In the wake of COVID, sports fans have gone social

Hilary Pollack, research manager, measurement insights and analytics, Twitter 

Dina Peck, research analyst, measurement insights and analytics, Twitter

Sports have returned in force. And while the seats may be filled with cardboard cutouts and stuffed animals, fans are animated as ever. They just happen to be voicing their support — and conversing with the rest of the community — online. 

To better understand how sports fans’ behaviors are evolving, we took a closer look at how people connect over the competition during this period of lockdown. As it turns out, there are three vital factors in play.

New fans — and fandoms — are emerging 

With numerous leagues restarting simultaneously, 70 percent of people say they will engage with sports on which they’d never focused before the pandemic. And compared to the general population, people on Twitter are casting an even wider net: 83 percent say they will engage with sports that they would never have followed under different circumstances.

These figures represent a massive opportunity for brands to connect with a new, more diverse group of sports fans as they engage in countless sports-related interactions and conversations across Twitter. During the NFL Draft, for example, total minutes spent on Twitter increased by 13 percent. By comparison, across other social platforms, the total minutes spent on average decreased 9 percent. One thing is clear: Fans flock to social media environments that foster real conversations around sports. 

No stadium required 

During a major sporting event, fans look for a place to go — somewhere to share their joy or heartache with other fans. Research finds that, for many, Twitter is now that venue. Fans can still tailgate, root for their team or support their favorite athletes — but now they’re doing it from the kitchen or the couch.

It hasn’t tamped down the passion for the game at hand. On the contrary, we have observed an exponential shift in energy and attention as fans have moved from the stadium to their smartphones. In fact, 74 percent of people on Twitter now say that Twitter helps them make up for at least part of what they’re missing when they can’t experience the big event at a stadium, a sports bar or a friend’s home. Fans are just as passionate as ever and just as hungry for entertainment and connection. 

Brands have new opportunities to forge connections

Even without the roar of a physical crowd, there’s no denying that sports have made a triumphant return. And new research clearly shows that fans are relying on Twitter to consume sports content and connect with other fans. 

What’s just as clear is that fans on Twitter are counting on brands to help them make those connections. All told, 78 percent of people on Twitter say they believe brands should be bringing fans together for as long as it remains impossible to head to the stadium or join up with friends. 

Marketers should take the message. The seats are still full, and the fans are still screaming, even if only in the digital world. Brands now have an unprecedented opportunity to seize the cultural moment, building relevance and favorability with an army of fans — all while connecting them with the events that matter most in their lives. As fans settle in and revel in the opportunity to engage with their favorite players and teams, even from behind a screen, they’re hopeful that brands will get back on the playing field and help drive these experiences. 

A version of this article ‘Meet the new sports fans in the Twitter stands’ first appeared on


Sparkler, commissioned by Twitter, Twitter as a Stadium Survey, August 2020, USA.

Custom Daypart Analysis, comScore Media Metrix & Mobile Metrix (event vs. average of 3 weeks prior during same day of week & airing time vs. other social platforms), USA. NFL Draft 4/23/20.

More from Digiday

Sliders test article

Agencies hope connected TV and digital out-of-home will play a bigger role in upcoming elections and politics — especially for smaller media agencies that are handling many of the less visible races in the crowded political space. For a number of media agencies looking to place their political ad dollars down in this major election […]

How CTV and DOOH are growing this political season for smaller agencies

Connected TV and digital out-of-home are playing a bigger role in upcoming elections and politics – especially for smaller agencies looking to place clients’ dollars.

CMO Strategies: Advertisers identify the top attributes on ad-supported streaming platforms

This is the third installment in Digiday’s multi-part series covering the top ad-supported streaming services and part of Digiday’s CMO Strategies series. In this report, we examine which ad attributes matter the most to marketers on streaming platforms.