Long-form musings on how sports tech is shaping the future of sports business

How Sports Tech Can Help You Secure Your Next Of Generation Fans

Today’s edition is all about Gen Z. There’s been no shortage of media attention on their sports appetite, with takes ranging from ‘they don’t like sports’ (uh-oh) to ‘they like sports but consume content differently’ (not so bad). Below I’ll share some research on the current situation and then touch on what it means for your organization and how technology fits in.

Two quick housekeeping items: 

  1. Subscribe at the top of this webpage to receive the latest edition in your inbox. For subscribers only, I share a weekly roundup on new sports tech investments on Fridays. 
  2. Check out past editions here. Topics have included community, gamification, ticketing and fan engagement.

Let’s dive in on Gen Z…

Explain this to me like I’m five. What do we know about Gen Z?

Generation Z – Gen Z for short – refers to persons born after 1996. The graphic below illustrates the generational segments per the Pew Research Center:

Although the age cut-offs are arbitrary (i.e., no reason not to use 1998), researchers rely on cohort classifications to analyze changes in views and behavior over time.

Unlike previous generations, Gen Z is digitally native, having grown up in a world with smartphones. 

They are also more racially and ethnically diverse than previous generations and on track to be the best-educated generation but in my opinion, those characteristics would lead us into a discussion around social activism in sports. Since social activism deserves its own edition, let’s table that and focus more on engagement. 

What does research around their fandom and viewership explain?

Research firm Morning Consult released results from a survey on Gen Z fan identity and sports viewing habits. Here are the two most telling charts:

It’s a bleak picture. I’m not surprised by the first chart for two main reasons. Number 1: There are soooo many other entertainment options available. Video game streaming in particular has captured a percentage of the population that would have gravitated to sports in past decades. Number 2: Youth sports participation rates have declined significantly over the past decade. The Aspen institute has some research here

But on the second chart, the key word in the question was live. How often do you watch live sports? And herein lies an issue.

Variety ran a great piece using data from analytics firm the Maru Group showing consumption habits of different age brackets. Granted the brackets don’t line up neatly with generational classifications, but if you use the 18-34 bracket as a proxy for Gen Z behavior, there’s some telling insights. Here are two more charts:

The big takeaway? Highlights are becoming a more dominant means of consuming sports (chart 1) but younger populations don’t consider themselves any less of a fan compared to older generations (chart 2). 

As a sports property, why should you care?

It’s pretty simple. Here’s a quote from NFL’s CMO Tim Ellis from a November Washington Post piece:

“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.” 

When thinking about customer cohorts for sports properties, you need to aggressively attract young people as the next generation of fans. If you can secure lifelong fans at an early age, they become profitable consumers once they’ve built discretionary income (tickets, merchandise, potential sponsors, etc.). But if you fail to lock Gen Z early, you’ve lost out on 60+ years of value. Meanwhile, your existing fanbase will slowly attrite from natural causes.  

What are interesting strategies you have seen to attract Gen Z? 

Here are a couple interesting ones:

  • The Simulcast Approach – In other words, having a separate broadcast targeted at younger populations. The NFL had great success with the Nickelodeon simulcast of the NFL’s Saints Bears wild card playoff game, bringing in over 2M viewers. Nickelodeon recently brought this model to the NHL, partnering with Islander’s second screen platform for a game versus the Penguins. 
  • Investing Directly in Youth Sport – One example? The NFL and Nike invested $5 million to bring girls flag football to every high school in America. There are selfish motives – Nike wants to sell more gear while the NFL wants to cultivate its next generation fans – but girls who never had a platform to play football also benefit greatly. 
  • Creative Partnerships with Popular Non-Sport Platforms – Popular video game Fortnite allows players to purchase NFL jersey skins for their characters. Fortnite enthusiasts who wouldn’t otherwise watch the NFL could be exposed to the league by seeing one of these skins, starting them on the path to fandom. 

I work in sports and want to target Gen Z. Where and how should I invest in sports technology?

Let’s approach it from two lenses depending on where you are in the ecosystem. 

If I’m at a property, I’m focusing on the fact Gen Z prefers consuming content in highlight form and therefore, investing in social media content creation tools to meet them on multiple platforms. 

  • For Your Internal Social Team – Technology can’t replace human creativity when it comes to producing interesting content but it can make the process more seamless. Slate, Tagboard and Kickly all have SaaS platforms for sports organizations to create templates and graphics, making the lives of social media teams much easier. These tools save your organization time while producing more interactive and visually stimulating content.
  • For Your Athletes – In the college space, this refers to platforms allowing student athletes to manage their own social media presence. See Opendorse and INFLCR
  • For Your Fans – Your organizational social media strategy needs to remove barriers and encourage fans to post authentic user-generated content. Some examples for fans attending games include: Digital Seat Media which uses QR codes on the back of seats to encourage fans to post on social media, Brizi which providers venues with an aerial camera that fans can use to take in-venue selfies and FanCam where fans post in-venue photos of themselves directly to social media.

If I’m at a rightsholder or media company, I’m focusing on quickly turning live action into shareable clips as well as making my broadcasts more similar to Twitch streams. Therefore, I’m investing in smart automation tools and production plug-ins like the following:  

  • Smart Automation – Both Thuuz and WSC Sports have built platforms using artificial intelligence and machine learning to automatically analyze live game action and create highlights of the most exciting moments. 
  • Production Plug-ins – By production plug-ins, I’m referring to widgets and other gamification features that can be added to live broadcasts and drive interactivity. We mentioned several companies in the gamification edition such as LiveLike, Maestro, Sport Buff and Rebus which can add polls and trivia items directly to broadcasts, to drive fan engagement.

That was a lot of helpful information. Can you summarize quickly?

Absolutely. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Gen Z is the first digitally native generation, growing up with smartphones. 
  • Gen Z consumes their sports content differently than older generations, with more emphasis on highlights and short form videos. 
  • If you don’t lock in a fan at an early age, odds are you lose them and any potential spending across their lifetime forever. That’s the reasons sports properties need to target these fans early.
  • If I’m a sports property, I’m investing in social media creation tools to make it easier for my digital team to produce and distribute content. 
  • If I’m a rightsholder or media property, I’m investing in smart automation to create bite-size highlights using technology and production add-ons to better engage younger generations.

Until next time,

– Charles

The next newsletter topic will be Smorgasbord. What does that mean? Just wait and see!

Have some thoughts? Want to talk more? Let me know via email ( 

If you’re part of a sports organization in the process of thinking through digital strategies to engage your next generation of fans, shoot the EngageMint Partners team a note. We’d love to help out.

Finally, if you enjoyed this edition, tell your friends or colleagues about Chatting Sports Tech. Add me on LinkedIn and follow me on Twitter @ccampisi_EES. 


fan engagement, generation z, Nickelodeon, social media strategy, sports biz, sports business, sports technology, sportstech, user generated content

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