Crowd Tracks: Sports Fandom

Our Crowd Tracks report is back. This time we’re turning our attention to the global goings-on of sports fandom...

Download the new report here.


Crowd Tracks is our social data series, where we use our Culture At Scale method to highlight and analyse trends at the intersection of brands and culture. At what feels like a watershed moment for supporters of all types of sport, we’re bringing you the latest in fan experience, values and culture. 

In this edition we uncover how fan protests have mobilised on social platforms across the world, analyse Instagram data to track emergent fandom, and explore the rise of new, immersive experiences for fans, featuring 5G stadiums and VR.

So what’s happening in sports fandom around the world?

Sports experience is diversifying globally and fan culture is becoming more complex and inclusive. In the UK we saw a diverse team GB bring home a historic win of golds, silvers and bronzes, providing a balm for a divided nation; while in India eSports has boomed, with fantasy cricket leagues becoming nice little earners for some. Japan’s Naomi Osaka became a style icon on the cover of Vogue after pulling out of the French Open due to mental health concerns. And in rugby: global following of the sport continues to rise, with World Rugby publishing a report stating plans to attract 10% more followers by 2025.

But that’s not to say things can’t get tense out there…

2020-21 saw sport become increasingly embedded within the thorny issues of global politics. Racism and ongoing BLM protests have seen conversation spikes in the US, Europe and around the world. America has been divided by opinions on NFL players taking the knee, as has the UK where racist abuse of black players during the Euros saw widespread condemnation. 

Mental health concerns have been firmly thrust into the foreground in most recent sporting events, with athletes such as Simone Biles speaking out. Indian cricket became highly politicised, getting entwined with farmers’ protests. 

The ethics of sports partnerships have also come under the spotlight, with many calling for a boycott of the T-20 league after what were seen as unethical sponsorships from the Chinese company Vivo. 

What trends are on the rise? 

People want more muscles. While gym culture is a mainstay of IG culture, images of muscular bodies have increased by 45% in the last nine months. Wrestling is up by 70% and Boxing has seen a 55% rise. TikTok has caused dance to quite simply soar. Dancing has risen by a whopping 215% and cheerleading too is up by a similarly impressive 163%. And more young women are skating, the sport’s searches rising by 98%.   

Which brand really pushed the boat out?  

The last year saw the NBA get seriously phygital. They tapped into the emergent interest in NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) with Top Shot, a platform that allows fans to buy special, unique digital souvenirs. But it doesn’t just stay in the ether. The NBA are looking at ways of making this physical as well, bringing the digital collectables into the IRL sport experiences.  

What’s the future of fan experience? 

In short – TechnologyTechnology is set to offer new revenue streams for clubs and preserve the stadium experience for decades to come. 69% of fans report the use of emerging technologies has enhanced their viewing experience both inside and outside the stadium. Sports brands need to act fast on this or risk losing out to the ever-dominant tech industry.

And finally: how have fan values changed? 

Fan communities used to be defined by one thing: their shared support. Now, sports fandom – and fandom in general – is built around cultural values beyond the sport itself. Whether it’s a desire for accountability, transparency, or greater representation, fans are now banding together around shared causes, calling on clubs and athletes to use their power for good.

Thanks to social media, fans can share information and mobilise, take issues into their own hands and vocalise what matters. Sporting institutions need to prioritise the voice of the fans, and make smart appointments – such as heads of diversity or culture – to ensure their businesses are run fairly and in line with their fans’ values.


You can download the full Crowd Tracks: Sports Fandom report here

Culture At Scale is a powerful new addition to how Crowd DNA pinpoints and tracks trends. Supported by the advanced NLP, AI and machine learning capabilities of strat7.ai, we tap into the sheer size and incredible pace of the online conversation, presenting future scenarios and defining credible opportunities.

 

Human After All

It’s easy to forget the importance of empathy in the face of new technology but, as Crowd DNA director Paul White explains, for cultural insights, it will always be the star of the show...

In the world of research and insight, it’s easy to be tempted by new methods, new delivery systems and new technologies. And while staying current is really important, delivering great results always comes back to the core skill of qualitative work: empathy. 

