A quantitative research study was conducted to gauge their attitudes towards the environment and environmentally-related issues on behalf of the Green Sports Alliance.
To my knowledge, that is the only large scale, fans-and-the-environment study that has been fielded in Green-Sports history. It is incredible to me that the sports world, which has been greening itself since the early 2000s, knows so little about what fans think about the environment and climate change and the greening efforts of their favorite teams.
With a nod to Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A-Changin” late in 2020.
That is thanks to “Sustainability In Sports,” an innovative, social media-based study developed and conducted by Zoomph, a platform “for social audience intelligence and sponsorship measurement and evaluation”, and Recipric, an agency that leverages sport to “enact positive change.”
GSB spoke to Recipric founder Kristen Fulmer¹ about what the study tells us about sports fans and their attitudes towards the environment and more.
GreenSportsBlog: Kristen, thank you and Zoomph for doing this important work! How did the collaboration come to pass?
Kristen Fulmer: I connected with Zoomph’s co-founder Amir Zonozi in the spring of 2020. Zoomph’s technology is really effective at using a variety of metrics to assess the value of sports partnerships.
Their proprietary software creates segmentation from digital behavior and disclosed data to aggregate content and create discrete audiences…
GSB: What do you mean by “discrete audiences”?
Kristen: An audience could be defined a lot of different ways — like “people who follow the Atlanta Falcons” or “people who use the word ‘sports’ in their twitter profile”.
So, what brought this project about is that I realized that, in the Green-Sports world, we need more information about what fans think about sustainability…This is a great tool to capture the value of sustainability in sports.
Kristen Fulmer (Photo credit: Recipric)
GSB: Are data from social media users valid from a research perspective?
Kristen: Good question. You can say what you will about social media, but it does a really good job of passively showing peoples’ interests and passions. Instead of an explicit survey with questions trying to actively identify an answer, we identified the relationship between sustainability-related and sports-related topics via these passive — almost unintentional — characterizations of a social media user. This is how we show that there is a relationship between people who are passionate about sustainability and climate — and people who like sports. These aren’t two different types of people and the report shows that.
GSB: Once you’ve established that this relationship exists, what does that allow you to do with that information?
Kristen: This will allow us to show sports leagues, teams and sponsors that they:
- Have a significant base of fans who care about the environment and climate, who spend money on a specific set of products and services — which Zoomph’s technology can help to define — and,
- Would be rewarded by that segment of fans for taking environmental and climate actions — and possibly even grow the fan base.
GSB: Using social media data to understand the commonalities between sports fans and people who care about the climate is a fascinating approach. But why go this route rather than, say, polling sports fans about their attitudes on the environment and climate?
Kristen: Polling tells a different type of story — by that I mean if you ask someone “do you care about the environment” and he or she says “yes”, well that’s a word versus what Zoomph’s social media analysis shows, which are actions. There’s no harm in responding “yes” on a survey, but this social media audience can help us answer questions about whether those people that say “yes” actually walk the talk.
For example, “Do they follow mission-driven companies?” “Do they characterize themselves as nature-lovers?” “Do they support specific environmentally-focused brands or products?” We think this can be really valuable for sports teams and leagues, as well as brands that sponsor them, or are thinking about doing so.
GSB: Got it. So, I could see this being really interesting to the Seattle Kraken, the expansion NHL franchise that will begin play in the 2021-22 season. They will be playing at the newly-named Climate Pledge Arena…
Kristen: …We actually thought about doing a deep dive into the Kraken’s social media follower base… Maybe it can be a follow-up to this first report… The goal would be to try to understand people who are more likely to follow the team because they play at a building named Climate Pledge Arena, what other interests or passions they have, what products they buy, and who else they follow. This measurement method could be complementary to launching a survey to gauge the sentiment of this defined audience as well.
GSB: Now I’m starting to see how the Zoomph, social media-mining approach can work in concert with more traditional market research techniques to gain deeper insights than using one or the other. Back to your work with Zoomph. What did Zoomph and Recipric end up doing?
Kristen: The research process is entirely automated, It starts with all of the public, self-disclosed social media users that Zoomph’s partnerships can aggregate. It’s huge – around 342 million anonymous profiles.
Amir Zonozi (Photo credit: Zoomph)
GSB: I’d say “huge” is the right adjective…
Kristen: …And then you start paring it down by honing in on, say, looking at Zoomph’s already-defined audiences like the x-amount of “people who follow the NBA” or the y-amount of “people who follow the “Boston Red Sox” or the z-amount of people who have the word “climate” in their Twitter bio.
So, the first thing we did was to create a sustainability-minded audience.
GSB: …Who may or may not be sports fans?
Kristen: Correct! We highlighted a ton of keywords to create this audience, using “or” to make that audience expansive. So, we found people who had the word “climate” or “sustainability” or “recycling” or “recycle” in their Twitter bio, for example.
GSB: That is fascinating!
Kristen: It was really fun to generate the words to try to accurately capture the audience that I personally know so well! We are confident that people who have at least one of those keywords in their Twitter bio — and there are of course others — they care about sustainability in some way.
