8 most effective manipulations by fans


Being a human is being the object of manipulation. Even if you are aware of the manipulation, your brain is unable to control the events around for a long time. While controlling one thing, your brain misses another. This is the principle that the conjuring tricks work on. You are made to focus on a certain thing and be fooled under your nose.

Just because we succumb to such manipulations doesn’t mean that we are stupid or particularly inattentive. This is a feature of our brain. Life is not a movie, the main character of which is logical, fearless, and possessing a sense of humor. Each of us has a lot of both common and individual features that lead us too far from the images of blockbuster heroes.

In this article, I’ve prepared for you the eight most effective manipulations by the fans from the perspective of my experience.


1. Social approval. As is known, the main feature of our species is high sociality. Sociality helped us on our way to predominance on the Earth. Evolution has led our sociality so far that we literally go crazy without integration into society. As is known from suicidology, rejection by society is one of the root causes of committing suicide.

Therefore, social approval is vital for us. This feature is used everywhere. Social media implement it through the likes and focusing your attention on being liked by another user as an act of approval.

How do we use it in sports? I’m going to get back to the sociality in the context of hormones further in my article, but sociality can be used from different angles. I’ve dwelt on this particular feature of our species in my strategy for the New York Cosmos.

There are enough evolutionary psychology experiments and grounds, proving that the influence of other people on an individual is very strong. Some experiments have shown that such influence even in the obviously crazy cases reaches 70%.

The club can build its strategy on making it appear that many people around are fans of the club and attend games. The club can in different ways convince the fans that even if the team loses, nothing terrible happens. For instance, the EPL is covered in the UK without much negativity toward the league and clubs. Likewise is MLS in the United States.

If we talk about a full-fledged strategy for influencing the common man/woman on the street, in the case of getting acquainted with something new, you need to use bottom-up attention first (i.e. the kind of attention when you suddenly notice something unusual or catch someone looking at you). I mean, you should draw attention to your brand using different tricks. You’ve got to do it using tools based on evolutionary psychology and neurodesign.

Your first stage task will be acquaintance with you. People’s conscious mind is getting involved here. You can achieve this through bright-colored interesting promos.

At the second stage, you can involve mechanisms of conditioning. But it’s a matter of details. The key is to engage social approval. If you make it appear that everyone roots for your team, takes interest in any news of the club, goes to the games, it will soon become true. We are very susceptible to the influence of society;


2. Periodic reinforcements. These are psychological reinforcements that occur in our lives. I described this, for instance, in the context of a ludic loop which was used to manipulate the Uber and Lyft drivers in order to make them work more. This concept is also suitable for time killer games on your smartphones.

But the concept of variable ratio schedule is correctly applied to slot machines.

This concept describes periodic reinforcement in the case when the probability of a jackpot is, on average, constant but the number of attempts will be different in each particular case.

In general, periodic reinforcements have a wide range of applications. They describe how easily we can be hooked even with messages. We constantly check for new social media postings, messages, and e-mails.

In working with fans, we can use periodic reinforcements to encourage attending games or spending money at the club store. Even the elementary involvement of this mechanism will make it possible to get good results. If you study the question thoroughly, having the opportunity to deeply consider its application, it will become one of your main tools for working with fans;


3. Priming. Simply put, priming is stable associations between one thing and another. For example, when looking at the violet color, many people get an instant association with a chocolate brand. Such associations work well for bans on the advertising of cigarettes. Especially if you add some extra element, like in a Formula One car.

I like working with priming. It’s really very fascinating. Everyone has his/her own emotions about the things that can come as priming. One has to generally keep as far away from this as possible. No one needs uncertainty. There’s already too much of it.

But there’s still a topic that isn’t hindered by the uncertainty. I’m talking about adolescence when, due to certain peculiarities, the perception of the world differs from what was “before”, and what will be “after”. It’s got many emotions, many discoveries. This has to be exploited.

For example, the Coca-Cola brand copes with this very well. They’ve been almost always distinguished by good marketing. And they continue to be one of the most effective companies in terms of marketing.