Nursing scholar, Theresa Wiseman, breaks empathy down into four key attributes:  

 1. Seeing the world the way others see it

2. Beginning from a non-judgemental space

3. Understanding another person’s feelings

4. Communicating your understanding of that person’s feelings back to them.

A perfect place to start, but we like to think there’s a fifth step to this process in cultural insight work, and that is: Communicating people’s feelings honestly and objectively to the client that commissioned the research.

So, if empathy is the cornerstone of our industry, why is it so easy to forget? Short answer: we unknowingly participate in systems that push it out of the conversation. Consider the chat you might have with a food stall trader compared to a targeted ad telling you the latest lunch deals. Both are marketing the same thing, but feel very different. We can’t change the current model of communication, but it has pushed us further away from IRL interaction. Short-termism then compounds this with quarterly targets and the need to make quick wins. So we all stay on the treadmill, often unable to take a long enough view to address larger human needs and do something truly empathetic.

This perspective is intensified by a tendency to focus on the newest, slickest methods – because, honestly, suggesting we’ll talk to some people and build recommendations on what they said (yet again) doesn’t sound as exciting as whatever the latest method might be. In our opinion, as long as your methodology is answering the problem you’re trying to solve, you’re on the right track. No need to get starstruck by the latest eye-tracking, VR gadgets or neuroimaging if it takes you away from the initial problem – a problem which is almost always a human one anyway.   

Next, if we know empathy is in short supply, how do we build it in? It starts by remembering our own humanity. At Crowd, we treat our colleagues and clients like humans and create space for people to bring themselves into their work and interactions with participants. By being present and using active listening, we are able to develop deeper connections and quickly bypass the researcher/respondent relationship. There is always insight to be found by truly listening, seeking to understand and not being scared to ask why. 

Don’t be afraid to advocate for human beings. All of us (even global heads of marketing and CEOs) happen to be people – and looking for commonalities between yourself and your customers is key. When we make business decisions in boardrooms (or Zoom calls) with little view of the outside world, the people at the end of the process can be easily forgotten. Instead, bring real people into the room in any way possible. This could be audience immersion work, insightful videos to build empathy or literally inviting your living, breathing customers into your process. 

We must stop reducing people to their ability to consume products. It’s a false shortcut that does no one any good. People are consumers some of the time – but they’re people all of the time. They have lives, worries, families, goals and dreams. It’s only by being more empathetic as professionals and companies that we are able to realise this, and harness the power of cultural insight to add true value to people’s lives.

Crowd DNA New York’s Simi Olagundoye explores how reality dating shows misrepresent those of marginalized identities and what they should consider instead…

Dating shows have long been criticized for their lack of representation and regard for contestants from marginalized backgrounds. With race and sexual misrepresentation rife, viewers are ready for a reckoning. But this must be responded to in an educated and intentional manner. Firstly producers need to eliminate racist, homophobic, and sexist tropes from their narratives to positively affect and inform viewers of all backgrounds. They then need to provide ongoing training and therapy for casts and crews to ensure that physical and emotional safety for marginalized identities is achieved.  

Since its start, dating show The Bachelor has been in hot water for racial insensitivity. And recently, conversations reached boiling point. The season involving Matt James, the first Black Bachelor, was revealed to have a history trodden with racism. 

Following an outcry for the franchise to examine its racial insensitivity, longtime host Chris Harrison was removed. Rachel Lindsay, the first Black Bachelorette, denounced the show. This spawned important conversations around how to create a safe environment for people of color (POC) on reality dating shows. 

‘Can a show that’s built on stereotypes handle race well?’ – Rachel Lindsay, Bachelorette 

Many shows employ colorblind casting, insisting that they ‘don’t see race’. POC, especially Black people, are expected to exist in a raceless space. But we cannot pretend that dating shows are devoid of racism or racial stereotypes. And while colorblind casting means representation might increase, race is rarely being discussed. An exception to this is Netflix’s Love Is Blind. Couples engage in discussions around race in a manner that is both impactful and entertaining. 

