It seems that as soon as a person is born, so is their love for sports. Sometimes it’s inherited, other times it just comes by itself but sports always find a way to sneak into people’s hearts and minds. You can ask any sports betting fan and 99% of the time they will tell you at least one story that involves a sporting prowess, kind of like a “where were you when this game happened” or a “I remember when X did this” tale. As time moves on and fan bases spread out more and more every day, certain sports reign supreme over others in the minds of the younger crowds, but why is that and which sports are on the top of the popularity mountain for Gen Z fans?
Generation Z fans are not an easy market to tap into, at least that’s what was shown by data intelligence company Morning Consult with their survey on sports fandom habits in people born between the mid 90’s and early 2010’s. The results of said survey gave out some very alarming discoveries. It showed a significant decline in enthusiasm for major sports across the boards. Just over 20% of the respondents identified themselves as avid sports fans, 32% as casual fans and nearly half of the respondents said they were not sports fans at all.
Unlike older generations where sports were a pivotal part of their functioning, younger fans are now more about the athlete and the team than of the action itself. Fans are more invested in being able to create a more personal relationship with a player, seeing their human side rather than sitting through a game or sporting event. While some sport leagues like MLB, PGA and NASCAR don’t really seem to be troubled by the statistics, riding solemnly on a solid aging fan base might come back to bite them in the butt if no real changes to freshen up their sports is done. On the other spectra we have leagues like the NFL, NBA and MLS where it has been clearly understood that in order to thrive you need to make your craft likeable for everyone including the doubting up and comers.
NBA and NFL, Kings of the Hill
While the statistics might be negative for most sports leagues, there are others that have gotten the memo that reinventing themselves to reach further fan bases is the key to success nowadays. The NBA for example has shown time and time again that when in need they know exactly what to do to stay relevant. By making the athletes the center of attention, the NBA has embraced the idea that younger fans prioritize personalities over team identities. Yes, team loyalty is important but nowadays younger fans are more about following the athlete wherever he may go rather than follow a specific team.
The same goes with the NFL. While the NFL lives and dies by their loyal team fan bases, those who used to fill up stadiums before the pandemic and most probably still will after it that doesn’t mean that those bases are necessarily young in age. The NFL has taken a double road to reach younger fan bases. One being the same as the NBA, bringing athletes and fans closer together through the magical world of internet media platforms. The other being the starting of social benefit programs with social media giants like Instagram to find a way to play around with their existing content for it to become more appealing to another set of eyes, those of fans 17 through 20 years old and also create social awareness programs, to be able to reach all younger fans wherever they may be, be it a football city or not.
Esports, the “Sleeping” Giant
While other sports leagues are trying to find ways to fit in with newer generations, there’s one that quietly has been making rounds and picking up more and more fans and momentum as time goes by, Esports. Esports have become the perfect alternative for fans that want sports but not necessarily major physical activity. Esports leagues and tournaments have become the perfect answer for avid video gaming fans that wanted a bigger platform to perform and show what they can do, with their athletes, professional video game players becoming as big of celebrities as athletes in other pro sports leagues.
Generation Z and Millennials seem to love watching Overwatch and Fortnite matches as much as their local traditional sports teams during season games. Also to be noted generation Z and millennials are more likely to be gamers (69%) than traditional sports fans (61%). With Esports bringing in gigantic amounts of money and fans, it could perfectly be the future of sports fandom.