GSB: What about the word “green”? That could be tricky…
Kristen: I actually took the word “green” out because somewhere along the way, I realized that the Green Bay Packers were significantly over-indexing in the results…
GSB: …You could also pick up people who say they’re interested in “Making some green“, as in money…
Kristen: Exactly! But taking the “green” out is also taking out some people who are fits because they are using that word to signal that they are interested in the environment.
So, our data are showing a minimum number of people in the sustainability demographic. We miss some people by not including some keywords. There are some people who care about the topic, but their profiles do not capture that interest. If they did, that ‘audience’ would be bigger.
That said, Zoomph has built a sizable database of all the sustainability-minded people in the world, at least as captured through these keywords.
This audience can then be cross-referenced against a variety of sports-related metrics, like keywords, locations and more. Zoomph’s analytics tool can see what NFL teams rank highest on that sustainability-minded list. They find that out by mining people who follow a given team, or who have the team name in their bio, for example.
GSB: So, what did you learn about which teams have the most sustainability-minded fans?
Kristen: The New England Patriots were at the top of the NFL the Los Angeles Lakers among the most likely to have sustainability-minded fans in the NBA, and the Boston Red Sox in Major League Baseball.
What’s interesting about these teams in particular is that they seem to have some of the widest audience bases, meaning a lot of people follow them who aren’t even their fans, meaning they have a wider selection of sustainability-minded people to choose from. I don’t mean to minimize these results, which are clear to show that those teams are most likely to have sustainability minded fans.
Going back to the Seattle Kraken, it will be interesting to see how they score over time among the sustainability-minded because there could be a lot of people who follow them because of their dedication to climate action, not because they root for them.
GSB: Go Kraken! Where do brands fit into the Zoomph-Recipric sustainability-minded sports fans mix?
Kristen: It is crucial for the Green-Sports movement to understand what brands these people support cross-referenced against which teams they support. That will tell you all you need to know about potential brand partners for those teams.
GSB: …And these brands should be on the radar of the teams’ sustainability-minded people follow as potential partners, right?
Kristen: It’s a good indication, anyway. And there’s more.
For example, the Lakers are at the top of the list of all North American pro sports teams with vegetarian and vegan followers. They can then do a deep dive analysis to find whether these fans follow Impossible Burger more than Beyond Meat or vice versa. And there are, of course, partnership implications here. Maybe not surprisingly, the Lakers did announce a partnership with Beyond Meat last year.
GSB: Very interesting! Did the Zoomph-Recipric analysis show that Lakers’ sustainability-minded fans are more likely to follow Beyond Meat than Impossible Burger?
Kristen: We didn’t do that analysis on this point quite yet, but this question points to the clear need for more of this research to be done! I’d guess that the Lakers’ Partnerships team uses some pretty sophisticated analysis to identify the right partnerships already but can’t help but get excited by the power of Zoomph’s analysis to either validate the existing work or help guide impactful work of any rights holder’s partnerships team in the future.
GSB: The Lakers and many other teams would be wise to explore the possibilities offered by the Zoomph tools and Recipric’s insights. And I’m sure you both have only scratched the surface. How can people get to read the report?
Kristen: Yes – Together, Zoomph and Recipric are hoping that this is really only the beginning! This one is available on Zoomph’s website under ‘Resources’: https://zoomph.com/zoomph-x-recipric-sustainability-in-sports-report/
GSB’s Take: In the spirit of offering end-of-year thanks, GSB is grateful for “Sustainability In Sports.”
The report from Zoomph and Recipric — which combines the former’s proprietary, state-of-the-art social media analytical tools with the latter’s strategic Green-Sports expertise — provides a valuable top line look at sustainability-minded sports fans, the teams they follow, as well as the brands they likely favor.
It is easy to envision ways that savvy, green-minded teams can take insights gleaned from sustainability-minded fans generated by the Zoomph-Recipric proprietary approach to 1. Inspire those fans to take climate-friendly actions, and 2. Engage like-minded potential brand partners in green marketing initiatives that build business, fan loyalty and reduce environmental impact.
GSB is excited to report on what Zoomph and Recipric accomplish in 2021 and beyond.
But they cannot be the only source of fan-and-sustainability focused research.
The Green-Sports industry needs to conduct periodic, quantitative surveys on fan attitudes about climate change, how sports teams and athletes should deal with environmental issues, and more.
To be sure, the social media-based research pioneered by Zoomph and Recipric represents one important chapter of the “fans and the environment” story — “Sustainability-Minded Fans, the Teams They Follow, the Brands They Love.”
But quantitative survey data must contribute to at least two important, related chapters: “The Size of the Sustainability-Minded Fan Base” and “How to Inspire Those Fans Who Are Not Currently Sustainability-Minded to Go Green”.
2021 needs to be the year that these chapters begin to be written. The Green Sports Alliance, SandSI, Sport Environment Alliance, and BASIS would be great co-authors.
¹ Full disclosure: Kristen Fulmer and Recipric provides strategic consulting services for EcoAthletes, the nonprofit I founded in April to “Inspire and coach athletes to take and lead climate action.”
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