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Survey shows optimism around future of Wisconsin Badgers athletics

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Our survey dug into the mindset of those who follow the Badgers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Orange Bowl - Miami v Wisconsin Photo by Aaron Gilbert/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

First of all, thank you so much to everyone who engaged with this survey. I used to teach stats, so it was a great joy seeing so much data to analyze! It was a joy to see all of your enthusiasm and to see your long-term expectations for this Wisconsin Badgers athletic program.

Methods

A convenience sampling method was used; therefore, the results are subject to response bias. For example, the survey might under-represent indifferent fans or those who do not have access to technology. A Google Forms survey was distributed on Twitter from Dec. 26–29 and was posted on Bucky’s 5th Quarter from Jan. 2–4. All expectations are for the next 20 years.

Some responses were collapsed to help compare data across variables. For example, essentially all football and men’s basketball fans considered themselves “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable.” Therefore, when comparing expectations across sports, I only compared expectations from folks who considered themselves at least “somewhat knowledgeable.”

Overview, Respondent Demographics

464 people responded to the survey, which included 279 comments. 77 responses came from Twitter and 387 responses came through B5Q.

For demographics, the survey asked respondents for their gender, age, education level, knowledge of various sports, and relationship to UW-Madison.

I cannot stress this enough, these are not the demographics of Badgers fans. Rather, these describe the demographics of those who responded to the survey. That said, since the survey was distributed in different places, the survey can shed some light on the differences between the platforms.

Gender

Gender is the most interesting part of the survey. Overall, a whopping 95% of respondents self-identified as male.

Pie chart showing the proportion of respondents by gender. 95% are male and the remaining 5% are female/prefer not to say/other.

I hoped to perform tests to see if gender is related to fans’ expectations or self-reported knowledge of various sports, but there simply were not enough non-male respondents to produce meaningful results.

More interesting is comparing the gender of Twitter respondents to B5Q respondents.

Chart showing that female respondents from Twitter are around 14% while only about 3% from B5Q.

Please keep in mind this was the only meaningful and significant difference between the Twitter and B5Q respondents, so it’s difficult to explain away. No matter the explanation, I think it’s quite clear that B5Q has an opportunity to grow through better engaging women (and those who don’t identify as male or female). Furthermore, this survey shows that covering more women’s sports is not the answer; the Twitter respondents were equally engaged with men’s basketball and football as the B5Q respondents regardless of gender. The next steps in identifying a solution would be targeted market research with women who both read and don’t read B5Q.

Age & Education

Not too terribly much going on with respondents’ age and education. The 25–34 age group is over-represented in the results, as are 65-to-74-year-old fans. Most respondents have at least a bachelor’s degree. About half of the respondents went to UW-Madison. Take a look at the demographics distributions here.

Chart showing very few respondents are under 18. The rest of the demographics are pretty even, except for 25-to-34-year-olds, which is twice as large as any other age group.
The vast majority of respondents have a Bachelor’s degree. Except for a handful, the rest are educated beyond high school.
Pie chart showing the following data: 46.8% of respondents never attended UW-Madison. 41.6% earned a degree from UW. 2.6% are currently enrolled. 5.4% have not earned a degree but attended at some point. 3.7% hope to attend UW.

Knowledge & Fandom

I was a little bit worried that our survey would be hijacked by Gophers or Warriors, er, Eagles. But it seems that the survey was taken primarily by Badger fans.

Vast majority of fans feel they are “significant” or “extreme” fans.

Respondents are most knowledgeable about men’s basketball and football, which makes sense. Hockey and volleyball have moderately knowledgeable fans, and women’s basketball was the least known by those surveyed. Because of this, I compared expectations across fans who self-describe as “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable.” This helps control for fans who were guessing, which was much more common for the “barely” and “not at all” knowledgeable fans. Frankly, I didn’t take the time to normalize the data beyond, so please forgive me! On the other hand, these fanbases are all different, so normalizing them by demographics could incorrectly misrepresent their differences.

Clustered bar graph showing knowledge by sport. Fans are most knowledgeable about football and men’s basketball. They are somewhat knowledgeable about hockey and volleyball. Fans are least knowledgeable about women’s basketball.

Key Findings

Age & Women’s Sports Knowledgeability

Older fans were most knowledgeable about women’s sports, while fans between 25 and 34 were least knowledgeable. These differences are statistically significant. I’m having trouble making some serious meaning from this. There isn’t evidence that older fans are most arrogant about their knowledge of sports overall; these age groups are equally confident in their knowledge for men’s sports. And it’s even more surprising that fans 24 and younger feel more knowledgeable than fans 25–34. Perhaps trying to explain this is a good prompt for discussion in the comments.

