Ear to the ground launch fan intelligence index

28 Oct 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

A new global study by creative sports agency Ear to the Ground reveals the industry's ranking of the Top 40 most culturally relevant brands in sport, esports and gaming.

Ear to the Ground, who won Agency of the Year at the Sport Industry Awards 2021, launched the first Fan Intelligence Index in October 2020 and since then demand for what cultural relevance means to audiences in 2021 has become critical.

The future survival of brands in sport, esports and gaming is now under threat; with the new breed of fan demanding a voice, along with a better future. Those that have listened have scored well. Those that have not – from brands to rights holders - have dropped down and even out of the rankings.

Created in collaboration with Ear to the Ground’s global Fan Intelligence Network - an 11,000+ network of the most influential and culturally connected fans worldwide – the Fan Intelligence Index 21/22 details wholesale changes after a rollercoaster year.

The rankings not only display the power shift from those who govern to those who lead culture, but the trends explore the shockwaves that are shaping the future of the industry – global pandemics, climate crises, social equality, empty sports stadia - giving us a new Top 10, 11 new entrants, and score changes across the board.

Key takeaways:

● Nike pipped Adidas to take this year’s top spot.

● The new breed of fan demands a better future with Driving Positive Change as the most crucial factor in being viewed as culturally relevant - a characteristic which many brands scored poorly.

● The effects of the ESL have been felt globally, with Barca as the only club to scrape into the top 40 in last place.

● The NBA and Premier League held their ground in the Top 10, but only just, dropping by two to go 5th and 6th.

● Where the traditional rights holders were lacking, esports and gaming partners excelled and were able to take advantage.

● EA Sports rose by five places into the Top 10 due to a solid diversity pledge that led to the education of youth audiences surrounding current societal issues like knife crime, while PlayStation took 10th after launching their fastest-selling console.

● Sportswear brands dominate the top 10 with Nike, adidas and New Balance gaining credibility through the power of idols.

● TikTok, Twitch and Instagram won big with the new breed of fan and, as a result, have had a steep rise up the rankings.

● Coca-Cola and Pepsi are head-to-head for the first time as they take 12th and 13th place.

Who is the New Breed of Fan?

Cultural relevance in sport, esports and gaming today is being driven by the new breed of fan. The new breed of fan is not defined by age but by attitude. It’s an attitude many would associate with the young, but it’s not unique to them. The new breed of fan believe in using their platform to make themselves heard and make the world listen. They’re in the driving seat now.

Defining Cultural Relevance

The Fan Intelligence Index is the only study to identify the fundamental characteristics of a culturally relevant brand in sport, esports and gaining. By substantiating a global framework with a sample of fans across Europe, Asia & North America; culturally relevant brands in 2021 can be defined as follows:

● Driving positive change: global fans agreed that culturally relevant brands respond to issues fans and their communities face with respect - promoting real social change. They never use empty messages. They believe in making an impact.

● Disrupting the norm: they disrupt, challenge, and redefine cultural practices through innovation, creating new products or platforms that inspire new behaviours and trends.

Celebrating sports heritage: they celebrate heritage in sport and know how important this is to fans. They speak to fans, invite reciprocation, appreciate and facilitate fan rituals, customs, and culture.

Standing for something: they have a clear point of view, are upfront and honest about what they stand for – reflecting their values through every action they take.

Instigating cultural collaboration: they collaborate with co-existing cultural disciplines such as fashion, gaming, and music to bring together fan bases and introduce unexpected creative crossovers in sport.

Forming authentic partnerships: they champion cultural ambassadors who embody their values, bringing these individuals into the creative process as collaborators and giving them the freedom to speak on their behalf.