A 16-country survey in Europe, North America, Asia and Australasia shows consumers in China, Japan and Indonesia have a positive image of sport, and welcome sports sponsorship, while surprisingly, Australian and US sports fans are relatively cynical about sponsors’ motives and the benefits of sponsorship.
In China, sports fans are particularly highly involved with sport, display little cynicism about sponsors’ motives, and have few qualms about tobacco and alcohol manufacturers sponsoring sport.
While the study suggests that there are only two big, and truly ‘global’ sports – soccer and athletics, and that many other sports only attract national or regional audiences, it also identified a number of sports that have consistently gained small or medium-sized fan bases in all or almost all countries studied.
Commenting on the results, William Nelson, Director of Strategic Insight at FDS International, who analysed the international data, said “there were some surprise ‘hits’ on a global scale – ski-jumping made the global top-ten, and strongman, ice dancing, sailing and various motorsports all did well, without being major sports in any country.
These sports have great potential because they can be enjoyed without expert knowledge, often blurring the boundaries of sport and entertainment. If such ‘niche’ sports can reach even 1% of sports fans in every country, this will represent more than 30 million adult consumers. Red Bull have done well in this arena, which might explain why they featured among the top ten named sports sponsors in several countries”.
The study also found wide variations in engagement with sports across the world, largely explained by levels of engagement among older people and women.
In the US, UK, Australia, and Poland, the study found lower overall participation in sports was largely due to low rates of direct participation among women, over-35s and low-income groups. By contrast, in Asia, Northern Europe and Scandinavia, participation is far more equal, embracing a far broader set of demographic segments.
However, when it comes to live spectating, the picture is completely different – for example, in China, while direct participation in sport is incredibly evenly distributed, attending live events remains very much the preserve of younger, more affluent men. US sports fans were shown to have the broadest mix of media channels for engaging with sports and sports news, while fans in Indonesia were much more likely to engage via television alone.
Although UK sports fans emerged as critical of the condition of sports in the UK, and as having mixed feelings about sponsors, one positive finding for British sport in the research was that David Beckham remains the world’s most often-named “international sportsperson”, despite his waning performance on the field. Beckham was spontaneously named by almost one in five sports fans (18.3%) across the world, comfortably outscoring both Tiger Woods (5.7%) and Roger Federer (5.1%).
William Nelson added: “Our research shows that only a handful of stars are truly global, but there are many local heroes who are perceived as international stars – take Luis Figo - as the top named international sportsperson in Portugal he clearly enjoys an aura of international recognition there, but in fact he didn’t get a single mention in any other country”.
The world’s most recognised sports sponsors were found to be Nike – spontaneously mentioned by 7.9% of respondents worldwide, Adidas (7.2%), and Coca-cola (6.2%). Nike and Adidas also topped the charts in the UK, followed by Coca-Cola, Vodafone and Carling.
Sports sponsors were similar to sports personalities, in that the research revealed a handful of ‘global champions’ (Nike, Adidas, Coca-Cola) who figure strongly in the vast majority of countries, and also very clear ‘local champions’ – Volvo tops the charts in Sweden, Nokia in Finland, and Fosters in Australia – but none of these brands figure strongly as sports sponsors outside their home country.
A full copy of the Supporting Sport 2008 report can be obtained online from FDS International www.fds.co.uk/Sports/Index.html
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