ECA News

ECA is pleased to announce the publication of Fan of the Future: Defining Modern Football Fandom, a report which looks at how modern football fans engage with and consume the game.

The report seeks to provide a holistic view of what it means to be a football fan in 2020 and beyond, looking at themes such as club affinity, engagement, and consumer behaviour, and what impact the evolving trends in these areas have on football clubs.

“Modern fans think differently about football, just as they think differently about other aspects of society and entertainment,” said ECA CEO, Charlie Marshall, “Younger fans, especially, are engaging with the game through more varied and diverse means, which is a growing challenge and a huge opportunity for clubs. Football’s business and commercial model was already undergoing significant changes before the seismic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but with today’s “rapid response” management model, we must remember why we are all doing this: for the fans. Only through understanding what they value and how they are changing for the future will we be able to realise a sustainable future for football as the world’s leading sport and responsible engagement platform.”

ECA’s Director of Membership & Business Development, Lasse Wolter, added “findings show that present-day fandom is no longer just about hardcore and one-club supporters but is much broader than that – many younger fans support more than one club home and abroad, with birthplace no longer being the only factor in club affiliation. Those that follow the game in a more passive manner now make up the majority of the sport’s audience. There is clear evidence that fans today are starting to expect football clubs to focus beyond their core offering. It is no longer enough for clubs to compete; they need to demonstrate a level of social responsibility and community awareness aligned with fan values.”

The wide-ranging report, which surveyed 14,000 respondents across seven different markets globally, has significant implications for clubs, leagues and competitions. Delivering practical recommendations, the report and its findings will help ECA Member Clubs and clubs worldwide in better understanding the different types of football fans and inspire strategies to increase engagement and help grow the game for the future.

Based on survey responses, the football fanbase can be separated into six distinct groups, which are categorised by their primary routes into the sport:

  • 27%: FOMO Followers
    • Moderate fans – claim to follow the sport closely, but don’t identify as “huge fans” and rather follow football for social currency
  • 19%: Main Eventers
    • Moderate fans – keep up to date with news and watch on TV, with engagement increasing around big matches/tournaments
  • 19%: Tag Alongs
    • Lightest football fans, with low emotional and intellectual engagement, and interest prompted by friends/family
  • 14%: Club Loyalists
    • Highly engaged, long-term football fans who are emotionally invested in their club, which helps provide their identity
  • 11%: Football Fanatics
    • Follow football in its entirety, with strong emotional engagement – football provides a sense of community which is key to their enjoyment
  • 11%: Icon Imitators
    • Moderate to strong football interest, which is increasing, following specific players and playing regularly themselves - preference for playing than watching

The report highlights how younger fans are markedly different consumers compared to their older peers. They watch football differently, often follow more than one club, are attracted by a club’s playing style and expect clubs to reflect their own values - as well as being less likely to be fans at all. 40% of survey respondents aged 16-24 claimed to have no interest in football, sparking fears of a ‘missing generation’ of fans. However, engagement in the youngest age bracket is strong, with 84% of 8-15 year olds having a huge to passing interest in the sport. There is agreement across the generations that football must do more: most fans say that football clubs have a responsibility to the wider community and to help make the world a better place, but only one in five football fans believe that football is doing enough to address societal issues.