Originally published at: https://discgolf.ultiworld.com/2023/11/20/2023-fandom-survey-which-pros-do-we-root-for-and-against/
We are back with an all-new series of articles based on the data collected in our annual Fandom Survey. In 2022, we ran our first Fandom Survey, exploring what draws people toward–or against–specific players. What is it about some competitors that cause us to cheer for them while other players–often equally skilled–push us away? This year, we added new sections to the survey to learn what fans think of disc manufacturers and DGN/Jomez commentators, among other topics.
This series of articles aims to provide insights by analyzing a rich data set produced from the 2023 Ultiworld Disc Golf/StatMando fandom survey. Thank you to the 3040 people who filled out our survey. We are no longer accepting new responses, but if you wish to be notified about the release of the 2024 survey, please enter your email address here: https://zc.vg/TFnkf. We will only use the provided email addresses for survey-related communication.
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 37 MPO and 20 FPO players and asked survey respondents: “On a ten-point scale, are you rooting against or for these 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 0. 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 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 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 this year’s survey:
- Most of the charts in this series of articles have extra data you can see if you mouse over (or touch on mobile) any of the lines or bars. For example, on this chart, you can see where players ranked this year and last year.
- The top six ranked players are the same players from last year, but the order has been slightly shuffled. This year, Simon Lizotte takes the top spot in average Fandom Score, with a solid lead over Kristin Tattar, who had the highest average Fandom Score last year with a 9.11. Calvin Heimburg, Nate Sexton, Matt Orum, and Ohn Scoggins also remained in the top 6.
- The bottom three remain the same from last year, with Natalie Ryan, Nikko Locastro, and Joel Freeman shuffling positions.
- We added a few players to the survey this year. Paul Ulibarri and Sai Ananda both debuted with high scores, ranking 7th and 10th, respectively. OTB Open champion Emerson Keith’s debut on the survey was on the opposite end of the spectrum, having the 5th worst score.
Here are the distribution of scores for each player represented as percentages of the total number of responses.
- This year, the Y-axis was stretched out most by Lauri Lehtinen, one of the top players out of Finland. 58.7% of respondents who rated him gave him a 5, which is a neutral response. He was fulfilling his military duty for much of this season and did not compete on the Disc Golf Pro Tour (DGPT), so he is likely to be unfamiliar to a US audience despite finishing 13th at Worlds this year. Another top Finn, Niklas Anttila, competed more in the US and had only 19.7% of submitted scores being 5.
- When a fan gives a player a score less than 5, they are indicating that they cheer against that player. A few MPO competitors stood out as having very few negative responses. For example, Simon Lizotte and Nate Sexton only had 2.2% and 2.9% of their responses below 5, respectively. Calvin Heimburg came in at 3.1%. Matt Orum and Niklas Anttila were the next best at 6.4% each.
- On the opposite end, the majority of fans root against Nikko Locastro and Joel Freeman.
- 5 was the most frequently recorded Fandom Score when looking across players – 19.2% of scores given were 5s. In 2022, 19.4% of scores were 5s. The second highest Fandom Score frequency was 7, which was recorded 14.4% of the time. Last year, 7s came in at 14.5% of scores, showing consistent year-to-year trends.
- Ricky Wysocki’s distribution had the smallest range in percentage between his most frequent (5s at 18.4%) and least frequent scores (1s at 3.1%). Last year, we also pointed out that he had a relatively uniform distribution (i.e., flat) compared to other pros. We surmised that 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. Other MPO players with somewhat flat distributions are Anthony Barela, Gannon Buhr, Brodie Smith, and Paul McBeth.
- For FPO, it was also a Finnish player that may be unfamiliar to an American audience that stretched the Y-axis. Although Heidi Laine did play in several DGPT events and all four of the Majors, 60.5% of her scores were 5s. Heidi Laine has been featured in Clash Discs commercials on DGN, but perhaps her personality and game aren’t shining through.
- The FPO players with the fewest negative responses were Kristin Tattar (3.2% of responses < 5), followed by Ohn Scoggins (4.4%), Alexis Mandujano (5.5%), and Sai Ananda (6.6%)
- FPO athletes (24.6%) were more likely to get 5s than MPO athletes (19.2%). This may be caused by survey respondents who are less familiar with the FPO field.
