Paul Long offers his raw notes from a Doug Field (MSG Networks) and Susan Kresnicka (Troika) presentation at MRA's 2016 Corporate Researchers Conference, called "Are You Asking the Right Research Question? How Asking the Right Question Inspired a Rebranding"

Q: What does it mean to be a fan?

  • 2015 Network Anthem
  • Very little game footage
  • Copy is emotional
  • Avoided player callouts
  • Brief network mention
  • Character voice

MSG – 11 million subscribers & over 325 live games (New Yor Rangers, NY Knicks, NY Islanders, NJ Devils, NY Liberty and New York Red Bull)

Weekly ritual is going over weekly Nielsen data – but it is only conjuncture, you don’t know why the ratings turn out why they did for sure.

Also assumed: fans “watched like us” – that fans that watched all season long; gender bias.


  1. shouted at viewers
  2. were transactional
  3. reported instead of connecting
  4. Formal and authoritative

Decided they need to change graphics – premiered: first game with new format was last night – during game ticker, music etc.

They needed a new question – needed to know “Why they watch” not when.

Methodology of study on fandom:

  • Literature review
  • Netnography
  • Digital ethnography
  • Quant survey
  • Focus groups
  • Personal narrative analysis
  • Analysis & reporting

Wanted to study:

  • how people watch
  • why people watch
  • (missed the third)

Video data collection – people sent snippets (30 second selfie videos) – a total of 1,309 videos

Data overview (rangers fans) – 756 snippets – 26 games in total, 18 games were wins – 38 avids, 23 moderates and 14 casuals

What they learned:

  • Being a fan is like being in a relationship
  • You text each other daily
  • You try to sit down for dinner with each other when you can
  • When it’s rough you complain to your co-workers
  • Sometimes you go on a romantic date (going to the game)
  • Sometimes it feels really great (winning a championship)
  • Makes you feel like you’re bigger than something else
  • Sometimes you fall so deeply that it feels like what happens to your team happens to you
  • Like all successful relationships – it requires commitment and maintenance.

Origins of Fandom

  • It’s often one of our first loves – often became a fan during childhood
  • Social connection – passed down by a parent or other family member
  • Attachment to place – if you are of this place you need to be a fan of this team
  • Living through a period of team success

What makes a casual, moderate or avid fan?

  • MSG defined it by number of games watched, but, during research found that what they said about the team sounded familiar across types
  • self-perception and viewing behavior don’t always align
  • not always a linear progression through  incresing levels of fandom

What keeps us together?

  • Televised game viewing is among the most important and frequent practice.
  • Televised sports serve as treasure “me” time
  • People watch in the course of everyday life – can be surrounded by distractions.
  • Viewers dip in and out of game, because of these other activities.


  • Fans are in a relationship with their teams and you are in a relationships with those fans
  • You benefit when your relationship with fans is long-term, withstanding vagaries in team performance and life’s competing priorities
  • Make it as easy impossible to meet fans needs and expectations
  • Make it sure they know you appreciate their fandom
  • Acknowledge their feelings – might be sad after a loss – and calibrate your response
  • In other words – meet fans where they are
  • Presenting the findings a tough sell

Used to dealing with numbers – this had some ambiguity

Anything that challenged processes made it difficult for people to understand

Question was: how do you break the cycle?

Step 1 – The fan first philosophy – a new brand position – “MSG Networks. We satisfy our fans desire to emotionally connect.”

Change in Attitude: Moved from Authority to Empathy and From Transactional to Relational

Triangle of Fandom – pillars:

  • Identity – who I am
  • Escape – entertainment – me time
  • Tribalism – connection/ united what i watch


Game package redesign

Wanted to strengthen the connection between the fans and their players. Immersive fan experience focusing on the team colors. Linked their advertising campaign to bright uniform designs.

Marketing campaigns

Used the “United we watch” tag to bring across the message of fans being part of something larger.

Final Thoughts:

  1. Challenging assumptions – not always comfortable but critical – ask why? and dig deeper
  2. Empathy – presenting findings to staff properly is important
  3. Leading by example – don’t narrow range of options, paint a picture of what success looks like to allow creative people to work

- Originally published as "2016 MRA CRC – Are You Asking The Right Research Question" at Paul Long's blog on September 28, 2016.