Generation Z or GenZ will change the world of sports in the years to come. Traditional sports are losing share to non-traditional sports and have to adjust their offering in order to stop this trend. If not, they are in for a very difficult time!
Let’s start with the good news! GenZ, the boys and girls that have been born in the period 1996-2010, likes sports! What about the bad news? The bad news is that if you are involved in sports, you better start moving now! This generation will have a huge impact on sports in the future. It is already the biggest generation right now and entirely different from the ones before. Yes, that includes you Millenials! It means that sports organisations and sportsbusinesses have to watch out not to miss the bandwagon and adjust their strategies in time! If not, they could be in for a big surprise! One thing is sure. GenZ will change the world of sports big time!
GenZ, who are these people?
Let’s first explore what Generation Z or GenZ means and why it is such a different generation. GenZ, sometimes called I-Gen, is generally spoken the generation born between 1996 and 2010. According to Bloomberg, taking 2000 as the dividing timeline between Millenials and GenZ, GenZ takes up 32% of the world population of 7.7 bln people in 2020. This makes it the biggest generation in the world right now. The Millenials (born in the period 1981-2000) take up 31,5% and the remaining generations, amongst them the babyboomers and GenX (me included) 36,5%.
It means that this group will start to dominate the workforce in the coming few years and will become the generation with the biggest spending power; in the US alone already USD 143bln! Given the diferent characteristics of this generation, it also means huge changes in habits and spending patterns in the coming years, something not to be neglected!
What are Gen Z’s typical characteristics?
They eat, sleep and breathe tech
GenZ is the digital generation. They feel ultimately comfortable with tech, as they have been born and raised after the introduction of most digital technologies. The first few of them were only 10 years old when the I-phone was introduced. They can barely rememeber the time without these mobiles. Social media, computers, video games, smartphones and the internet offer no major secrets to them. They are 24/7 connected.
GenZ can be active on different screens at the same time. They switch without any hesitancy. They have an extremely short attention span of only 8 seconds! If the message has not come across by then, they have already gone!
I am a Gen X-er myself (yes, I am old in their view) and I am trying to stay up to date as best as I can. However, I will never be able to match their skills and comfort levels. I guess my moment of fame can be found in explaining my babyboom parents on how our VCR videorecorder had to be installed and programmed. Anyway, without tech, you won’t score with this generation. Many of them even consider themselves as addicted and can’t do without their smartphone. This should be no surprise: the average Gen Z spends 6 hours per day on his or her smartphone!
They are independent, pragmatic and hard working
GenZ is value driven and is saving money rather than their high consumption parents, who in many cases still have loans outstanding. They were brought up during the financial crisis and know the value of money. This also translates itself in aiming for a good career and in hard work. They are independent and like to have their own identity. A GenZ is not a follower, but is an iniatiator and entrepreneur.
They like sports and are health conscious
Gen Z has been brought up by millenial parents who emphasized healthy food, sports and exercise. Parents were prepared to pay big bucks for this ensuring a healthy future for their kids. Hence a healthy lifestyle is engraved into the GenZ mind. Sports is an integral part of such a style. Hence Gen Z is more interested in practicing sports than watching it.
They are global citizens and care about the planet
This generation is more than well aware of sustainabilty issues. Plastics, global heating, pollution do concern them big time. With most of their lifes still in front of them, they are concerned with the planet they are living on. They are very much global citizens. After all, they have a huge network that spans accross the globe and have all the information at their fingertips. They know a lot at a young age.
Also interesting to read: Sports going green!
Social media and influencers play a very important role in their lives
These digital natives are social media experts. Facebook is for old people. Insta, Snapchat, Youtube and TikTok are their way of communicating. However, they may as easily jump on a different bandwagon if it’s passing by. They trust their digital counterparts. Hence online influencers are important to them. They don’t like and are even suspicious of advertising and smell from miles away if something is fake or not. That’s why most of them have ad blockers. They like a good story and will recognize if something is real and authentic. Then you will score points with them. Additionally they are extremely protective about their online data and digital footprint, explaining the use of aliases.
They like to chill out with their friends
Gen Z likes to chill out with their friends. This does not necessarily has to be face to face. Often they find comfort in chilling online (for example playing an e-game, whilst talking to one another) from the comfort of their own home. This does not concern them at all.
They have different media consumption habits
Gen Z does barely watch TV. Why should they? You can stream it and watch it at a later time, you dummy! Watching TV is for old people. Moreover, why would you pay for channels that you never watch. Gen Z is value driven and prefers to pay only for what they see. Netflix and Youtube are their media. Books? Yes, but only E-books please!
Are you still with me babyboomers, Gen Xers and to a less extent Millenials (because you know this, don’t you)? You probably will say, so what? What does this has to do with sports? Short answer: as a generation, GenZ will transform the world of sports! You may say, well I played soccer when I was young and not a lot has changed since those days. You may feel like that, but in fact a whole lot has changed since that time. Moreover the speed of change is ever accelerating!
