Sports Fans Are More Willing to Support Social Justice

They're also more like to spend their money with socially conscious brands

colin kaepernick
Colin Kaepernick (center) is among a new crop of activist athletes and teams across American sports. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images

Fans frequently tuning into sports, both professional and amateur, are more likely to support the Black Lives Matter movement and support the overall fight for social justice.

Sports and politics have always been intertwined in America, from the controversy over desegregating baseball to female athletes’ fight for equal pay. And a survey released by sports marketing agency Octagon shows that among 1,200 sports fans and non-fans, the act of bolstering athletes when they engage in activism can pay off for brands.

According to the survey, more than half of sports fans support the Black Lives Matter movement and believe there is a precedent for sports to serve as a “catalyst for changing social policy to address racial injustices.” Among non-sports fans, just 42% said they supported BLM.

Brands hesitant to support athletes’ activism—like the NBA’s recent player-led strike that almost upended the season—should note that 38% of sports fans are more likely to be loyal to a brand that sponsors athletes and teams who speak out in support of racial equality, compared to just 29% of the general public.

Look no further than Nike, which made the activist Colin Kaepernick the focal point of a 2018 campaign, even as he was ostracized from the National Football League for kneeling during the national anthem. Four years later, even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged wishing he “had listened” to Kaepernick when he was playing for the San Francisco 49ers.

“The mass appeal of the professional sports leagues and the power that they have on a more national level, you see that sports fans are really relying on them to take charge and to move forward with these action plans,” said Cristina Ackas, vp of research at Octagon. But, brands shouldn’t just attach themselves to an athlete intertwined within a social justice movement just because they can. It needs to be authentic.

“Fans want to see what the brands are doing, and not just utilizing the athletes and other celebrities, but truly what they’re doing in their own organizations and in the community,” said Ackas.

Younger fans ages 18 to 34, the most crucial audience for any brand, are more likely to support a brand that promotes racial equality by sponsoring athletes and teamsthat are outspoken than older fans, 54% vs. 30%.

They’re also more willing to support a social justice movement like BLM than their older counterparts—72% vs. 49%.

@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.