A sporting chance for web-savvy marketers

Did you know cricket fans are 64 times more likely to be shopping online for men’s suits than general web surfers? New research helps marketers look beyond their brand market to reach people.

It’s been a good few weeks for British sport with Andy Murray winning Wimbledon, the Lions triumphing in Australia and our cricketers off to a flying start in the Ashes.The business of sport could be worth up to $680bn (£456bn) according to consultant AT Kearney.

But brands could be making more of their associations with sport, says research from advertising intelligence agency Exponential, which analysed the online activity of almost 7 million Britons.

The behaviour of fans of six major sports, including rugby, tennis and cricket, has been mapped against 50,000 attributes to see which sectors specific sports fans are most interested in (see methodology below). “It’s all about understanding who an audience is and looking at marketing and advertising from that perspective, rather than from the perspective of selling inventory or trying to get a particular message across, explains Francesca Baker”, insights manager at Exponential.

The research reveals that cricket fans are 64 times more likely to be interested in men’s suits than the general internet population, for example. Therefore, brands such as Marks & Spencer or Moss Bros may do well to advertise on cricketing websites. “If you’re advertising men’s suits, cricket might not be important to you but it is important to your audience and they are the ones who are going to be buying your product,” says Baker. “Our data either validates long-held assumptions or challenges what a marketer might have been thinking. With the cricket data, I feel it validates assumptions. You tend to think of cricket as a sport with an older viewer demographic and higher affluence, who might be interested in banking, nice cars and suits,” says Baker.

Cricket fans are also 44 times more likely to be interested in mortgage brands and 43 times more likely to be interested in business travel. They display a much higher propensity to be interested in classical music (x39) and wine (x8). “The important thing to take from this is your audience isn’t necessarily only found among content relating to your product, so think about where else you can reach them; what their interests reveal about the kind of person they are.”

Moss Bros has renewed its sponsorship deal with England RFL for 2013/14 to take advantage of England hosting the RFL World Cup

Being able to recognise huge over-indexing where particular customers exist outside of the noisy retail environment provides an opportunity for marketers to target in a clearer situation. Exponential has 450 million users worldwide and gets 65 billion ‘user events’ per month, a click or a page load, for example, which it uses to build a picture of who people are.

While cricket fans show strong behavioural and character traits, other sports fans do not. Football, for example, does not over-index in anything as significantly as cricket.  Football has a broad audience and the standout online behaviour of its fans reflect a family life – they view content on investment planning, loans, home appliances, music, children’s interests and impending babies.

It’s not surprising to see short-term loan brands such as Wonga get involved in football sponsorship when football fans are almost six times more likely to be looking at loan content than the average internet user. However, this is not without controversy, as Bolton Wanderers cancelled its association with loans company QuickQuid in June, after fans and politicians pressurised the club to do so.

Destinations such as Bratislava, Ukraine and Sofia all over-index with football fans. “These are stag-do destinations, which fits with the image of young lads into football,” says Baker.

When it comes to rugby, it is a bit more niche like cricket and displays a greater opportunity for marketers to find over-indexing interests. As with cricket fans, rugby enthusiasts hugely over-index in classical music (x68) and are 45 times more likely to be in the market for business-class travel than the average internet user.

Rugby fans tend to come from older families with student-aged kids, so student loans (x66), retirement (x31) and seniors (x23) feature prominently among over-indexing interests. Rugby fans are also big all-round sports fans, with American football (x42), horse racing (x15), darts (x13) and extreme sports (x13) all featuring among over-indexing activities.

Suit retailer Moss Bros knows that its potential customers are rugby fans and is sponsoring Rugby League into next year (see Marketers’ response box-out). Meanwhile, golf fans provide clothing brands and retailers with a fantastic opportunity to reach potential customers more efficiently, and in perhaps less-competitive environments.

Marketers are 41 times more likely to find people viewing men’s sweaters among those who have also viewed golf content. Marketing around golf content is also a smart move for marketers in the home and gardening sectors, with lawn and landscaping, desks and sculptures all over-indexing. Snowboarding (x11) and winter holidays (x8) also see a significant lift.

“The link between golf fans and winter sports is surprising, as you tend to think of golf as a summer sport. It could open up a whole new market to brands that might not have recognised a link, says Exponential’s Baker.

Tennis has the strongest female draw among the six sports, with maternity wear (x16), fitness and weight loss (x9), actor Robert Pattinson (x11) and underwear (x10) all seeing a lift among fans. Relationship issues and celebrity gossip also over-index highly among the interests of tennis fans.

Fans of motor racing provide the most obvious over-indexing of the six sports analysed. They are interested in cars, motorcycles, powerboats, radio-controlled cars, surveillance, fencing and home security. “They’re looking at Chevrolets, Ferraris and Maseratis but the likelihood of them actually being able to afford these are small. You’ve got this aspiration and then the reality – hence the radio-controlled cars. It’s important for marketers to tap into aspirational marketing,” says Baker.

The research also looks at what sectors fans of each sport are most likely to work in. Finance over-indexes highest among football, rugby and cricket fans, while tennis and cricket fans are more likely to work in advertising and marketing. Retail jobs are highest among tennis fans, law among cricket and tennis, and education for those who follow rugby.

“The important thing to remember is that a job title isn’t necessarily reflective of who someone is”, warns Baker. She adds that this data actually shows what people are doing, rather than what they say they are. “It’s based on what people are viewing, reading and interested in, rather than what they claim to be interested in. That’s why it’s really powerful.”


Advertising intelligence agency Exponential analysed the online behaviour of almost 7 million Britons during May 2013. This behaviour was assigned to one of 50,000 attributes or interest groups. The behaviour of a particular target audience – fans of rugby, tennis, cricket, football, golf and motor racing – was then mapped against all these attributes to see what a particular target audience is more likely to be doing compared with the general internet population.

The lift refers to the increased likelihood of a behaviour being displayed among the target audience versus the total internet population – so for a lift of x10 means that you are 10 times more likely to find people exhibiting a certain interest among the target audience than among the general internet population.

High lifts of particular interest provide marketers of related goods and services with the opportunity to target potential customers in areas, online or offline, they previously may not have considered, away from the obvious, competitive and crowded areas they traditionally used.

For example, the research shows that student loans marketers might benefit from targeting rugby content, rather than student or financial websites.

Marketer responses


Dave Shaw
Marketing manager, Moss Bros

The results of the research are interesting and reflect our own consumer insight. Whereas music culture has a strong correlation with age, affinity to sport is more transient. Conversely, an affinity to certain sports can change by region. For instance, Rugby League has a strong following in the M62 corridor (running from Liverpool in the North-west to Hull in the North-east) and was identified as an important target segment for Moss Bros last year, resulting in a sponsorship deal between Moss Bros and the England RFL team for the 2012/13 season. Following the success of this, we have decided to extend this relationship for 2013/14 to build on the enhanced media presence surrounding England hosting the RFL World Cup.


Robin Harrison
Head of marketing Frugi (organic clothing for children and mothers)

As well as organic childrenswear, Frugi also makes a range of breastfeeding wear for mums. While it’s interesting to learn about the correlation stated in this research, our strong focus on design, quality, and ethics means there are other themes that we associate more strongly with our customers.

However, we have a very close relationship with them, which means we have the ability to monitor and react to trends and themes very quickly.

If feedback from our customers reflected these research findings, then we would of course address this in our marketing activities, and explore partnerships with appropriate brands with values that align with those of Frugi and our customers.


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