Looking through the Hourglass of Fan Segmentation: Research Findings and Marketing Implications for Live Spectator Sports. (Research Paper)

By Clowes, Jeff; Tapp, Alan | International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship, March-April 2003 | Go to article overview

Looking through the Hourglass of Fan Segmentation: Research Findings and Marketing Implications for Live Spectator Sports. (Research Paper)


Clowes, Jeff, Tapp, Alan, International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship


Abstract: The purpose of this research was to investigate the attendance range of spectators at an English Football Association Premier League club. The numbers of spectators in both percentage and absolute terms were calculated and allocated to three segments (heavy, medium, light attendance). The findings were compared to an earlier reported study in the United States and marketing recommendations based on related studies and industry expertise were proposed for those involved in live spectator sports.

Keywords: Attendance range, market segmentation, professional sport fan involvement, fan segmentation

Executive Summary

This study was undertaken in response to the apparent lack of understanding of the attendance range at live spectator sporting events in the United Kingdom. In particular, the authors were interested in combining their own current research on a case study of an English Football Association Premier League team and earlier work which had been reported in American spectator sports. The earlier work (Levine, 1987, reported in Mullin, Hardy & Sutton, 1993) suggested that the attendance pattern of spectators at live sports events seemed to exhibit an "hourglass" shape if represented diagramatically. The suggestion was that there were larger numbers of spectators in both absolute and percentage terms who attended a high number or low number of home games compared to the numbers of spectators who attended medium number of games. It was also suggested that this range of attendance was not only apparent but also desired. Levine suggested that a range of fans in light, medium and heavy user segments was desirable as a f ranchise with 100 per cent season ticket holders may become vulnerable to poor performances resulting in fan dissatisfaction/defection which may lead to the loss of the next generation of supporters.

This study was designed to test this reported phenomenon by using a single case study in the English FA Premier League. The authors wanted to question the proposition that the level of attendance was desired, and also to discuss the marketing implications of the findings for those involved in the promotion of live spectator sports. An interview with an industry expert, Dr. B.J. Mullin, indicated that the "hourglass" shape may well still exist, particularly in major league baseball, but that it was no longer "desirable" in most professional sports. In his view, the desired position would be to have a waiting list for season tickets. An additional objective of this paper was to raise the profile of this phenomenon so that academics could test the findings in other sports and other entertainment industries.

Researching the numbers of spectators attending a 19-home-game season proved to be quite difficult. There were problems associated with away supporters, individuals "sharing" season tickets and large numbers of "cash paying" customers whose personal details were difficult to collect. Put simply, the club knew how many tickets were sold to home supporters at a particular game or in that season, they also knew how many of these were season ticket holders, but they had little idea if they had a supporter base of approximately 18,000, each attending all home games or many thousands more who only attended a few games each season.

The survey was carried out at a non high-profile game using approximately 30 trained researchers who each administered between 20 and 25 surveys. The survey was pre-tested with a small number of "known fans" and limited alterations were made. The ground location of the researchers was selected by liaising with club officials to ensure a representative profile of "types" of club supporters. The findings were then compared with the suggested/desired level of attendance reported in American sports.

The findings of the study showed a close match between the profile (geodemographic) of the 667 fans surveyed and the known geodemographic profile of the club.

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