These conversations about race are key in creating a safe environment for POC. When broadcasters omit them, they revert to aged racist tropes, feeding into biases. These tropes have the power to influence viewers’ perception of the world. They signal to marginalized communities that they don’t belong. To the non-marginalized, these tropes are a dangerous guide to how others should be treated.

‘I get why they are hesitant to do it, but I don’t think it’s working when they chuck in one bisexual person.’ – Megan Barton-Hanson, Love Island

 

Built in a heteronormative vacuum, dating shows often get it wrong when it comes to representing sexualities across the spectrum. Love Island executives have expressed challenges placing queer contestants into heterosexual-aligned spaces. But instead of trying to squeeze queer people into straight spaces, networks should place queer communities at the centre. 

In 2007, A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila challenged existing dating show formats by being the first to feature a bisexual lead. However, the show is infamous for a homophobic plot twist, pitting queer women and straight men against each other. This perpetuates the false stigma that bisexuals have to ‘pick’ a gender. 

Season eight of MTV’s Are You The One? exclusively cast sexually fluid contestants and was highly lauded as groundbreaking reality TV. Unfortunately, fans were disappointed that there wasn’t a reunion episode, unlike every other season, reinforcing feelings of exclusion for the queer community. Give queer-focused shows, and queer cast members, the same exposure that their straight counterparts receive. Viewers are acutely aware of tokenism and want to see real action being taken, so they enjoy their guilty pleasures, guilt free. 

Attitudes to the representation of marginalized identities is changing. Viewers expect openness, diversity and a sense of commitment to progressive programming. First comes the conversations, then decisive action. This action must reconfigure broadcasting around the struggles of previously marginalized voices, while providing real and sustained support for any harm caused.

With subscription online streaming now the norm, audiences are increasingly discerning and selective when it comes to the content they watch. People are less passive. They’re done with the couch potato identity. This means that meaningful engagement with the issue of representation will pay off, for TV and across the board.   

Every Wednesday morning we turn off our emails, set an out of office message and create three to four hours where we can focus on deep work. Here’s why...

If you’ve landed on this, the chances are you’ve received one of our out of office messages that let you know we dedicate every Wednesday morning to what we call Deep Work Wednesday. Not the most original name, but it does the job. So, in the spirit of deep work, we thought it best to quickly explain our thinking, so that you can get back to some deep work of your own.

Why deep work?

It was hard enough to maintain focus prior to Covid-19 upending the way we live and work. Now, video calls get booked up against each other with barely a bathroom break in between. Our calendars fill up before we know it. We’re sure you can relate to the feeling of coming to the end of a working day and wondering what you truly achieved. Our hope is that, by carving out these hours once a week, it will allow us the time to switch off, think and really sink our teeth into the complex problems that our clients come to us to help solve.

Where can I learn more about deep work?

We love this TED Talk by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called Flow, The Secret To Happiness. Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, is a great resource too. If you’d like to learn more about Zoom fatigue, we suggest this article summarising a piece of research by the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab highlighting why it can be so tiring to be in video calls all day.

When will you get back to me?

We come back online at 1pm every Wednesday and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. Promise!

Safety First

Brands need to pay attention to our perception of safety like never before. Crowd DNA’s group managing director, Dr Matilda Andersson, offers five new safety cues to consider as society opens up...

A sense of safety is one of the most fundamental needs for human survival and wellbeing. The feelings associated with being safe have had many manifestations in the past, but never have they been so complex, confusing and important for brands to acknowledge. As society opens up (albeit at different rates around the world), hygiene, health and protection will be firmly front and center of people’s minds. 

We used to take the feeling of being safe for granted in the Western world, but certainly not anymore. People are now searching for it, their decisions strongly driven by it. With the web of safety cues already embedded in design, language, experience and behaviour, it’s necessary for brands to understand these changing cultural codes and how to create a sense of safety for their customers, employees and wider public. Every channel is up for grabs and no brand is exempt. Leaders need to recognise that perceptions of safety happen subconsciously, meaning that tiny nuances in design or behaviour can make or break a brand. Here are five cues of safety to consider as society opens up.

Safety is consensual 

Safe and healthy relationships, whether personal or transactional, are all about consent. They’re about how to interact and use our bodies, what information to share and what to hold back. Covid, in many ways, has also been about consent: negotiating how close to get, when and where to wear face masks, even giving someone a hug now requires an extra layer of consensual decision making.

