Have I ever played baseball? No. Do I find the sport particularly exciting to watch? Hard no. Do I plug in and pay attention every time they’re in the playoffs? Yes, and so do dozens of my Bay Area friends. Despite hardly any of them ever swinging a bat.
Part of the human psyche is building an in-group or “community”. We automatically are attracted to things that we can relate to. In the case of the San Francisco Giants, this fansmanship is solely because I grew up in the Bay Area. Most franchise sports fans are created around this proximity principle. Despite the athletes coming and going, the franchise setup allows fans to continuously support their local team.
This fansmanship is the livelihood of a franchise. Without it, ticket sales and tv viewership drop, the brand suffers, sponsors withdraw, and the franchise loses millions.
In beach volleyball, there is a devastating lack of this fansmanship outside of the beach volleyball community. Without the franchise setup, it is difficult for fans to attach themselves to a “team” and be a lifelong fan. There is no “San Francisco Giants” of beach volleyball for the non-volleyball fan to tune into. There are no home games against the rival LA Dodgers to watch with friends. This same principle may explain why beach volleyball is one of the most-watched sports at the Olympics: People follow along because they feel connected to Team USA against the “out-group” of the rest of the world, despite lacking any direct connection to beach volleyball or the athletes.
Furthermore, with over 90% of our professional beach athletes residing in the South Bay “bubble” in Southern California, potential fans have a difficult time building that connection or relation with any athletes. For someone outside of Southern California to have a favorite beach athlete, they either know the sport well, have a previous connection to the athlete, or it’s Kerri Walsh-Jennings or Misty May.
HOW THE NCAA IS (UNINTENTIONALLY) GROWING FANSMANSHIP
NCAA beach volleyball is the closest thing to a franchise following there is in this sport. Fans support university athletics because of proximity to where they live or because it’s their alma mater. The 2019 Championship Duel saw a 43% increase in tv viewership with 427,000 viewers and just shy of 10,000 fans onsite. For volleyball context numbers, USA Volleyball has 364,000 members (indoor included). Athletes who graduate out of the NCAA system and pursue their professional careers will always enjoy the support of their collegiate fans.
Also because of NCAA, over 500 beach clubs have developed across the states, including hundreds of indoor clubs now offering beach training opportunities. Over the course of the athlete’s career training in the junior ranks, they come into contact with hundreds of other players and numerous coaches. A beach athlete develops lifelong fans in these contacts. As a former coach of Santa Cruz Beach Volleyball Club, I continue to have an allegiance towards the athletes who “graduated” out of that club and follow their careers from NCAA through the pro ranks (looking at you, Allie Wheeler).
WHY FANSMANSHIP IS SO IMPORTANT
As mentioned previously, fansmanship is the livelihood of a franchise. Without it, the franchise is not sustainable. In the sport of beach volleyball, where the current “franchise” is two individual athletes coming together, but with no guaranteed salary and support, an athlete’s personal brand is their livelihood.
Furthermore, in today’s social media and big data world, companies can now more than ever track the return of investment of sponsorship deals. They can track the analytics of viewership, impressions, and connect those numbers directly to sales.
Increasing an athlete’s fansmanship grows their personal brand, making them more attractive to companies and finally, able to secure larger sponsorship offers. But the real impact of growing this fanbase is long lasting: It will inspire a community that strives for a healthy lifestyle, physical fitness, and good sportsmanship.
HOW WE CAN BUILD FANSMANSHIP NOW
It's not about baseball, but it is. It's about harnessing local energy and building fansmanship. Be a part of the fastest growing sport by:
- Tuning into the action on the FIVB World Tour
- Knowing USA’s best athletes
- Attending local competition(s)
- Engaging with pro athletes on social media
- Being your own franchise
Be your own franchise and develop fansmanship across your organization by hosting a Pro Pass Clinic. Pro pairs will host a clinic at your training site where your players get an unforgettable training experience. A fantastic opportunity could be in advance of a local competition where your players could support their pro athletes competing in the following days. Get in touch today!