Clustered bar graph showing: fans age 25–34 are least knowledgeable about women’s sports, while fans 55 and older are most knowledgeable.

Age & Football National Championship Expectations

Age is a pretty significant predictor for fans’ expectations regarding football national championships. Particularly, let’s measure the proportion of fans who expect at least two national titles in the next 20 years and compare them across age groups.

Bar graph showing football expectations are highest in young and old fans, while fans 25–34 are least optimistic (when it comes to national title expectations).

I find this data absolutely fascinating. If you are older than 55 or younger than 24, you are twice as likely to expect 2+ national titles by 2037 than fans between the ages of 25 and 34. There are a lot of possible explanations for this, but I think it would be more fun to hear your explanations for this in the comments.

Ranked Expectations

Let’s take a moment to compare (knowledgeable) fans’ expectations of the six sports covered in the survey. These expectations are all for the next 20 years. I have three stacked bar graphs below: generic expectations, conference championship expectations, and national championship expectations.

Note that generic expectations are more closely related to conference championship expectations, but fans took into account the national landscape of the sport when measuring national title expectations. The exception is volleyball; fans know that Big Ten volleyball is the toughest conference challenge for any of the surveyed sports. Notice that men’s hockey’s expectations are much more lukewarm than volleyball, yet fans expect more conference titles from men’s hockey.

Stacked bar graph describing expectations. The important info in the chart is mentioned later in the article.
Stacked bar graph describing expectations. The important info in the chart is mentioned later in the article.
Stacked bar graph describing expectations. The important info in the chart is mentioned later in the article.

In general, from most optimistic to least optimistic, the six surveyed sports rank as follows:

  1. Women’s hockey: One respondent said, “I expect them to be the [Alabama] of hockey.”
  2. Football: In spite of ranking 4/6 in national title expectations—this is more of a statement about the lack of parity and volatility in college football.
  3. Volleyball: Fans seem concerned with having Penn State and Nebraska as foes in the Big Ten, which lowers the expectations a bit.
  4. Men’s basketball: Lots of negativity around Greg Gard seemed to bring overall expectations down; more on that later.
  5. Men’s hockey: Fans are mixed on whether or not the team will actually turn things around.
  6. Women’s basketball: Fans are baffled why they are so far away from being the best team in Wisconsin.

Let’s dive into each of these sports, along with other sports that fans wanted to comment on.

Sports Expectations and Free Responses

Women’s Hockey

Fans expect a ton from women’s hockey in the next few years. They have the highest proportion of fans with “extremely high expectations,” winning at least one national title every four years, and winning half of their conference titles. One fan makes it simple for us:

“Aren’t that many other D1 teams in the country to compete with. Can’t believe any school other than Minnesota gets anywhere close to the quality of [facilities].”

Football

The Badgers just won the Orange Bowl, yet responses before and after that game all indicated extremely high expectations. A lot of fans noted that it’s tough to compete nationally due to the lack of volatility in college football and the (perceived) dominance of the SEC. Fans are rather frustrated with SEC bias, recruiting, and coaching pay. On the other hand, fans are extraordinarily pleased with Paul Chryst. Here’s a little chart that describes what the many text entries discussed:

Horizontal bar graph showing number of text responses with that topic addressed. Here’s the data: Chryst (23), QB (6), Playoff/NC (16), Recruiting (18), Optimistic (16), Pessimistic (10), Academics (4), Character (3), Assistants (14), Facilities (2), Fanb

As a note, let’s be serious—the fact that any fan expects 4+ national titles (3% of fans) from Wisconsin by 2037 is crazy. And that’s really the only criticism I have about the respondents of this survey.

Volleyball

As mentioned before, expectations are really high for volleyball. A national title is going to be tough; volleyball is a sport with a lot of dispersed talent. Add the fact that the two national powerhouses (Nebraska and Penn State) are in your conference, and it’s tough sledding. This response does a nice job representing a lot of fans:

“The B1G is very top-heavy and it is difficult to project being in contention for a conference championship every year, but all 5-8 B1G teams that make the NCAA tourney have a chance to advance to the final.”

Men’s Basketball

These text responses were, overall, a lot simpler than the football responses. People either love Gard or hate Gard; love the state of recruiting or hate it. I’ll share a couple of text entries to give you an idea of what’s going on:

“It’s hard to Wisconsin to replace Koenig, Kaminnski, and Dekker but it seems the Badgers nailed the last recruiting class. Basketball is alot like their football program. They will rarely hit a 5 star recruit but they unearth hidden gems better than anybody. I don’t expect them to be a top 10 program every year but they will likely end the season ranked in the top 20 once these young players start to grow up.”

