Branding News South Africa

Pinpointing the passion driving SA sports fans

A new research study by Octagon provides marketers with quantifiable data and fascinating insights into the emotional connections and affinity consumers have with sports. Knowing 'why fans are fans' enables sponsors to create more compelling, targeted and cost-effective sports marketing campaigns. This is particularly important in the lead up to 2010.

"Passion Drivers analysis fills a significant void that's existed in our industry," says Jo Ramsay, head of strategic planning and research, Octagon South Africa. "Combined with the available data on fan demographics, viewing habits, TV ratings, event attendance and active sports participation, the Passion Drivers findings provide marketers with a more fully dimensional portrait of consumers as sports fans."

Ramsay continues, "The research brings added depth and credibility to the sponsorship industry at a time when investment in sponsorship is escalating significantly and sponsorship needs to be held accountable as a marketing tool."

In the past year, sports, music and entertainment marketing company, Octagon, conducted its Passion Drivers research across seven countries, including China, the UK, the US and Australia, involving more than 20 000 fans across a variety of sports. In South Africa, cricket, football and rugby fans were included in the study. Ramsay and Simon Wardle, vice president of worldwide research at Octagon, presented some summary findings for the South African market at a function attended by sports federations, sponsors and marketers.

As well as showing, for example, the distinctions between the motivations of a rugby fan relative to a soccer fan, the research findings also reveal different types of fans within the fan-base of each sport.

"For marketers and sponsors in an increasingly globalising society and a shrinking world, understanding these differences will enable them to create sponsorship activation programmes that are more relevant and therefore resonate much more closely with the preferences of fans," says Wardle. "Broad programmes can give way to tailored initiatives that speak directly to a fan's emotional connection for his or her sport."

The research has produced profiles of fan types based upon 13 Passion Drivers factors. One or a combination of these factors draws fans to their favourite sports.


South African cricket fans are driven primarily by a love of the game. For these fans, it does not necessarily matter who is playing, as the skills, strategy and intricacies involved are most important.

Relative to football and rugby, player affinity also scores high in cricket as a 'Driver' motivator. This closer kinship to cricket players than either football or rugby players could be explained through greater team stability existing in the selection of the national cricket team, and the fact that local players aren't lost as readily to overseas clubs as is the case in football and rugby.

Regardless of the reason, it suggests that sponsors in cricket could "activate effectively" by using the players more as part of their sponsorship leverage programmes. With the new sponsorship structure adopted by Cricket South Africa, which splits team and event sponsorships, team sponsors would do well to take heed of this insight.


SA football fans are attracted to the sport because of the debate and social interaction that football promotes. Fans love to come together around football occasions and to debate the facts and figures of the game. Nostalgia also came across as an important factor, which can be linked back to the childhood memories that the game evokes and how it formed an integral part of life growing up. Football is regarded by many local fans as being a strong expression of Black culture and identity and intricately linked with the struggle against apartheid.

This contrasts with mature football markets, such as the UK and the rest of Europe, where football is driven by a dominant tribal team devotion factor. In these countries, football is omni-present and thus a very social sport, central to the lives of the vast majority of the population in these countries.

The South African market, where team devotion ranked as the third most important trigger of fan passion, could be classed as an intermediate football market where football plays a central role and is extensively covered in the media. It still has some way to go before it reaches the levels of tribalism seen in Europe.

In terms of the passion for football, the South African fan base is not as homogeneous as one tends to see in mature markets.


Team devotion was the most prominent factor amongst South African rugby enthusiasts. Fans show a strong loyalty and commitment to their favourite team and will support them at all costs - which suggest that sponsors and federations who activate around team rivalry will be successful in deepening relationships with rugby fans.

UK rugby fans are similar to local fans in that they're also driven by team loyalty; interestingly enough, however, for Australian rugby fans, team devotion is much less important.

Local fans' love of rugby is also triggered by them having actively participated in the past or currently playing. In fact, active appreciation as a driver of fan passion across all three of the sports analysed in South Africa, was more significant a factor here than in the UK or Australia.

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