Why Gen Zers Aren’t Sports Fans (And What Broadcasters Can Do About It)

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Broadcasters and streaming service providers are experiencing a surprising new trend: Gen Zers aren’t sports fans.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Even though most young people are still interested in sports, the vast majority of them place it behind other entertainment activities. According to a national tracking poll by Morning Consult, “only 53% of Gen Zers identify as sports fans, compared to 63% of all adults and 69% of Millennials.” More than half of Americans are Millennials or younger, so pay attention broadcasters  — Gen Z will be your buyers for the next 10-15 years.

According to Tim Ellis, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, “There’s no strategy for bringing in a 35-year-old fan for the first time. You have to make them a fan by the time they’re 18, or you’ll lose them forever.” Even though modern TV services continue to change significantly, most sports-related offerings — as well as teams and leagues — are very slow to adjust to this new generation of fans.

Scientists and researchers can spend years studying the roots of this development, but one factor seems especially significant: technology. The boom of social media, a constantly growing dependency on smartphones and mobile apps, the evolving role of immersive entertainment, etc. — all of this shapes the way modern youth consume, interact, and communicate. But the good news is that if technology has changed the way Gen Z interacts with the world, then technology can turn them into more avid sports fans.  

eSports

I think the first step should be to consider broadcasting alternative content like eSports. Sometimes I feel that Fortnite, Dota, Counter-Strike, or League of Legends will outpass regular football games. eSports attract millions of unique viewers worldwide, but you cannot find these tournaments on regular sports channels. These games are evolving at a surprising rate through Twitch, YouTube, and their own platforms. Yet even though most streaming happens in this sector — and COVID-19 is only strengthening this trend — media giants have been quite slow to react. A lot of teams, leagues, and broadcasters try to keep pace with technology trends, but this only results in adding new tech and outreach channels to existing fandoms. The problem is that fandoms change, and great OTT/DTC capabilities are no longer enough of a market differentiator for Gen Z audiences.

Short-Form Videos to Support Micro Betting

As of 2018, any state that wishes to legalize sports betting may now do so. Currently only 20 states have legalized sports betting, but I believe most states will have some form of legal sports betting by 2023. This opens up huge opportunities for broadcasters, as betting can make sports more engaging and interactive for Gen Z viewers. For example, they can offer viewers more short-form game videos to support micro betting (i.e., betting on whether a team will score within a specific timeframe or play). Micro betting could even become part of a physical arena’s tech infrastructure, not just the off-arena experience.

360 Access to Players

Younger generations like to follow the careers and personal lives of their favorite celebrities. Athletes like Virat Kohli, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, and Lebron James are already celebrities, so why not translate their celebrity status into a new type of fandom? Broadcasters can use technology like computer vision and machine learning to gather and share data about an athlete’s physical condition, performance, events, and so many other parameters. Not only are you giving fans a whole new level of access to athletes, but you get a new set of audience data points.

Personalized Viewing Experiences

As my colleague pointed out in a previous blog, COVID-19 has forced broadcasters to leverage more automatic, high-quality solutions to minimize human involvement in the production phase. However, these solutions have also brought a certain level of personalization for fans. For example, by placing a number of wide angle 4K cameras mounted around the arena, you can provide viewers with the ability to jump between cameras and different angles, follow game or athlete from their own point of view, see what is happening behind the scenes, etc. Now add the above-mentioned 360 degree access to data about a team’s athletes, and a viewer is literally the owner of the moment. 

Reliable Broadcast Technology

At the end of the day, no matter which way you choose to chase your Gen Z fans, the content viewing experience is still the most important factor to keeping your viewers happy. Waiting for content to load, difficulties in navigating or searching for content, not being able to use your preferred platform or even payment method — this will decimate your audience before they can even become real fans. Make sure your viewers can reliably watch the content they want to watch, when they want to watch it, and through their preferred platform. If you can’t guarantee a seamless viewer experience, then find a technology partner who can.

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Yuriy Mykhaylyuk

Manager, Sales Enablement

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