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The Changing Behavior of Young Fans and What It Means for Sports Television

Matt Hay
June 2017

The Changing Behavior of Young Fans and What It Means for Sports Television

TV Sports Viewership and Young Fans

For decades, broadcast and cable television have dominated the sports viewership landscape. However, changing behavior among Gen Z and millennial sports fans is putting pressure on the traditional business models of teams, leagues, advertisers, and sponsors. At its core, the challenge that sports television finds itself in is not a “sports” problem at all. Rather the issue is that young people are watching fewer hours of traditional TV (sports and non-sports) than their older counterparts. Not surprisingly, the time young consumers once spent watching traditional television is now transitioning to streaming media and engaging on social media.

But the sports-specific television behaviors and attitudes of young fans are particularly eye-opening. Consider the Bloomberg Gadfly study that indicates:

  • 18-24 year olds show the least enthusiasm for watching sports among all demographics.
  • Young people express more enthusiasm for genres like comedy, Sci-Fi, and action than they do for sports.
  • Internationally, young millennials in western countries showed less interest in sports than the average for their home nation.

The decline in sports viewership among youth may prove to have long-term consequences. According to the L.E.K. Sports Survey, watching sports on TV as kids is a key reason that people become fans in the first place and continue to be passionate about sports into adulthood.

The Impact of the Decline in Youth Sports Participation

Another area of concern for the sports industry is the weakening of youth sports participation. The number of kids participating in youth sports fell nearly 10% between 2009 and 2014 according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Other than lacrosse and rugby, few team sports saw meaningful participation growth. While it is not yet clear if there is a correlation between the declines in sports participation and TV sports consumption, both are concerns to brands who rely on the strength of sports as a marketing platform.

The good news is that brands can adapt to the behaviors and attitudes of young consumers—which is where social media comes in.

Evolution from Television to Social Media

While the traditional TV viewing behavior of young consumers is waning, the enthusiasm for sports remains strong among Gen Z and millennials. A survey by the USC Annenberg and ThePostGame illustrates:

  • Most Americans, 92% of males and 80% of females, consider themselves sports fans.
  • A majority of fans say they are willing to pay for sports content, with those aged 15-36 willing to pay the most.
  • 60% of younger millennials say that supplemental sports programming is important to them.

There is an evolution of sports programming from television to social media, particularly for fans under the age of 35. Consider the following shift we are experiencing:

Sports media growth in outlets like YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram has largely been driven by Gen Z and millennial demand. A Synergy Moment Studio Research study identifies some of the attributes younger sports fans are drawn to:

  • Game highlights, bloopers, and behind-the-scenes perspectives generate more interest than full games.
  • Watching sports via platforms that give consumers more control allows young fans to access the best parts of the game.
  • The ease of access to information and not needing to visit a dedicated sports platform to get sports info.

Considerations for the Future

The changes of Gen Z and millennial sports fans’ behavior represent exciting opportunities for brands to engage young fans. Brands can diversify their sports marketing tactics, opting to align with social platforms and partner with media focused on short-form video content. Brands can seek out emerging properties and fans of eSports, non-traditional team sports, and fantasy sports. Lastly, brands can revisit who they are targeting by way of their sports marketing and consider putting a greater emphasis on targeting female sports fans. This is backed up by Research from USC Annenberg that shows a greater willingness among women, compared to men, to pay for sports programming.