Consumer markets are being increasingly dominated by the coming-of-age Gen Z. Comprised of those individuals born between the mid-to-late 1990s and early 2010s, this demographic cohort succeeds millennials and is soon to outnumber them. In 2020, there were approximately 14.26 million millennials in the United Kingdom and 12.69 million Gen Z-ers.
Members of Gen Z come with a shifted mindset and are here to change the world for the better. Connectivity, shared experiences, authenticity, and transparency are what Gen Z stands for. In a world that is becoming increasingly connected online, Gen Z-ers are prioritising digital-first omni-channel experiences.
These characteristics are also shaping the way they consume and participate in sports. The sports industry, as in every avenue of life, is urged to rethink and adapt its strategy to cater for the next biggest generation.
Together with Ben Mercer from the electric bike division at Leisure Lakes Bikes, we explore how Gen Z is changing the sports experience and why it will never be the same as before.
Changing the fandom landscape
Sports is all about fandom. The viewers and avid supporters are what motivate the players to compete, thus driving the sports industry forward.
While the previous generations were strongly rooting for the team and put the team spirit on a pedestal, Gen Z is changing the fandom landscape. Now, fans are much more likely to appraise an individual player rather than the whole team, and that has everything to do with the power of influencers.
These contemporary role models are both inspirational and relatable. European footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, for example, has reached almost five times as many followers on Instagram (422m) as his whole team, Juventus (52.9m), and league, Serie A (7.6m), combined, as of April 2022.
These athletes have created their own brand and fandom through social media, and Gen Z are interested not in their team name but in their personality.
For sports clubs and brands to attract Gen Z audiences, they need to create a multi-dimensional, multi-channel fandom experience that brings the players’ personalities forward. That’s how they will earn than fans’ recognition, validity, and endorsement.
Multi-channel ‘snack’ content
It’s a common misconception that Gen Z has a short attention span. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as they are notorious for binge-watching TV shows and even watching gaming video content for hours on end. According to a SuperData survey, 29% of the respondents under 25 reported watching continuous video gaming content for one to two hours, and 14% watched it for three to four hours at a time.
But why then are Gen Z-ers half as likely as millennials to watch live sports regularly and twice as likely to never watch? It turns out that live sports lack the interactive entertainment experience that can otherwise be facilitated through social media platforms.
Jonah Stillman, a keynote/TED speaker and best-selling author, who is educating the workplace and marketplace on Gen Z, commented in an interview with the New York Post: “A Gen Z-er will watch the TV for 10 seconds, look at their phone for the next two minutes, then back at their laptop screen, then the next 20 minutes they’re back on the TV screen.”
In the UK, 74% of Generation Z sports fans use social media while watching sports, 58% play online games, and 55% check or write emails.
Sports fans favour sports highlights, web analysis, or podcasts. They consume fragmented, snackable, short-form content across a multitude of digital channels. Sports organisations need to chime in on this trend and produce short and snappy content, so that they can engage with their fans in more meaningful and intimate ways.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver commented: “If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they’re still going to want to eat meals — which are our games.”
E-games are also a great way to engage with fans. 53% of Gen Z are interested in video games, which is 82% more than those aged 25-69. Formula 1, for example, is already integrating esports competitions and online gaming into its sports entertainment experience. The company launched its esports series in 2017 and has been enjoying great success since then.
Andrea Agnelli, Chairman of Juventus, said: “We now have to tackle what’s going to be a shift in consumer behaviour. The digital natives are entering adulthood. Our competitor today is not necessarily other sports clubs or the next country. It’s League of Legends, esports, or Fortnite. Those are our competitors going forward.”
Sports have been of interest to people since ancient times, and we don’t think that future generations will grow out of them, either. Nevertheless, it’s paramount that the industry adapts to changing consumer demands and preferences in order to thrive. We are excited about what the future holds for the sports entertainment experience!