What about a player draws us in as a fan? What is it about some competitors that cause us to cheer for them, while other players – often just as skilled – push us away? Are we attracted by the ability of a player, their choice of equipment, their personality, or their sense of style? Do we like players who live nearby? Do we only like dominant winners? Do we love the scrappy underdogs? The question of why some players become fan favorites, others draw heated anger, while most never manage to connect with the fans, is one of the mysteries of professional sports.
The purpose of this series of articles is to provide insights into disc golf fandom. These insights will come through analyzing a rich data set produced by the first-ever Ultiworld/StatMando fandom survey. Perhaps you were one of the 1503 people that filled out our survey. If you wish to learn more about the survey and the demographics of the survey respondents, please read this accompanying article.
We are leading off this series with what many of you are most interested in, who are the most popular players in the sport? We selected 32 MPO and 21 FPO players and asked the survey respondents: “On a ten-point scale, are you rooting against or for the 10 MPO and 10 FPO players below?” We provided these instructions: “A player that you dislike would get a number less than 5, with your least favorite player/s getting a 1. A player you are neutral on would get a 5. A player you like would get a number above 5. Your favorite player/s would get a 9 or a 10.”
We asked the question like this because we wanted to get at the heart of the fan experience – not merely asking about the idea of a singular “favorite” player, but discovering which players create a response in you as a fan. Who gets you to care about their success on the course? Which players make you feel something?
We use the term ‘fandom score’ to describe the value that a survey respondent gives to a pro for this question. Many of the future articles in this series will use average fandom scores, which can be used to help understand how our identity and biographical backgrounds affect how we feel about certain players. Fandom scores can also be used as a benchmark to see how a player’s popularity changes over time.
Below are the average fandom scores for the pros we included in our survey:
- I think many people will be surprised that a female has the highest average fandom score given how male-dominant the fan base is. This is a testament to Tattar’s gutsy performances and endearing personality. It also shows that the sport has come a long way in promoting the FPO division and that fans are the better for it. I do wonder whether Tattar’s top spot is sustainable. Two of the best stories this year were her amazing year and Lizotte’s comeback. With athletes and celebrities, familiarity can breed contempt. The longer someone is on top the more fans and the media tend to pick them apart. Tattar has had just one year in the spotlight as the #1 female player in the world.
- One thought exercise is to think of who would have had the highest average fandom score in past years. Before conducting this survey I would have assumed it would have been McBeth for this entire past decade, but he ranked 10th in 2022, so perhaps that is not the case. However, as we will cover at the end of this article, McBeth ranks much higher if you look at who fans consider their favorite player rather than using the average fandom score.
- The three most popular players, Tattar, Lizotte, and Sexton, are all parents. They happen to be the only players that were part of this survey that have children. This is surely just a coincidence as they developed their popularity differently. Tattar became widely known to disc golf fans a few years after becoming a mother, but Lizotte and Sexton were both very popular disc golfers before the birth of their children. It is also interesting that in a sport traditionally dominated by Americans, the two most popular players aren’t American!
- My assumption going into this survey was being part of the media provides a large boost for the popularity of players as it exposes their personalities to fans. Sexton and Koling are clearly the most visible players currently in media that were included in this survey, and both had high fandom scores. Ulibarri was not included in the survey, but I suspect he would be very popular too.
- Several players have a very strong social media presence such as Lizotte, McMahon, Smith, and Panis, as well as players with growing followings such as Aderhold and the Harris/Robinson/Buhr/Babcock combo. For these players, the picture painted by fandom scores is less clear. Smith has the largest social media following in disc golf, but his average fandom score was only 5.96. Panis had an average fandom score of 5.7 despite her social media presence. It seems that followers do not necessarily equate to popularity.
- There are three players that averaged below 5, which means the average fan is rooting against rather than for them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nikko Locastro has the lowest fandom score. It would have been interesting to have had a fandom score a year ago, before his altercation at the 2022 European Open. Would it have been above 5? Maybe. One of the future articles in this series will explore in greater depth what our data says about Locastro and his relation to fans.
- Joel Freeman hasn’t had time management issues. He hasn’t had incidents that have seen him hop from sponsor to sponsor. He didn’t berate and physically intimidate a PDGA official at one of the sport’s most important events on a live broadcast. Yet he has an average fandom score that is only a bit higher than Locastro’s. I won’t speculate as to why his fandom score is so low, but I could see his popularity greatly improve if he takes steps to improve his public persona. Freeman has also had a conspicuous lack of feature card coverage for a player of his skill. Perhaps this is tied to his perceived unpopularity among fans?
- As the first successful transexual professional disc golfer, Natalie Ryan is a controversial figure in the sport. We will explore how fans perceive LGBTQ+ pros in one of the upcoming articles in this series.