It’s important for brands to communicate with transparency and without pressure so that consumers feel in control and able to consent at all stages (from signing up to newsletters, to navigating staff at IRL checkouts). Gen Z, who have always championed safe spaces and consensual interaction, are leading the way and have the opportunity to educate older generations on consent. 

Safety is local, empathetic brands 

Small and local outlets are seen to care much more about their consumers than big, global brands. Over the past year, constant changes to restrictions have meant that local stores the world over have become well versed in adapting to shifting safety requirements. There’s a general perception that big businesses think profit before people, so smaller outlets can often ‘feel’ safer as they have the flexibility to adjust to new standards.

In London, for example, boutique retailer Glassworks upgraded their personal shopping offer to include ‘lock-ins’, where the entire shop is closed for a more personal (and safe) experience. This is another reason why local brands are winning out. Safety is dependent on being empathetic; genuinely listening to consumers’ fears, and quickly modifying the environment to make them feel safe at every turn. 

Safety is being equal and part of a network 

Safety can’t discriminate. Brands who leave people behind, ignore calls for diversity and inclusion, or fail to keep their workers safe need to be held to account. It’s not an option to protect only some; everyone needs to be included in order for individuals to feel safe. For example, despite the fact that Covid disproportionately affected marginalised communities around the world, entire populations have felt shaken. It’s about creating a sense of networked safety for everyone (including the environment).

This can also be seen in brand responses to the BLM movement. Promoting and uplifting Black-owned businesses (often side-lined in white, big brand-dominated industries) is one way forward. Beauty icon Glossier set aside $500,000 in the form of grants to be distributed to Black-owned beauty businesses, and delayed the launch of their latest product ‘in an effort to focus attention, and that of their audience, on the ongoing fight against racial injustice.’ It’s important to remember that brands are also part of a wider network. 

Safety is the ultimate luxury

Constantly being vigilant about safety is exhausting. Taking a break and indulging in a care-free moment is the ultimate pleasure nowadays – yet, without safety, we can’t have this kind of experience. To truly sit back and relax, everything needs to be safe. This includes safety from infection, but also from physical and psychological harm, bullying, racism, misogyny, and all other forms of harassment. This doesn’t mean that brands need to hunker down and promote a secluded form of protection to be considered premium. It’s about looking after your consumers in a holistic way – their body, mind and emotions – to signal that everyone is safe, but included, and everything is in hand behind the scenes.   

Safety welcomes a new design standard 

The last year has placed a spotlight on how reliant we are on nature for our safety and wellbeing. We’ve seen many examples of design changes because of previous pandemics (the introduction of private chambers after the Black Death; urban parks and water sanitation after cholera outbreaks). This time round, the interaction between outdoor and indoor is the most important for brands to acknowledge – bringing the outside inside, or vice versa, and celebrating the great outdoors as part of overall consumer wellbeing.

This could be literal space that adjusts to the needs of people in the moment, or longer-term air purification devices that are installed in public spaces, such as shopping centres. But designing for safety doesn’t have to mean rigidity and sheets of wipeable plastic; brands should experiment with materials that are both aesthetically pleasing and naturally hygienic, such as wood and copper, too. 

This post is based on conversation from Matilda’s appearance in the Style Psychology Human Discussions podcast

If you’d like to discuss the changing cues of safety and what they could mean for your brand, please get in touch: hello@crowdDNA.com

Join Crowd DNA Amsterdam’s Luzie Richt and London’s Dr Jennifer Simon for our latest webinar in Amsterdam, as we look at the changing articulations of womanhood and how brands can respond...


April 22, 15:00-15:45 CET – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes, followed by Q&A)


We’re very excited to confirm our latest webinar in Amsterdam, in which we’ll explore how women are represented in culture and how brands can engage with a more future-facing portrayal through gender literacy.

With 80 percent of Gen Z women identifying as feminist, but around half of young men claiming that feminism has ‘gone too far’, there’s plenty to discuss. This webinar will join the conversation by exploring the female story – from current representations within the themes of family, relationships and self expression; to examining how narratives are being disrupted and reimagined by culturally relevant brands.   

