The ecosystem of sports is made up of 3 fundamental groups: the fans, the content creators, and the betters. The fans are your fanatics. They are emotionally invested in these games, either because of a team, a player, or a past time. They are the fundamental group of any sport. Without fans, a sport will wither away. The content creators support the fandom by talking about the parody among the sport, delivering interesting stories about the teams, the players, or the importance behind games. It is a jolt to the emotional component of fandom. Without content creators keeping fans engaged, viewership would remain limited. At the core, content creators drive the growth of the fan base. Last there are the betters. They are fans, content creators, or neither. Their investment in the sport is often from the standpoint of generating income. Their concern is minimizing the risk of betting while maximizing the potential reward.
Softball fans are as crazy about their sport as football fans. The smack talking to the umpires, the trash talking to other fans, it all exists at a softball game. If you want to see the pinnacle of softball, watch arguably the best championship game of all time, the Oklahoma vs Florida game 1 of the championship series in 2017.
Viewership for NCAA softball has been on par with viewership with NCAA baseball.
Championship games, as for any sports, are the most watched game of the season. A good sign of growth within the fandom is not a growth within the championship series, but a doubling of viewership in the games leading up to the championship game. In 2021, the SEC championship was the most viewed championship ever and for the firs time ever, a Oklahoma vs Washington game 2 was carried by a national tv station ABC. And hot off the press, the WCWS outpaced the MCWS in a huge way. Most importantly, the viewership for WCWS was 60% greater than the MCWS (Added 7/6/2021).
From a demographic standpoint, softball sports fans are typically male ( 38% female, 62% male), and while younger viewership is growing among women, men growing as well. A huge under-tapped source of fandom seems to be from younger female players. It is a baffling stat to see. For the softball community, the answer for this problem is going to come with personalized and inspiring stories from content creators.
Content creators are our sportscasters, bloggers, podcasters. They pay close attention to the softball landscape. Their job as a content creator is to write a compelling story that connects fans to a player, a team, a game, a tournament...anything that deserves attention and viewership. Content creators are the well-informed, many times previous softball players, or obsessed fans who turned their passion into deliverable content. Without the content creators, casual fans become passive fans and the growth of the softball fandom diminishes. They are the bloodline of the sport.
A great example of this is the 7innings podcast, where softball and sportscaster greats such as Jennifer Mendoza, Holly Rowe, Amanda Scarborough, Jen Schroeder, and Michele Smith have weekly chats about: how teams are performing, who is the player not getting national attention to watch out for, and their recurring section of the podcast "Shagging Stats" where they give eye-popping stats from around the country. They are the premier content deliverers of the Softball world. If you want to know everything about softball from D1 to D3, In the Circle with Victor Lopez and Victor Anderson is the place to hear about it. Outside of the NCAA, the best and most well maintained information on softball comes from D1 Softball
What we see in content creators are persons who understand the sport inside an out. When they evaluate a team, they don't rely on batting average, ERA, or Fielding Percentage alone (although a previous study I did showed a very high correlation of success and performing well in these 3 categories). What they understand are the enhanced stats that indicate your team can get the tough wins like batting average with runners in scoring position. These are the insights that fans, like myself, now think more and more about as we digest the various podcasts, blogs, and stats the world of softball has to offer. But softball content creators, from a financial standpoint, are working with limited budgets. Partly because viewership = sponsors and softball still falls far behind the big money makers like football. What else does this affect? Betting.
Betting is a huge money maker. All you have to do is google search "betting books football" or "betting sites football" and an endless stream of information, sites to bet, books to read come your way. Why? In October of 2020, Americans bet ~3 billion dollars on sporting events in a single month. That is insane. So where is the money distributed? Professional football is the main source of betting, but college football also receives a large amount.
The problem betting on softball- it might as well be considered non-existent. I have yet to find a book that will even post a line on one of the games.
So why do we care about betting? Because technology is primed to intertwine with sport viewing in ways we could never imagine. And for the sport of softball to gain ground against some of the sport powerhouses, there must be inroads created for the betting fan to get involved. The only way this happens is if betters start to understand the sport of softball from a betting standpoint that makes it an attractive avenue of generating revenue.
HOW WILL MODELING HELP?
So why all of the talk about what the softball ecosystem looks like? Because we believe that softball has a plethora of stats which are being underutilized. Our goal? To build models that generate: power rankings, game predictions, player value, etc. We believe ourselves to be content creators who are fans of the game as well (some of us ;p). We think that some sports fanatics love looking at stats and so we are going to deliver that experience to them. And for the betters, we are creating an information stream which may help betting on women's softball more attractive.
While we are building this platform, we are going to blog about our experience building it. We also believe in being lifelong learners and nothing suits this mentality more than learning in public. We hope this content is able to deliver on our aspirations and become a fantastic supplement for sportscasters, fans, and betters. Stay tuned as we bring you the content softball has deserved for a long time.