“We have regressed in both defence and recruiting. Greg’s days are numbered.”

Men’s Hockey

The gap between expectations and reality is the biggest with men’s hockey. The excitement around Tony Granato’s hire seems to be falling a little. Fans are optimistic, but cautious in their free responses:

“I like the new direction the program is heading but it seems like something is still missing to get it to the next level. Would love to see them get back to the top of the sport and see some championships but don’t see it happening so hoping for one but something else is needed to get that spark. I think the fan excitement isn’t there like it used to be. Football and basketball took over and ice hockey has become a distant third but I think the excitement of the two other programs should be used to recruit and get people excited about hockey.”

Women’s Basketball

What a downer! Expectations are about as low as they could be. Fans seem to think there’s a chance they accidentally get a conference championship by 2037, but that’s about the ceiling for this team. Perhaps even that is a little too optimistic; Wisconsin has never won a Big Ten championship in 35 years. Take a look at this response:

“This team has never competed historically and is not competitive now. I was encouraged by the hire of Jonathon Tsipis, but thus far, nothing has come from his hiring in terms of on-court success.”

Other sports’ expectations

One major benefit of having a large sample size is the opportunity to hear expectations of many more sports. Here are summary of your expectations for sports other than the six surveyed above.

  • Softball (5 respondents). Seems there is a lot of optimism about softball, but there are concerns about the Wisconsin climate limiting their potential.
  • Men’s and women’s soccer (7). A lot of excitement about these teams and how much they have improved. Here are two text responses that intrigued me:

“Men’s Soccer. I’m excited to see this team on the rise again. A conference tournament championship and to get back to the NCAA tourney this year and to knock off a seeded Notre Dame at their place was awesome. We also have three players who are seen as MLS draft prospects in Mueller, Barlow, and Segbers. I’m hoping the program can continue to improve. I don’t necessarily expect any national championships but am hoping to see Wisconsin compete in the Big Ten and appear in the NCAA tournament regularly.”

“Mens Soccer: Expectations are somewhat high. Hope they can grow and compete for Big Ten championships on a consistent basis. Expectation is they do not win a national championship, but make it to the final four at least once or twice. Would love to see more coverage of them in the future!”

  • Baseball (11). People want it back, but there are still low expectations as one user puts it:

“Baseball - Very low expectations. 0 National/Conference championships. 0% win percentage.”

  • Wrestling (5). Frankly, it sounds a lot like men’s hockey frustrations near the end of the Mike Eaves era. Take a look at this insightful comment:

“Wrestling: it’s easy for non-wrestling fans to look at Barry Davis and the Wisconsin program and say “top 15 team every year, nice job”. But every year we lose top in-state recruits to schools like Oklahoma St, Missouri, Purdue, Iowa, etc. If Davis can just “build a wall” around Wisconsin like Barry Alvarez did with in-state kids, Wisconsin would be a top-5 program that competes for national championships every year.”

  • Track & Cross Country (11). I’m linking these together because that’s what the fans tended to do. Again, there was one comment that I found particularly interesting:

“I would really like an article on what’s gone wrong with Men’s cross country. Arguably the most dominant program in the B1G for over 40 years, then suddenly they struggle to do better than 3rd or 4th. To go 1-2 in the B1G meet and still only finish 3rd as a team is really out of character for the tradition of this program.”

  • Desire for new sports other than baseball (5). Seems like a few fans would really like to see lacrosse added at UW. It makes sense, the program is growing quite a bit and expanding west.
  • Quidditch (1). I appreciate this response, but I have serious doubts UW will be able to recruit at the level required to win a title. The Midwest is not the hotbed of magical wizard-folk, and the funding just is not there to buy the flying brooms required to compete.

If you are interested in reading all 270+ comments, have at it!

Conclusions

Wisconsin sports are definitely healthy and Badger fans are quite optimistic. Really the only exceptions right now are women’s basketball and wrestling.

My major question is: can the Badgers meet these expectations? Other than women’s hockey, fans consistently expect higher performance in the next 20 years than the previous 20. Is this because the programs are continuously improving? Or, is it because fans are just overly optimistic to begin with? Or, as one fan puts it, perhaps fans “can’t separate what I want and what I predict to happen.” Drop a comment with your thoughts.

Some other questions I have are why women’s sports are less popular among 25-to-34-year-old fans and why football expectations are so linked to age. I’d be really interested to see other fanbases take a similar poll and compare their results to ours.

My last question is what women’s basketball needs to do to improve their expectations. Wisconsin is an institution that does quite well in women’s sports, so the opportunity is there for women’s basketball to be at worst competent and at best elite.