- Respondents rooted against MPO athletes more than FPO athletes. In general, FPO athletes received fewer scores below 5 than MPO; 17.8% of scores for MPO were between 0 and 4 while 16.7% were in the 0-4 range for FPO.
- Respondents also gave more positive scores to the men; 63.0% of MPO scores were in the 6-10 range compared to 58.7% for FPO.
- Paige Pierce had the flattest distribution of any player featured in the survey. Catrina Allen also had a relatively uniform distribution, signaling these two very established players have accumulated a rich diversity of both fans and haters over the years.
This next chart shows changes in average Fandom Score rankings since 2022. Note that we included six more pros this year who are not included in this chart.
This chart shows the percent change in average Fandom Score between 2022 and 2023:
- In 2022, we used a 1-10 scale for rating players, while in 2023 we chose to use a 0-10 scale to make 5 a truly neutral answer. To make a fair comparison from 2022 to 2023, we calculated the ratio of 0’s to 1’s in 2023 for each player individually and used each player’s 0-to-1 ratio to change a percentage of their 1s to 0s in 2022.
- Issac Robinson had the largest increase in average (and rank) Fandom Score, going from 5.98 in 2022 to 7.14 in 2023. Winning your first two Majors in the same year has a way of doing that. It will be interesting to see if other players in the future can match this meteoric rise both on the course and in the fans’ hearts. That said, he is ranked 9th and still has room to grow.
- Niklas Anttila had the second-highest jump in rank and percentage gain. His profile surely rose with three top-7 finishes at the Majors, including 2nd place at Champions Cup. According to a fandom poll with over 2000 responses conducted by Discmania in Finland, Anttila eclipsed Lizotte as the most popular player in Finland in 2023. Only 63 respondents from Finland took the Ultiworld Disc Golf/StatMando Fandom Survey.
- Brodie Smith and Ezra Aderhold both made significant gains. They are featured on programming by Foundation Disc Golf (Smith is a part owner), so they were likely boosted by the significant number of respondents who found out about the survey through Foundation.
- Gannon Buhr and Alden Harris also became more popular this year. Harris’ very successful YouTube channel could be a major factor in their increased popularity. Both Robinson brothers and Gavin Babcock also feature in their videos. If we had data on all these individuals, it might be easier to diagnose how much can be attributed to social media and how much can be attributed to on the course performance. As always, another factor could be the demographics of our respondents. These players polled higher with religious respondents, and we had a higher percentage of religious respondents in 2023 compared to 2022.
- Lizotte averaged an 8.98 in 2022 and an 8.99 this year. Consistent.
- Natalie Ryan’s average Fandom Score dropped by 31.4%. Part of the reason why it is such a pronounced drop is she had a low score last year to begin with, as dropping from 4.40 to 3.02 is a bigger percentage drop than dropping from say, 8.40 to 7.02. That said, Natalie had the largest drop in her actual average Fandom Score in a year in which she sued the PDGA and DGPT multiple times after being barred from FPO competition at Elite and Major events because she is a transgender female. The second largest drop was from the injured Drew Gibson, who dropped by 1.2, a 21.5% decline.
- Two former World Champions saw very large declines in their average Fandom Score. Sarah Hokom’s average score fell by 13.1%, and Catrina Allen’s fell by 17.8%. They were among the most vocal players speaking out against Ryan playing in FPO, and that is likely linked to what were pronounced declines in their popularity. In 2022, Hokom had a -0.04 Average Fandom Score preference gap with left-wing respondents, while in 2023 it was -0.61. Similarly, Allen went from -0.38 in 2022 to -1.51 with left-wing respondents in 2023.
- An additional four former World Champions — Wysocki, McBeth, Pierce, and Barsby — saw significant declines in popularity. 2023 was a year where it felt like there was a changing of the guard, which also seems to be reflected in the popularity of some of the most dominant players of the past decade.
The timing of this year’s survey collection period coincided with some career-defining performances, which allowed us to measure the impact of winning on the Fandom Scores of players. This chart shows the change in Fandom Score after an important win that took place during the 56 days our survey was open:
- The respondents who took the survey after Robinson’s Worlds win, on average, gave him a 2.7% higher Fandom Score than pre-victory respondents. As we saw earlier, Robinson’s average score went up by 19.3% this season, so most of Robinson’s rise in popularity happened before Worlds.
