Digital Fan Engagement Fan Engagement Member Insights

Member Insights: How we will (virtually) find the next generation of fans

February 1, 2023

As major federations and competitions are already finding, to appeal to the next generation of digitally native fans, sport needs to set out its stall online. In this article David Granger, Content Director at Cinch, looks into the ways they can do this.

Get them to be young fans and they’ll repay your investment for the rest of their lives. The phenomenon of encouraging support early on is nothing new in sport, from mascots to community outreach to schools, it makes sense for any and every club to encourage participation and engagement at a young age.

It can be disconcerting. As a Leicester City fan – when another Midlands-based football club came to take a training session at my son’s school – I was less than impressed. And, in-real-life sport is in danger of losing some of its potential future fans to consoles, esports and virtual worlds.

One place where the fight has been taken to those future fans is online gaming world Roblox.

It’s a platform where you’ll find a good proportion of the Gen Z/Gen Alpha demographic hanging out and where virtual residency got a massive boost during the pandemic.

Over the last 12 months it has increased its attractions thanks to the likes of the NFL, FIFA, Puma and the Australian Open landing there.

The idea of attracting awareness and engagement in virtual worlds makes sense at a time when the NFT concept is taking a downturn in value and reputation perhaps the sporting metaverse online world will be bolstered by ensuring teams, federations and competitions having a space tailored to younger fans Roblox skews younger, 67% of its users are under 16 . In terms of affiliation and support, you can purchase club colours, interact with athletes, meet real-life friends there and enter competitions. There have been some good examples… The FIFA World virtual environment set up before the Qatar competition got users to interact, earn rewards and collect items. Standard virtual world fare, and a modern update on the Panini Stickers, but with the same aim and result: interest, interaction and engagement. The National Football League (NFL) opened a virtual store where players can
buy jerseys and helmets and bonus! Free 3D helmets available in-game.

AO Adventure centres around the Australian Open with tennis-themed games and activities played around virtual Melbourne venues.

Roblox can imitate life in other ways too. There have been concerns that user-generated games could expose kids to inappropriate language, which in a way could replicate some of the more choice colloquialisms shouted by away fans.

Why the rush to Roblox? Well, Gen Z, those born between 1997 and 2012, are the first truly digitally native demographic, they have a decent amount of purchasing power (or power to persuade their parents to purchase) and, crucially for us, are not yet as engaged with sports either live or streamed as their older family members.

As ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro recently said, the industry’s relationship with younger consumers is “..the one thing that keeps me up at night”. In a recent article on Morning Consult, a survey of American Gen-Z’ers were surveyed, and found that:

 32% of Gen-Z’ers watch live sports through authorised streaming services, compared with 28% who watch via broadcast or cable TV
 YouTube, Instagram and TikTok are Gen-Z’s most popular sources of sports news 
 Nearly half of Gen-Z’ers (47%) haven’t ever watched a live professional sports event

The crunch comes though, like the esports association a few years ago and more recently NFTs, in translating that loyalty to real-life sport. Will they make the transition to support NFL live because they once got a free 3D helmet? Will they watch the Australian Open in ten years’ time because they took a virtual tour of Rod Lever Arena?

Time will tell, but as sport and its media right continues to rise in value, the value of investing in being where our next generation of fans, supporters and spectators congregate should be taken seriously. Even if we are talking virtual worlds.

*Roblox TL;DR
Roblox is a platform that hosts more than 40 million user-generated experiences and lets users build their own from scratch. Within these experiences, users can play games, socialise with others, and earn and spend a virtual currency called Robux.

Digital Fan Engagement Fan Engagement Member Insights