Chemical engineering, dealing with the loss of a loved one, finding out what my girlfriend wants to eat, and marketing to Generation Z (Gen Z). All are examples of things that are universally accepted as hard to do. So much so that for the last one, in 2017, the Minnesota Vikings hired the 18-year old Gen Z guru, Jonah Stillman, to help the team connect with the next generation of fans.
But hold up, why are Gen Zers such an important segment that the Vikings had to bring in a specialist to crack the code? The simple answer is that as of 2021:
- Generation Z consists of 65 million people in the US
- 69% of Generation Z find ads disruptive
- Netflix’s most extensive user base is Gen Z — 71% have a subscription
- By 2030, 30% of the global workforce will be Gen Z
- 98% of Generation Z members own a smartphone
- A study estimates the Gen Z buying power at $44 billion in the US
If this trend continues and Sports don’t adapt, it could spell bad news in the long term.
According to a Morning Consult survey, 53% of Gen Zers identify as sports fans, compared to 63% of all adults and 69% of millennials. Additionally, Gen Zers are half as likely as millennials to watch live sports regularly and twice as likely to never watch. Their interest is shifting and not in a way that sports organizations want to see.
While the story of Jonah Stillman might have been more of a publicity play, this was a significant story arch for fan engagement as a whole because it showed us that Generation Z represents a segment that is unique to its predecessors. It showed us that an element of relatability was needed if brands wanted fans to feel attached to their mission.
A reprieve from the concern you might be having if you are a sports team or sports marketer is that Gen Zers interests are shifting — not fading away. My 3-pronged recommendation is to make sure your brand is accessible, digitally present, and your content is versatile. Let’s break it down.
Unlocking athlete accessibility and digitalization
Most sports organizations are familiar with the “how to attract young fans” problem and are attempting to execute various strategies to help bridge the gap. Whether it is implementing a more fun social media strategy like AS Roma or partnering up with NBA Top Shot to create NBA digital NFTs, things are being done to combat this elusive issue. However, aside from the NBA and eSports, most are having a hard time doing so.
Zach Leonsis, senior vice president of strategic initiatives at franchise ownership group and media company Monumental Sports & Entertainment, stated on Morning Consult, “Sports properties need to make sure that their games are digestible and available via streaming products,” Leonsis said. “They need to make their games engaging by fostering gamification, daily fantasy, free-to-play games and, ultimately, sports betting.”
Source: Uniquely Generation Z
Leonsis touches on some very key points in his thesis. The first being digestibility of games and availability on streaming products. Gen Zers are not inclined to digesting long-form content, which presents a hurdle for sports organizations to clear. Perhaps it is because they are more interested in the athletes, the peer-to-peer interaction, and the results. This is reflected in the Nielsen Fan Insights study, which revealed that those aged 16–24 prefer shorter, “snackable” content and, from a sporting standpoint, are less inclined to watch entire games. A bummer for sports organizations whose existing business models might be reliant on in-game sponsorships and advertising viewership.
The remedy to this would be to create an ecosystem for sports fans to interact and engage with their favorite athletes and teams. Teams and organizations need to build the digital models around the sporting event that will appeal to the needs of the Gen Z audience. eSports has performed fantastically with Gen Zers because of the accessibility of the athletes and the digitally-native consumption of the sport. Fans can watch their favorite eSports pros stream oftentimes 8 hours per day and even interact with them via stream chat and Twitter.
Looking at other sports that struggle with Gen Z, athletes like Odell Beckham Jr., are popular among Gen Zers for a variety of reasons. Not only is he a dynamic and exciting wide receiver, a major contributor in my eyes, is his presence on platforms like Twitch through his video game streaming and his focus on fashion. Young Odell Beckham Jr. fans then become Browns fans, who then hopefully become NFL fans. Well, that’s the ideal customer journey anyway.
Again, the key is athlete accessibility, reliability, and a presence on relevant platforms.
Adapting your content to appeal to Gen Z
To go along with being accessible and creating a presence on digital platforms, creating the types of content that appeal to Gen Zers is vital. Case in point: most of our favorite social platforms have implemented some type of a “snackable” video stream feature. Short and snappy videos that users can cycle through have become the new standard consumption methodology.
Additionally, live sports games are not the only sports-related content that Gen Zers want to consume. Whistle has a great report on sports consumption with a focus on Gen Zers. Within it, they found that 65% of 13–34-year-olds think stories about athletes are more interesting than the actual games they play. Also, 75% of 13–34-year-olds like learning about the lives of athletes outside of the sport they play.
Does this mean Gen Zers are more interested in the people behind the sports? I think so.
When Barcelona used to play Real Madrid, every pundit and publication would label the game as “Messi vs. Ronaldo.” Lebron James almost doubled the valuation of the Cleveland Cavaliers when he returned from Miami. Did Cleveland suddenly become a vacation destination? If so, someone needs to tell Joakim Noah.
For sports teams and athletes, content variance includes documenting and sharing everything that happens outside of the live games. This can range from training camp docu-series like NFL Hard Knocks, athlete house tours, and lifestyle content, sharing segments of practices and scrimmages, etc. That’s up to your brilliant marketing and content team to figure out.
This will give your fans a look into your club as a brand, and not just a sports team. This can also mean giving your fans an outlet to engage, interact, and immerse in your brand. Existing social media and streaming sites would provide serviceable results. Serviceable, because at the end of the day, you don’t own those fans. Facebook or Twitter owns them and they decide when to show your content to your fans.
Or… you can take it a step further and not settle for serviceability.
Tokenizing sports means more than serviceable
You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to.
You take the Liquiditeam gold pill (color name pending), you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the Liquiditeam hole goes. You see how the Liquiditeam Fan Platform can transform your brand.
*hold for effect*
Ok, I assume you took the “gold” pill if you didn’t downvote and leave.
Here is a quick boilerplate of the platform:
“With LT Fan Platform, every professional sports club and athlete can now create an engaging digital home for their fanbase — and build a digital-native business model on top with ease.”
The core mechanism behind our platform is a blockchain-based token that users can buy, earn, trade, etc. for their engagement, interaction, ideations, etc. The possibilities are really limited to your imagination.
- It can be behind the scenes premium content of players, scrimmages, etc.
- Fan ideations and proposals of team names, hero/map selection, game modes, team jersey designs
- Fan-controlled gaming and fan all-star games
- And in the future, we plan to add digital/physical collectibles of player cards, highlights, etc.
It is a solution that allows you to own your fan base and give them a place to congregate. You can reach younger audiences, hold their attention longer by showing them the content iterations they want to see, and above all, give them the ability to make decisions and be pseudo-owners of your brand.
My 3-pronged recommendation is not some secret formula. Executing it is where the rubber meets the road. But if you can do so effectively, your ability to relate to Gen Z should get better. Here they are again: make sure your brand is accessible, you are present on the digital mediums Gen Z spends their time, and your content is versatile and in the form they want to consume it.
We are still a young start-up trying to mesh the two worlds of sports and blockchain. While our small roster of two clients includes Borussia Dortmund and NBA star Dennis Schröder — with many advanced talks with other big names — we are eager to continue hearing input, recommendations, and critique from the community.