- Orum’s first Elite series win at the MVP Open gave him a sizable 9.1% post-win boost. It makes sense that his popularity was being held back a bit by his inability to win. With the monkey off his back, fans had even more reasons to like this already very popular player.
- Holyn Handley’s score went down after winning the Throw Pink Championship, by far the biggest win of her career. This is surely because of the controversy on hole 18 of the final round where Handley and her cardmates gave her a favorable spot that could have been the difference in the tournament’s outcome. She also won at the expense of Tattar, an immensely popular player. Had she beaten a different player, perhaps there would have been less of a backlash.
- Kyle Klein had a slight bump in popularity after winning his first Major at USDGC.
The more conventional way to judge player popularity is by asking fans to choose who their favorite players are in each division:
- Lizotte is the favorite player for nearly a third of respondents, while Heimburg and McBeth took the 2nd and 3rd spots, respectively.
- This year, the four MPO Majors were won by three players who are a combined favorite of 5.3% of our respondents. Robinson’s 4.1% is actually tied for an impressive fourth overall, but both Ellis (0.7%) and Klein (0.5%) show that winning Majors is only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to popularity.
Let’s look at the change in these numbers from last year to this year.
- Lizotte and Heimburg greatly rose in popularity this year. What were the causes for their rise in popularity? For Lizotte, the switch to MVP could be part of the picture. For Heimburg, it is likely his emergence as “the final boss” in 2023, where he was consistently on podiums throughout the season.
- Where did they pick up those extra fans? Perhaps some of them came from the decline in fans that McBeth and Wysocki once had. Some also likely came due to a change in question structure. We combined FPO and MPO for this question in 2022 but decided to separate them in 2023. In 2022, 13% of responses were FPO players, including 6.4% of fans who chose Tattar. Last year, we were also permissive with respondents choosing more than one player as their favorite, in effect allowing more than one vote per respondent. This year, we did not allow more than one favorite and discarded votes from fans who overlooked the instructions.
- Earlier, we noted that players associated with Foundation Disc Golf saw their Fandom Scores increase more than most players. That did not result in a large percentage increase in the number of fans who named Smith and other Foundation-related players as their favorites.
- For FPO, nearly half of the respondents chose Tattar as their favorite player in the division, which is both incredible and at the same time not shocking.
- Scoggins had a solid 11.1% of the votes, and the rest of the field comprised the remaining 40%.
Lastly, we asked respondents a slightly different question, “Who would you most want to hang out with?”
- We combined MPO and FPO players for this question and the most striking result is how few FPO competitors respondents want to hang out with.
- Lizotte has nearly the same percentage of fans who chose him as their favorite player as the player they want to hang out with. So are those all the same respondents choosing him on both questions? Actually no. Of the 863 people who chose Simon as their favorite MPO player, only 428 (49.6%) also chose him as the player they most wanted to hang out with.
- There were a few players who had a higher “want to hang out percentage” than “favorite player” percentage. The players with the largest “hang” gap were the BigSexy commentating team of Jeremy “Big Jerm” Koling and Nate Sexton.
Thank you for reading this lengthy piece. My thanks to Karl Lamothe for his assistance in editing this piece as well as the rest of the StatMando team with data analysis and preparation. Once again, if you wish to be notified when next year’s survey is ready or want to be emailed when survey results are released, please enter your email address here: https://zc.vg/TFnkf. If you are interested in being involved in the survey and have experience in polling or a profession related to studying surveys, please get in touch with us at [email protected].
Please see the full series of 2023 articles by following these links:
- The Survey Itself & Who Took It
- Which Pros Do We Root For and Against
- How Fans Feel about Disc Manufacturers: Coming This Offseason
- Fans Relation to Discs: Coming This Offseason
- How Fans Feel about Media and Commentators: Coming This Offseason
- How Fans Feel about Courses: Coming This Offseason
- More Findings From The Fandom Survey: Coming This Offseason
Links for the 2022 Fandom Series articles can be found here.