in enhancing their love of the game.

1. Looking to Twitter as Aussies’ new local pub 

With lockdown changing the norms around attending live sport, Twitter has become something of a saviour in filling a huge void. People have flocked to Twitter to share in the nostalgia of former joys. Whether it was reliving famous socceroos wins or joining a watch party to share in the debut of the most anticipated sports documentary of all time — #TheLastDance — Twitter became the perfect form of escapism for fans. 

And now as sport begins to get underway again, research shows Twitter is creating this virtual pub experience for fans to come together. In fact half of fans agreed it’s more fun being on Twitter during a game, with the wittiest and most passionate like-minded individuals just a tap away.

Even more interesting is that nearly half (43%) also admitted feeling more connected to those they’ve met on Twitter than in real life — powerful evidence that the strength of online social connections has shaken up how we consume sport forever.

2. The great debate: Local loyalty versus national pride

The research also revealed that Australians are well and truly divided when it comes to the club versus country debate. Half of sports fans were more upset about the temporary delay of local seasons than seeing the Olympics get postponed, with club loyalties in the AFL and NRL shining through. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, all voices are heard on Twitter.

With or without the pandemic, we know that international sporting codes drive huge interest in Australia. Everything from NBA basketball right through to Premier League soccer. To this end, it was eye opening to discover the power of Twitter to transcend physical barriers. Three out of five sports fans believe that Twitter keeps you involved in sport even if you’re not there in the flesh, providing an essential medium to satisfy the fandom so heavily embedded in our culture.

It is both the court side seat and the backstage pass, no matter where you are in the world.

3. The home of ‘real’ fans

Sports passion doesn’t just start at kick off and end at the final whistle though. It’s so much more than a game for ‘real’ fans. Team values are a reflection of their own, with each victory meaning as much individually as a collective. 

A really intriguing finding in our research was rooted in this sense of identity and pride. Sports fans are a fiercely loyal bunch, and that loyalty to know no bounds when it comes to online fandom. If the opportunity arose, 39% of fans said they would get a Tweet tattooed on themselves if it meant being able to meet their favourite player. Better yet, 41% would rather get a follow back from them, than a raise at work. 

Perhaps our favourite finding though was that one in three fans think that the Twitter community have a better eye for the key decisions than the on-field referee or umpire.

4. Empowering women in sport

It’s no secret that men’s sport has traditionally dominated mainstream media coverage. But in recent times women’s sport has seen unprecedented growth, with the power of grass-roots engagement leading to long overdue recognition.

Tayla Harris and Ash Barty were two of the most-Tweeted about athletes last year, with their talent and prowess dominating sporting conversation on Twitter in 2019. A decade ago this kind of visibility for female athletes would have been almost impossible, but the community movements we see on platforms like Twitter are providing a stage to drive genuine change.

Our research shows that a whopping 84% of sports fans who use Twitter follow a women’s league, whilst nearly two thirds agreed that they want to see more exposure to women’s sport.

5. A place for Olympic debate

One of the seminal moments in sport's explosion on Twitter was London 2012. Though Twitter had been around since 2006, that summer seemed to be where Twitter’s value was cemented as a second screen for real time sport conversation. 

With the memes flying non stop, unlikely heroes/heroines emerging, the opening ceremony banter — if you’re not on Twitter during the games, you’re going to miss the wider cultural conversation.

And fans tend to agree, with 60% believing that “Twitter is the place to connect with other sports fans” during events like the Olympics.

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Sport knows no boundaries, long defined by the sense of community and unbridled joy it can create. And now as we evolve into a truly online era, sport fandom doesn’t appear to either.

 

Research conducted by Crowd DNA. April - May 2020. Sample of 2033 quantitative respondents within Australia.

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@ollywilton

Olly Wilton

‎@ollywilton‎

Partnerships Manager, Twitter