Presented by Crowd DNA Amsterdam’s Luzie Richt and London’s Dr Jennifer Simon, this session will consider:

– The dominant representation of ‘womanhood’ in three key areas – sex and relationships, family and self expression

– What the new, emergent codes are, and how semiotics can help unpack them

– How brands can take inspiration from the multitude of ways women live their lives

– What all this means for brands looking to future proof and remain culturally relevant to their audience

– How to keep up as more expressions of identity evolve and scripts of gender are rewritten.

We hope you can make it!


April 22, 15:00-15:45 CET – sign up

(Access via Demio; 45 minutes, followed by Q&A)


They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but a lack of human connection has forced us to completely rethink our love lives. Our new edition of Crowd Tracks opens up...

The fifth edition of Crowd Tracks is now live and available to download here. Crowd Tracks is our regular exploration of unstructured social data, uncovering emerging trends using our Culture At Scale method. This time round, we’re covering the fascinating world of sex and relationships, analysing relevant conversation and interactions over the last four months.

After a year quite unlike any other, the way we discuss and approach dating, sex and relationships is in flux. Following a Covid-staggered start of ‘can we, can’t we?’, many of us have succumbed to yet another lockdown of minimal romancing. While dating culture has stalled and the novelty of Zoom dates has fizzled out, people have been experimenting with new ways to find fulfilment. Whether that’s looking inward and practicing self care or navigating the burgeoning worlds of sex tech and science, pleasure will always prevail. 

The full report features:

Viral stories from around the world – from Jojo Siwa’s announcement on TikTok, to a new, openly-gay Indian podcast and the Japanese government’s investment in AI matchmaking

A language tracker highlighting the shifting discourse and tone when it comes to love, relationships and online dating culture

– An Instagram-based image analysis unpacking over 450,000 images relating to romance, revealing the most popular backdrops and colour choices

– A closer look at Lora DiCarlo – the brand on a mission to destigmatize sex tech with help from Cara Delevingne, with discussion around the pitfalls of inclusivity in this area

Trends analysis of the increasing presence of data and science in our bedrooms, as well as the rise of singledom as an act of self care.

Download the full copy of Crowd Tracks: Sex & Relationships here.

Culture At Scale at Crowd DNA

At Crowd DNA, we’re constantly tracking conversations online across a range of categories. We deploy social media and other unstructured data sources in a number of ways; either as a stand-alone method (including producing one-off and periodical reports for our clients) or integrated alongside semiotic, ethnographic and quantitative approaches. If you’d like to find out more about how we can use Culture At Scale to meet your business challenges, get in touch.

Join Crowd DNA Sydney’s Erryn Balzan, and our friends at 72andSunny, for a session mastering how brands can engage with new expressions of maleness…


March 18, 1pm-1.45pm AEST – sign up

(Access via Zoom; 45 minutes including Q&A)


As narratives of gender continue to evolve in pretty much all corners of the globe, the way we express and represent masculinity is changing. A male misery epidemic, the exposure of toxic masculinity and a progressive Gen Z agenda are reframing what it means to be a man today. Without intervention, brands that speak to men are at risk of falling behind.

This session, presented by associate director Erryn Balzan and co-hosted with 72andSunny, will consider:

–  The cultural shifts impacting narratives of masculinity and the new, emerging expressions

–  How brands can harness these opportunities to drive comms, product innovation and more

–  What we can learn from recent brand and cultural examples in Australia and beyond

–  How to communicate authentically, while avoiding the slippery slope of tokenism.

We’ll round off our discussion with a Q&A panel made up of modern male representatives, featuring: Jason Ball (start-up founder and mental health advocate), Kyle Hugall (head of creative strategy, Lion) and Jimmy Nice (musician and artist).

With the image of a ‘true, blue, Aussie bloke’ so deeply ingrained in our psyches, we look forward to uncovering fresh narratives to help brands rethink and remain culturally relevant, but also challenge our own biases too. Hope you can make it!


March 18, 1pm-1.45pm AEST – sign up

(Access via Zoom; 45 minutes including Q&A)