Meet The Team

How Sports Must Adapt To Gen Z

November 27, 2020

For our latest Friday Meet The Team piece, Raghav Srivastava looks at how Gen-Z’s consumption is going to challenge the sports industry moving forward.

The traditional model of the professional sporting industry is on course to face a serious challenge with respect to their latest audience: Gen Z. These digitally-savvy teens and youngsters (that are known for their short-attention spans) need a vastly different approach to the traditional methods of content consumption and engagement. It may be a grave mistake to believe that they will automatically be interested in the same sports as their parents and grandparents. Not only are their most-loved sports and teams different to the generations that came before, their consumption and engagement patterns are also vastly different due to their high expectations for entertainment.

A great example of this is that Cristiano Ronaldo has three times as many social media followers on Instagram and Twitter as his team – Juventus, and league – Serie A, combined; while LeBron James has three times as many followers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as his current team – the Lakers, and 11.6 million more than the NBA.

Sports marketers are now faced with this challenge (read: opportunity) to connect and engage with these younger fans through a variety of channels – mostly digital but also through leveraging the power of ‘superstar’ athlete ambassadors. According to a 2019 report by Nielsen, football (soccer) and basketball are two of the most loved sports across all ages around the globe. Apart from these two ‘mega-sports’, members of Gen Z are more likely to be fans of sports with a fast pace of play that lines up with their need for constant entertainment and short attention spans. The report observed that the biggest differences between the age-groups of fans were seen in sports like surfing, field hockey, MMA, basketball and extreme sports.

What will now happen to viewership?

It is a well known fact that TV viewership is on a decline, and there is an increase in the average age of viewers. This shift in media viewing habits can largely be attributed to the new preferences of Gen Z which include: instant availability of content via OTT or Social Media; Less number of advertisements; flexible viewing devices like phones and tablets which can be used anywhere. It is a safe bet to say that the future of sport now relies on streaming.

Looking at the high expectations of Generation Z, we can start to see why there is a lower interest from them towards traditional sports and why this is the dawn of fast, exciting and futuristic alternatives like esports, virtual reality sports, spin-offs and alternative sports that appeal to the new generation and gratifies their sense of entertainment.

Will the sponsorship landscape remain the same?

The youngsters don’t relate much with some of the ‘boring’ categories that dominate the sponsorship landscape including healthcare, insurance, financial services etc. Nonetheless, they are still inclined towards sustainability and social responsibility, which are major trends that have started to affect most industries including sport.

This is a major reason that new-age brands like Uber, Airbnb etc. that can relate to these youngsters, have now entered the sponsorship market. Moreover, the high likelihood of Gen Z to spend on luxury goods have prompted brands like Louis Vuitton to partner with League of Legends esport competitions in a bid to capture this younger market.

What does all this mean?

That Gen-Z can not be related to the “avid sports fan” persona that the traditional sport marketing industry has been built to target but it can’t be said for sure if this is bad news for traditional sports. Traditional sports are still set to thrive in the near-future, but on a longer timescale, they would really need to adapt their offerings in order to maintain their share in an increasingly competitive market.


A Gen-Z poll on sports fandom

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