Priming is actively used in politics. American specialists especially like to use it. In the US, unlike Latin America, neuromarketing is used very carefully in politics, in contrast with behavioral economics and psychology.

Using priming in your work with fans, you can get the perception of your brand, stadium, or competition you need. What attracts a separate attention is a use of priming in scent marketing when you can make people want to eat something or drink coffee with the help of the necessary smell (including in the sports facility during the game). In so doing, you’ve got ways to increase the efficiency of this strategy even more; they are detailed in paragraph 8 of the article;


4. The anchoring effect. “Give me a place to stand and with a lever, I will move the whole world.” You do know this quote from Archimedes. The anchoring effect is something like that. Our subsequent decisions depend on the information that is submitted first.

One of the most interesting examples demonstrating in practice the complete irrationality of a human is the way people act when moving from one city to another.

It’s logical that the prices for rent or purchase of housing should be compared with the market ones in a particular new city and district. But it turns out that if the price of the property in their former places of residence was higher, people tend to pay more in a new place, and vice versa. So it’s a more profound variety of priming.

The anchoring effect is used to form the price. I considered this in detail in my article. Here is an example from MLS Live.

We see that MLS not only singled out the “right” choice but also makes it clear that it is the most profitable. And if the comparison of $79.99 yearly and $14.99 monthly does not look so obvious, since it takes you a bit of mental calculations, then the comparison of $79.99 for the complete package with the ability to watch all the teams and $69.99 for the ability to watch only one team looks quite obvious.

Similarly, the anchoring effect can be used when selling tickets and season tickets. But the most interesting thing is that the “starting point” can even be the cost of tickets in other sports.

This tactics works fine with MLS. Ticket prices are lower than that of other major leagues in the US and Canada. The price for visiting games in other leagues serves as an “anchor,” so MLS fans have on average the lowest income among fans of the other major leagues of the US and Canada;


5. The IKEA Effect. Do not be embarrassed by the name, but this effect can be used in sports almost more efficiently than in assembling furniture. In my article on motivation, I’ve already cited the study by Michael Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely.

It has been experimentally proven that the value of the product for ourselves is enhanced if we make certain efforts to assemble it.

Back in the middle of the 20th century, marketers noticed this feature when the US had experienced a semi-finished product boom. To add value to the product, manufacturers of semi-finished products slightly complicated the process of preparing food for the consumer. This radically changed the way people perceived the semi-finished products.

And in our day, the behavioral economics specialists have been able to better understand this process. Researchers have demonstrated that this effect is true for different activities the participants in which use creativity.

How does the IKEA effect look like in sports? Often, you have only one opportunity to impress the first-time fan with all the beauty of what is happening and make him/her come next time (after all, the habit of attending regular sporting events cannot be formed at a time).

The Los Angeles Galaxy example is what can help translate it into the football language. During Steven Gerrard’s first game at the StubHub Center, all the fans started shouting “thank you” as one, and “you are welcome” in response.

You’ve got to encourage absolutely all people who came to the game or other sporting events to actively manifest themselves. The spectator who has come to the game should not be allowed to just passively watch it. The way to properly prevent it is a separate big topic, but the point is that the IKEA effect works in this case as well.

You can invest some serious coin in the team, it can play perfectly well, but if you do not start using the IKEA effect, you will fail to receive enough money from the matchday even if the stadium is always full by the power of the brand;


6. Hormones. This is another very important way to make a first-time fan want to come again in order to get him/her closer to the habit formation.

You can play on the logic of the fans, thoughtlessly apply discounts (which can be profited from at an early stage of development, and that’s it), or provide a better interconnection with the team. But all this doesn’t make a fundamental difference, and in many cases can even do harm if you play a long-term game.

Standard segmentation of the audience is what works and helps in most cases. It’s the thing you’ve got to start with. But because really qualitative segmentation includes also small data, this means a detailed immersion in the audience to understand it through your mirror neurons, and knowledge of the principles of sports neuromarketing, i.e. all I write about on my blog.

