Sport Industry

Two Circles report: The benefits of early sports fandom


UK Children who find sport by 14 are healthier, more sociable and more engaged in community as a result, according to a new Two Circles report.

Most sports fans in the UK become fans by the age of 14, and those that do are more likely to exercise every week, engage in social groups, and spend money on sport as a result, new analysis from Two Circles has found.

Sport has the capacity to drive passion and compulsive behaviour through extreme fanbase loyalty. However, for the first time Two Circles’ insight has uncovered a specific age when the impact of sport becomes more significant and leads to lifestyle and behavioural changes that can remain for a lifetime.

Fans who “find” sport by 14 are 41% more likely to exercise at least 150 minutes per week, are 71% more engaged in their communities through playing and engaging with sport, and almost 2.5 times more likely to spend their money on sport and related activities.

The deep dive identifies five key findings for the factors shaping actions and behaviour and finds critical correlations between youthful enthusiasm for sport and engagement for a lifetime. Among the key findings:

The ‘Made by 14’ Principle: A Window into Youthful Enthusiasm

A remarkable 56% of sports enthusiasts in the UK develop their fervour for a sport before the age of 14, establishing the roots of a passion that leads to lifelong engagement. This is particularly evident in football where 76% of fans are fixated on a team by the age of 14.

Early enthusiasts not only exhibit a 58% increase in ‘passion’ for sport, but are also 92% more engaged, active and enthused throughout their lifetime – which in turn impacts health, lifestyle and social mobility.

Sharing Strengthens: Sport Fosters Communities, Both Digital and Real

Being a sports fan is not only about personal connection, but often a communal experience. The insight highlights the pivotal role of sharing a sports passion within immediate peer groups. In the UK, isolated fans (those who experience a sport alone) are on average only 12% likely to be highly passionate about it. That figure soars to 71% when they share their passion within an entire social network – be it family, friends, colleagues or neighbours. This has been accelerated by the digital landscape, which makes community building easier, allowing fans to engage online and form new societal bonds. Across the UK, 62% of these isolated fans actively engage in online communities, forming global connections that reinforce the importance of sport.


Heroes & Teams: Navigating the Evolving Fan Landscape

While team loyalty remains robust in the UK, a notable shift has occurred. Generation Z is almost twice more likely than any other generation to be drawn to sports because of individual athletes. However, it is not at the expense of the formation of team allegiances, with 51% of Gen Z fans identifying as fans of particular teams versus 50% of Millennials and 45% of Gen X fans.

These team fandoms also have a clear impact on fan behaviour, with fans that have specific team allegiances 2.4 times more likely to watch live team sports weekly than those who don’t support a team.

This nuanced dynamic emphasizes the necessity for sports organizations to navigate the balance between promoting individual athletes and team identities to capture the attention of young fans.

New Origination, Same Retention: Adapting to Changing Fan Preferences

The emergence of online platforms, gaming, sports documentaries, and social media have all changed how sports organisations engage their fans – but watching live television broadcasts is still the key driver, where 40% of all fans begin their relationship with sport.

However, fans created after 2000 have shown a preference for storytelling and on-demand content, marking the shift from the live sports preferences of previous generations.

Understanding. Caring. Belonging: The Pillars of Fandom

Simplifying rules, enhancing accessibility, and kindling a sense of belonging are the cornerstones of fostering fandom.

Cricket’s The Hundred is cited as a prime example, with analysis finding that a ‘lack of understanding’ was previously a key barrier to cricket. As The Hundred has shown, by breaking down these barriers, fans are built at younger ages and in more inclusive ways.

Understanding the sport, genuinely caring about outcomes and providing a platform where fans feel represented and valued are fundamental. Addressing these elements not only nurtures fandom, but also bridges the gap for potential fans, creating a vibrant and inclusive sports community.

Gareth Balch, CEO & Co-Founder, Two Circles said: “We are aspiring to create more sports fans, which will always be worthy of deeper, considered analysis. Our mission is to build a better future for the sports industry, and by understanding the profound impact of youthful passion, shared connections, evolving fan preferences, and a sense of belonging, we are shaping a roadmap for sports organisations to foster enduring fandom and flourish in the future.”

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