Most British sports fans become fans by the age of 14, with those that do much more likely to exercise every week, engage in social groups, and spend money on sport – a landmark new analysis from Two Circles has found.
Sport has always had the capacity to drive passion and compulsive behaviour through extreme fanbase loyalty. However, for the first time this research has uncovered a specific age when the impact of sport becomes must significant and leads to lifestyle and behavioural changes that can last 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 – available in full here – 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.
These 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 just about personal connection but is very often a communal experience. The research 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 a staggering 71% when they share that 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 forming new societal bonds. Across the UK, 62% of these isolated fans are actively engaging in online communities, forming global connections that reinforce the importance of sport in building social divides.
Heroes & Teams: Navigating the Evolving Fan Landscape
While team loyalty remains robust in the UK, a notable shift has occurred. Generation Z, in particular, is now almost twice more likely than any other generation to be drawn to sports due to individual athletes. This type of following, however, is not at the expense of the formation of team allegiances though, with 51% of Gen Z fans identifying as fans of particular teams vs 50% of Millennials and 45% of Gen X fans.
These team fandoms also have a clear impact of 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 emphasises the necessity for sports organizations to navigate the balance between promoting individual athletes and team identities in order to capture the hearts 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 of this, with analysis finding that many claimed 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, inclusive sports community.
Gareth Balch, Two Circles CEO, said: “These insights are key to anyone eager to connect with their audiences on a deeper level.
“Our mission is to make the sports industry a better place, 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 organizations to foster enduring fandom and flourish in the future.”
For in-depth analysis and a comprehensive overview of the study, please visit here.
About the Two Circles Fan Origination Analysis
The Two Circles Fan Origination Analysis uses our unique perspective on the sports industry as well as our experience in processing over one billion data records, speaking with 500m+ fans on social media every day, and enriching that with 30k+ stories from sports fans around the world, to equip sports rights holders with a better understanding of fans’ journeys into sport. The analysis is a deep dive that fuses a combination of data sets unique to Two Circles, and complements those by national representative surveys in various markets globally.
About Two Circles
From six international offices (London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Bern, Melbourne), Two Circles grows revenue for the world’s leading sports rights-holders, using data to create strategies, deliver proprietary technology solutions, package and sell sponsorships, and design and market compelling, tailored content. Two Circles has been named Sport Industry Agency of the Year four times.