When your understanding of the fans goes beyond the data on them, you can start segmenting them according to more original characteristics. In the strategy for the San Jose Earthquakes I suggested using the effect of testosterone on men.

With the help of various contests tackling the aspect of reproduction (remember that reproduction is the main function of the existence of any plant and animal, including humans, in terms of genes), you can achieve an increase in the males’ testosterone levels. By their participation in these competitions, the men “allocate” themselves to a new segment, opening up new opportunities for marketers.

On the other hand, there is oxytocin which gives us the opportunity to use evolutionary psychology in communicating with the fans. It is oxytocin that is associated with human morality. Oxytocin positively affects the willingness to part with money as well. If you use the right context and take into account the ethical side, this is a win-win situation. Fans are happy, and the club is happy;


7. The friend-or-foe division. The human brain gives a positive reaction when a person is among those he/she groups as “us.” When a person feels respected, trusted, when him/her is given the opportunity to improve the social status, this will get the fans (consumers) to always be with you.

We are very dependent on the society because it is high sociality that is considered the main feature of our species, which allowed us to become the predominant species on the planet. Naturally, one of the most powerful manipulations affects our sociality. In so doing, it remains extremely simple to use.

The friend-or-foe dividing mechanism is quite simple. But behind this simplicity is a whole fascinating world.

This is the way the division looks like: we group some people as “us” and some as “them.” In the process, the same individuals can fall, depending on the situation, within both groups.

We have a good attitude to “our” group, attributing even negative aspects to some external influence (or simply transferring a person who violates the harmony of our positive beliefs about the group to the opposite one).

We prejudge “their” group in a negative way. There is a certain kind of demonizing going on, empathy is turned off, and any good manifestation from that group is rendered an accident of some kind or an external influence.

The oxytocin hormone is the one responsible for a good attitude to “our” group. It increases trust, for one thing. One of the relevant examples is terrorists. People have a pretty good attitude to “our” group – so good that they are ready to give up their lives harming “their” group.

A division into groups carries a whole lot of interesting positive opportunities for effective addressing of challenges.

To inculcate the situation with the help of this division is not a difficult task, especially if you’ve got time and money. And if you have enough fantasy, you can also do it beautifully;


8. “Turning off” the prefrontal cortex. As I’ve already described in my article on the factors that influence our decisions, the amygdala suggests not the best solutions for our life in modern society.

The research by Swantje Matthies and her colleagues showed a correlation between the size of the amygdala and aggression of human behavior.

Of course, the signals of the amygdala, for example, about the danger are still important to us, but often these and other signals of the amygdala do not help us live in society successfully. For such cases, we’ve got a prefrontal cortex of the brain which acts as a filter for the signals of the amygdala.

Prefrontal cortex develops up to twenty-five years, which can be considered a real ending to adolescence and beginning of adulthood.

The studies showed the connection between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala under stress. It is this connection that is aimed at continuing the work of the brain in a normal state, controlling the signals of the amygdala.

But your prefrontal cortex does not work very well when you are feeling pain or hunger, i.e. when you lack energy.

Research has discovered that the ability to control ourselves is weakened after an event in which we are forced to control ourselves or the situation, i.e. when our conscious mind is maximally involved. Too much energy is consumed, so after such situation, the body turns on the energy saving mode.

By creating a stressful situation and the conditions under which fans will remain hungry, you will have the opportunity to control them, appealing directly to their unconscious. But surely, such manipulations cannot be conducted with your own fans, since in this case the negative somatic (emotional) markers will be created in their brain toward your brand.

This manipulation is possible with guest fans, and not for control only. Using this manipulation together with scent marketing (I’ve described the way to use it in the stadium here), you can significantly increase your income from the sale of food.

Do you want to get a consultation on these manipulations and help in applying them? Send us an E-mail to, and we’ll respond within 24 hours.


Best regards,

Leon The Alien


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SEE ALSO: How to create agiotage around your brand


Images: Solent Creatives, imagesthai, Ferrari, MLS, giphy