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Sports media is losing Gen Z. How can they win them back?

January 16, 2023 | By Suzanne S. LaPierre – Independent Media Reporter @Bookmouser

Live sports has long been a mainstay of must-see programming. But with the fragmentation of sports media distribution and evolving content consumption habits, even this staple might be losing its hold – particularly among younger audiences.

Gen Z is less interested in live in-person or televised sports events than any other adult demographic, according to recent research by Morning Consult. The survey responses from people ages 13-25 reveal that, in addition to attending fewer live games and watching fewer of them on broadcast or cable, only 2 in 5 Gen Zs have a favorite team that they follow. So, how can sports content providers change tactics to appeal to them? 

The warning signs

Here’s a look at some warning signs revealed by the study: 

  • 38% of Gen Z responders agreed with the statement “I don’t have a favorite sports team” compared to 25% of adults in general.  
  • Only 25% of those Gen Zs who do have a favorite sports team watch “all or most” of that team’s games, compared with 37% of adults in general. 
  • 47% of Gen Z have never watched a live professional sports event in person (compared to 41% of all adults), and 60% have never watched a college game in person (compared with 53% of all adults). 
  • Only 28% of Gen Zs watch sports events live on broadcast or cable compared with 47% of adults overall. 
  • Of Gen Z’s who haven’t watched a sports event on TV in the last couple of years, 57% said it’s because they are just not interested. 20% said the games are too long. 

Gen Z fans relate differently to sports media

So, what does Gen Z like when it comes to sports entertainment? Streaming video wins this generation’s attention. Significantly, 32% of Gen Zs said they watch live sports via a licensed streaming service, compared to only 25% of all adults.

Gen Z sports fans can also be reached via their favorite social media platforms. Four of the top five media platforms where Gen Z gets their sports news are social channels, the survey found. YouTube, Instagram and TikTok were the top platforms Gen Z cited as places they look for sports news.

  • 31% of Gen Zs looked for sport news on YouTube compared with only 21% of all adults.
  • 26% of Zs used Instagram for this purpose compared to only 12% of all adults.
  • 24% used TikTok for sports news compared to only 8% of adults overall.

In contrast, Facebook, ESPN, and ESPN SportsCenter were much less popular among Gen Zs than they were among older adults looking for sports news.

Expert advice

Experts recommend tapping into youth advisers or advisory panels to report Gen Z’s preferences, peeves, and trends to those in sports management and marketing. 

When it comes to attending live events in person, lower ticket prices, flawless Wi-Fi, and community spaces are cited as factors that can help attract younger adults to arenas. Student-focused marketing may include discounted bundles of tickets and swag, theme nights, and hyping the fan experience in the stadium, such as the celebratory entrance of players to the field and tifos occurring in the stands.

Personalities and influencers

In an interview with Mark J. Burns, Snapchat creator Jack Settleman recommends hiring a special personality to connect with fans on social platforms, and utilizing SnapChat and YouTube thoroughly. Since Gen Zs rely heavily on social media, stadiums need to have excellent Wi-Fi to attract and keep teens and young adults who expect to be able to multitask and share experiences in real time. Settleman emphasizes the importance of excellent Wi-Fi during stadium events: “(Make) sure every NFL stadium has perfect Wi-Fi — that is so crucial. My first question when I go to a stadium is, ‘What is your Wi-Fi login?’ I’m always a bit nervous. I can’t post content. I can’t text my friends. I can’t follow along on Twitter.” 

Recruiting the help of content creators and influencers on trending social platforms is also advisable. While following athletes and teams on social media may not directly translate into cash for the sports industry, Morning Consult found that 45% of Gen Zs report having purchased clothing sponsored by an influencer or celebrity. Other kinds of sports merchandise, event tickets, and subscriptions may benefit from this type of marketing as well. 

Young sports fans expect integrated, immersive, and flexible experiences that respect their time, budgets, and preferences. They seek live connections over social platforms whether they are at home or in stadiums. There are still plenty of Gen Z sports fans; they just have different ways of relating to sports content than their predecessors.

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