The Biggest Online Fans are Sports Fans

The European Interactive Advertising Association recently released a study showing that sports fans are twice as likely to use the internet while watching TV than are ‘average’ internet users. As the report on this posted at Netimperative explains:

Over a third (36%) of all European internet users currently visit sports websites and these sports site users spend over 13 hours online each week, 10% more time than the average European and an increase of 27% since 2004.

These figures are set to ramp up as we approach a summer full of hot-to-watch events such as Euro 2008 and the Olympics.

Events such as these can act as catalysts for media change as fans adopt new habits and technology in order to follow their favourite sports.

What the article doesn’t address (although the full report may address it) is why sports fans would watch tv while being online simultaneously or what it is that they are doing while online.

Throwing out a little wild speculation, my guess is that watching sports is more tension-creating than just about any other kind of fandom, creating more of a need to connect with other people as you go through it. Surely it’s a fact (though I haven’t seen the data) that sporting events draw more live audience members than other kinds of fan events. I know that during the NCAA tournament, even I, the world’s lamest sports fan, found myself checking twitter continuously for the reactions of other KU fans to some really tense — and then tension relieving — moments.

But maybe it’s also about the statistics and the huge wealth of background knowledge about sports that’s out there which might be relevant at any given moment. “Wait, who’s this guy again? Let me check.”

I know there are some readers who know WAY more about sports than I. Any insights to share?

The study is also an important reminder for fandom scholars of how badly we need to take account of sports. I complain that fan researchers pay too little attention to music (which we do), but given the magnitude of sports fandom and new media, the topic deserves far more focus than it gets.

It also raises questions about the temporal elements of online fandom — what kinds of fandom drive what kinds of internet use? What makes people need to be online at the same time? What makes people log on as soon as it’s over? What makes people check in sometime in the weeks that follow? What has people logging on beforehand?

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Comments (3) to “The Biggest Online Fans are Sports Fans”

  1. Two things:
    1. Fantasy sports. I have watched countless matches of different types of sports and seen people restlessly checking the live statisics changes on their fantasy teams with insane amount of excitement. They NEED to know.
    2. Scheduling conflicts. You can only watch one or two games at a time, and with most leagues and tournaments, there are often simultaneous matches. The webcasts of the other games supply the basic info a fan might need to keep up 100%.

  2. Let me start by saying that the only sport I’m truly invested in is NCAA football.

    1) And, as you suggest, I am always online at the same time as watching my games. This isn’t so much a need to connect, but rather a need to know what is happening all across the country at that very moment. Some stations (such as ABC) are really good about scrolling scores and giving updates from other games. Other channels though (such as FSN, who hosts most the games from my conference) rarely give updates from other games. In a sport like NCAA football – which has no playoff system – every weekend is the equivalent to the playoffs. What happens in other games has a major impact on the ranking of my team. So I set ESPN.com to auto refresh every 15 seconds to know what is going on in almost real-time all day long. And yes, I also get online to look up stats etc.

    2) The need to be connected becomes evident by the number of text messages I send and receive on game day. My phone is going off nonstop all day, and especially during my team’s game. My dad, friends, and college alumni buddies, and I text all day giving commentary on the game, updating each other on what other team’s are doing, “screaming” during moments of tension, and hooting and hollering during moments of celebration. There is the occasional phone call, but for the most part it’s all texts b/c they are easier to do while still watching the game. I don’t know how I could watch an OU game without my cellphone – wouldn’t be the same.

    In sum, I think you’re right – sports fandom and how it relates to both the internet, but also other forms of instant communication, deserve more attention.

  3. Fans, especially rivals, will talk about a big game days, even weeks before it is played in the conversation set up for that contest on ESPN.com.

    If you watch, you’ll also see heavy promotion on television for corresponding Web properties during NFL and MLB games as well as the NCAA Tournament.

    With regard to Jacqueline’s comment, I think you’ll also find there’s a growing social and two- or three-screen experience involving sites accessible from mobile phones and other electronic devices.