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COVID-19 Sees Australia’s Emotional Connection To Sport Drop

T
he latest BenchMark Report from True North Research has shown how COVID-19 has negatively affected Australia’s overall engagement with sport, lowering familiarity, the size of supporter bases, and emotional connection.

The October 2020 edition of the report has seen many of Australia’s top sporting teams’ BenchMark emotional connection score (EC Score) decline, including the Matildas and Diamonds.

Despite this, True North reported that amongst most team’s core fans, as in those who follow a team closely, the emotional connection has actually strengthened due to the role sport has played helping fans get through the challenging COVID-19 pandemic.

True North director, Georgie Maynard, said the pandemic has taken away visibility from a number of sports and teams, with regular exposure a key component of ensuring familiarity and connection is maintained.

“Our cornerstone touchpoints that connect teams to new and existing audiences have been significantly impacted,” Maynard said.

“There have been fewer opportunities to attend live sport, interact with players, and participate at grassroot levels.

“Growth for sport will be tough over the next year with the casual viewer tuning out and concerns around attending live sport, as a result of COVID-19, still evident.

“However, for existing fans, sport has provided a necessary distraction and an important relief from the pandemic.

“This has resulted in an audience that is even more passionate and connected to its teams,” she said.

The research also showed on top of emotional connection dropping, less Australians are watching sport over the past six months, something Maynard believes is due to the additional mental and financial load of COVID-19 on particular demographic groups.

Women aged between 30-39 (30% watched less sport), those on lower incomes (28% watched less sport), living alone (29% watched less sport) and single parents (29 and 34% respectively watched less sport), proved to be the demographics watching significantly less sport.

While three in ten Victorians watched less sport over the last six months, the move to Queensland hubs for sports such as the AFL and Super Netball proved successful for the State, which reported a net gain, with more watching sport than less.

Overall, 27% of people reported watching less sport over the past six months, with only 17% reporting watching more sport, a net loss of 10% overall.

“It is not just about fewer opportunities to engage with sport, COVID-19 has led some audiences to lose interest, whilst others have not had the capacity to connect, they have competing priorities,” Maynard said.

“However, given the power of sport to connect us, it will be important that sport reaches out to the audiences who have struggled during this time, who may be feeling a sense of exclusion, and actively re-establishes that emotional connection,” she said.

Looking at the national team ladder for emotional connection amongst all familiar with the team, the Australia Women’s Cricket team has managed to hold the top spot, with a large lead over all other national teams.

In second place, is the Australia Men’s Cricket T20 team, followed by the Australia Men’s Cricket Test team, the Matildas, the Australia Women’s Rugby 7s team, the Kangaroos, the Socceroos, the Diamonds, the Boomers, and the Wallabies to round out the top ten.

The Australia Men’s Cricket teams and the Wallabies were the only teams in the top 15 to see their emotional connection score improve over the six-month period.

Looking at individual sporting clubs across Australia, notable figures from the report include the Sunshine Coast Lightning from Super Netball scoring the highest BenchMark EC Score amongst winter league teams, along with St Kilda seeing the biggest improvement amongst winter league teams since 2018, and the Penrith Panthers, Gold Coast Suns, and Gold Coast Titans seeing minor improvements.

The majority of clubs included in the 2020 edition of True North Research’s BenchMark report showed a decline in their EC Score this year, with the emotional connection to the winter league teams overall dropping for supporters (those who follow but not closely), and dropping largely for non-supporters (those that are neutral, rarely support or would never support).

To view the full True North BenchMark report, click here.