Understanding human nature the key to attracting spectators

by frank-stuart

The role of a sports marketer is diverse, but the aim of sports marketers can be distilled into one over-used phrase – “bums on seats”. Match attendance is the lifeblood of any sport. Without big crowds, you won’t get the huge broadcast deals, sponsorship and other revenue streams that make a sporting competition successful. So how can marketing professionals increase attendance figures? The answer is varied, but what’s certain is that they need to understand human nature, and what motivates people to attend sporting events.

The psychology of the sports fan

To successfully market a sport, it’s important to have an understanding of the psychological traits of a sports fan. Different sports attract different types of people. For example, rugby has traditionally attracted a high volume of alpha male supporters, while golf is seen to attract a more artistic, upscale crowd. In several cases, promoters have noted the limitations of trying to appeal to a certain type of audience, and have worked hard to broaden the appeal of the sport. Aussie Rules is a prime example. The brutality of the game has been phased out over time, and there has been a big push to capture the female audience. A typical AFL audience is now evenly split between males and females.

The value of research into the psychological traits of sports fans is immeasurable. It can help sports marketers focus their efforts on a more clearly defined subset of people, thus eliminating campaigns that are doomed to fail. It can also help marketers identify a market that they have not yet considered.


Most sporting events are packaged as entertainment. And in a world saturated with more entertainment options than ever before, the competition for bums on seats is fierce. Sports marketers don’t just have to compete with other sporting competitions and other forms of live entertainment, but also with home entertainment such as big screen televisions, pay TV, video games and the Internet.

A typical sports crowd is made up of different types of fans:

  • Hard core supporters who always go, regardless of the weather, or how their team is doing
  • Regular supporters who are not quite as committed as hard core supporters, but will usually go if they can
  • Occasional supporters who attend matches for the social aspect, and atmosphere, as much as for watching their team
  • Theatregoers who are there more for the spectacle of the occasion, than to support a team.


For many people, attending a sporting match is a ritual. Week in week out, supporters will don their team’s colours and go to the oval to support them. Some advertisements have played on this ritualistic custom and promoted teams as tribes. Ritual is linked to identity, and this is another major part of attending sport – to identify with a team and share the fortunes and failures of that team with other members of your “tribe”.

There are several other motivating forces behind people who attend sporting events – family, ticket price, accessibility, and facilities to name a few. Knowing why people attend sports matches is essential for sports marketers to get the best results possible. To transfer your passion for sports and business into a rewarding career in the sports marketing industry, check out ACPE’s sports business courses.

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