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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

Sporting Premierships and 8-Year-Old Boys...

It's a very strange headline.

One that likely brings with it a few question marks, mostly that of 'what on earth am I talking about'?

In a nutshell... if your club is the current Premiers (in any sport), 8-year-old boys may be one of the most important demographics for you to focus your long-term fan development strategies and efforts on...

The detail.

I recently came across some fascinating research by a fellow called Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. By way of quick introduction, Seth is a former Google data scientist and Wharton School lecturer with degrees from both Harvard and Stanford. He's since developed a profile through his work that uses new, big data sources to uncover hidden behaviours and attitudes. Some of which is incredibly confronting and concerning.

Amongst it all, one thing that really grabbed my attention was a study he conducted on how childhood experiences influence which baseball team Americans support - or whether they support any team at all.

Using Facebook data on 'likes' of baseball teams, Seth downloaded the number of males who 'liked' each of New York's two baseball teams. Below is a grab from his work that presents the percent that are Mets fans by year of birth. The higher the point, the more Mets fans.

As per the flow of the data points, the popularity of the team rises and falls, then rises and falls again, with the peaks highlighting that the Mets were very popular among those born in 1962 and 1978. Have only won two World Series - in 1969 and 1986... these men were roughly seven to eight years old when the Mets won, positing that a huge predictor in Mets fandom, for boys at least, is whether the Mets won a World Series when they were around that age.

Taking the hypothesis further, Seth extended on the analysis, downloading information from Facebook that showed how many fans of every age 'liked' every one of a comprehensive selection of MLB teams. Throughout this process, he found that there was also an unusually high number of male Baltimore Orioles fans born in 1962 and male Pittsburgh Pirates fans born in 1963. Those men were also... 8 years old when these teams were crowned champions.

Calculating the age of peak fandom for all the teams he studied, then figuring out how old these fans would have been, he delivered the following chart:

Again, we see that the most important year in a man's life (for the purposes of cementing his favourite baseball team as an adult), is when he is more or less eight years old. Re-emphasising how important those early years are for fan development, this study highlights that five to fifteen is a key period to win over a boy. As per the chart above, winning when a man is nineteen or twenty is about one-eighth as important in determining who he will root for as winning when he is eight. By then... he will either love a team for life or he won't.

Going by Australian population statistics... there were over 300,000 babies born in 2012 (of which approximately 50% were boys)... on the basis that the science is transferable to the Australian sporting landscape, 8-year-old boys may well be the most important demographic focus for the future fanbases of our 2019/2020 men and women Premiers across all codes - over to you Richmond Tigers (AFL), Perth Wildcats (NBL), Canberra Capitals (WNBL), Sydney Roosters (NRL), Sydney FC (A-League), Sydney Sixers (BBL) and NSW Swifts (SSN)

NB - at no point is this research or my interest in it highlighting that boys are more important than girls to sports clubs. It's only that the parameters of this research I was able to access were on boys. In a recount of the findings, Seth does comment that when it comes to female baseball fans, the patterns are much less sharp, but the peak age appears to be twenty-two years old.


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