To get an idea of the spread of each player’s fandom score, here are the distribution of scores represented as percentages of the total number of votes. First MPO:
A few observations:
- Lizotte and Locastro stretch out the Y-axis on the opposite ends of the spectrum. 55% of respondents gave Lizotte a 10 and 42% gave Locastro a 1. The next highest percentage for a specific fandom score was 38% of respondents giving Antilla and Fish 5s.
- Speaking of 5s, it was the most frequently recorded fandom score when looking across players – 19.4% of scores given were 5s. The second highest fandom score frequency was for 7, which was recorded 14.5% of the time.
- Wysocki’s distribution is quite uniform (i.e., flat), with just 14% being his highest percentage of any specific fandom score (score = 5). What accounts for this wide distribution? Perhaps due to his prominence in the sport, fans are likely to have formed opinions of him, and those opinions are defined and diverse, as opposed to a player that fans haven’t spent that much time thinking about. The second most uniform distribution belongs to Brodie Smith, another prominent player that is likely to elicit opinions from most fans.
- Before seeing the results of the survey, I was curious if there would be a truly polarizing player with a large grouping in the 1s and 2s along with a large grouping in the 9s and 10s, forming a U-shaped distribution. Looking at the results, none of the men fit that description.
Here are individual distribution graphs for FPO:
- For FPO, the player stretching out the Y-axis is Tattar with 59% 10s. Tattar has more than twice the percentage of 10s than the next highest Female player, Scoggins with 27%. Beach had the second-highest percentage in a single fandom score with 50% 5s. As the 2022 DGPT FPO rookie of the year, she likely hasn’t been on the scene long enough to generate significant opinions among the disc golf audience.
- Like Wysocki, Pierce and C. Allen have wide, relatively uniform distributions, demonstrating a diverse set of opinions among respondents.
- Ryan has nearly as many 5s as 1s. Her fandom score distribution spread is different from any other professional. 26% of people are rooting against her as much as possible, giving her a fandom score of 1. 24% gave her a neutral 5, indicating they are neither rooting for nor against her. The high frequency of 5s may speak to the conflict that many fans feel. To elaborate, 39.5% of respondents are to some degree rooting against her (score = 1 to 4), 24% are neutral (score = 5) and 36.6% to some degree are rooting for her (score = 6 to 10). Our respondents likely skew further left in terms of politics compared to the disc golf population in general, so we will provide a more detailed breakdown in a future article.
- FPO athletes (22.7%) were much more likely to get 5s than MPO athletes (17.1%). This is likely a result of fans that don’t follow FPO as closely, so have not established any opinions.
- It is more likely that a fan roots against MPO athletes than FPO athletes. In general, FPO athletes received fewer scores below 5 than MPO. 17.1% of scores for MPO were between 1 and 4 whereas 13.3% were in the 1-4 range for FPO.
- There was a similar percentage of positive scores for both divisions; 65.8% of MPO scores were in the 6-10 range, while 64% of FPO were in the 6-10 range.
We also asked survey respondents “Who is your favorite player?” About 115 out of the 1503 respondents gave us multiple answers and we counted up to four favorites per respondent, but giving more than two was rare. Nearly 100 players received votes. Below are the pros who were chosen the most.
- Lizotte was the top answer, with McBeth not far behind. Would Lizotte have been the top choice in 2020 or 2021 when he had to sit out most of those seasons injured? Maybe not. This year the already charismatic and beloved Lizotte had the intoxicating combination of being both an underdog and a 4x Elite Series winner.
- Tattar finished first among FPO, fourth overall behind Heimburg. Next time we offer this survey I will include separate questions for favorite MPO and favorite FPO players to get a better comparison of the favorite athletes within each division.
Thank you for reading this lengthy piece. We have already made many changes to the 2023 version of this survey which we will publicize toward the end of next season. Please send your feedback and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep an eye out for future articles in this series as we dig deeper into the data.
BONUS FOR SUBSCRIBERS?: Another way to look at fandom scores is through the mode. The mode is the most frequent number, and in this case, the most frequent fandom score given to each player by our respondents.
- As you can see, the players are very bunched up. What accounts for them all being grouped in just 10s, 8s, 7s, 5s, and 1s? Well, 10s and 1s make sense because using an extreme number on either end of the spectrum will represent very strong feelings, which fans often have. 5s also make sense and I will go into that more after the next data visual. The oddity is so many 8s and 7s, but no one’s mode was 9 or 6. My guess is this is a coincidence.
- The mode can be deceptive because some players had a nearly equal number of respondents voting for two or even three different fandom scores. For example, Wysocki had 202 5s, 196 7s, and 197 8s. His mode could have been 8 with a few different fans filling out the form.
- That said, it was surprising to see this past decade’s salutatorians of disc golf, Wysocki and Cat Allen, have 5 as their most frequent fandom score compared to 10s for the valedictorians, McBeth and Pierce. I just don’t see how so many people gave them a neutral score of 5 when you would think their greatness would warrant a more polarizing reaction, whether positive or negative.