How will GenZ alter the sports world?
Gen Z is different! They have different habits, they communicate in a different way, they have different characteristics and as a group they have a different identiy. It is not a question whether they will change the world of sports but more so, to what extent. Let’s investigate where the main changes will take place.
Traditional sports are boring! Alternative-, adventure- and e-sports rock!
Traditional sports are becoming less popular
Gen Z is not into traditional sports. These are boring, taking up too much of their time and are for a different generation. Youth partcipation rates in many traditional sports such as football, soccer, golf, baseball etc are showing a steady decline. Non traditional sports are winning. 52% of Gen Z prefers non-traditional sports now. This can be explained by the typical characteristics of GenZ. They like to express themselves and show their personality/identity.
Mainstream is out, niche/alternative/trendy is in. Remember, they are global citizens and 24/7 connected? If they see something funny or alternative, they’ll jump on it! Having fun is more important than win! That’s their mantra! In their minds a sport has to be social and can even be non-physical. Non-physical? Huh?! They believe sport has a much broader definition. It is an activity which requires a certain skillset that can be acquired by practice.
Also interesting to read: 9 powerful reasons why gamification of sports matters a lot
Viewing habits are also changing
There is not only a shift in which sports are popular and which are not. There is also a shift in media habits. Most of the main TV networks experience a decline in the number of viewers, whilst the average age of viewers is also steadily inceasing. Moreover, GenZ hates the typical ads and as most traditional sports programs show loads of ads, they not only distrust the shown ad, but also the sport which is broadcasted.
Which non-traditional sports does GenZ like?
Given all of the above, you can understand why traditional mainstream sports have become less popular. The question is, what does Gen Z like? Where is growth to be identified? In four areas; alternative sports, spin-off sports, e-sports and virtual reality sports. All of these do tick their boxes! These sports often are fast, furious, exciting and reflect their identity. Look at the video below on E-sports. That’s typical Gen Z! That’s what they like and an example of future growth! Sports do not necessarily have to be physical in their minds.
So let’s very briefly elaborate on these so-called new sports.
1. Alternative sports
These are sports in which you can express your identity. These are sports which do not necessarily have to be competitive, but require a certain skillset. They can be done together with friends (remember chilling is important). Often they are outdoor sports. Think of mudraces, obstacle courses, canooing, (free)climbing, Stand Up Paddling, kitesurfing, mountainbiking and cycling etc. The RedBulls of this world understand and have jumped on this bandwagon. It is one of the ways how companies can connect with Gen Z rather than communicating through ads, which they don’t trust anyway and block.
Also interesting to read: 10 ways drones will impact sports
These are alternatives to their parent’s original sports. Remember, Gen Z likes to be different! So think of 3×3 basketball (spin-off from basketball), foil surfing/sailing (spin-off from (wind)surfing/sailing), flagfootball, MMA (martial arts) etc. Mind you, AI (Artificial Intelligence) has already developed a new sport that is a mixture of a whole bundle of them.
Yes, that’s the non-physical sports one! Gen Z regards E-sports very much as a sport. It requires skills and a mindset that they are used to and that can be obtained by practice. As you probably know by now, this one is gonna be and already is huge! Stadiums are attracting capacity GenZ crowds that want to see top players perform on stage, playing their favorite games. Huge prize money is at stake. Epic games recently announced a 30 mln dollar prize pool for the world cup Fortnite. These guys are stars!
Also interesting to read: 10 aweful reasons why E-sports will take off
4. Virtual Reality sports
VR sports will be the sports of the future no doubt. Imagine yourself to be physically active playing your own e-game in a virtual reality world. e-games will leverage in the future into live fantsasy games to be played in a virtual or augmented reality world in for example an old factory building. You are your own fantasy figure! It’s sportification of games!
What can be done to stop the rot in traditional sports?
All of the above are ticking many of Gen Z’ boxes and explain why traditional sports are not that popular anymore. However, not all is lost. If federations and clubs start approaching this generation in the right way and are taking the right actions, I believe the rot can be stopped.
Give Gen Z what they want! That’s the most important piece of advice! Gen Z is different and if you can push the right buttons, you can gain their interest! Let’s briefly look at some of the actions federations and clubs can take:
Also interesting to read: new formats in traditional sports: winners and losers
1. Innovate your sport when and if needed
Gen Z has a very short attention span. Long boring games will not do well with them. Introduce new rules (see my blogpost on golf), tennis etc) if needed and seriously consider if spin-offs (cricket 20/20, basketball 3×3 etc) are a solution to create new incentives in your sport.
2. Introduce the latest technology
GenZ loves technology and data and everything that has to do with it. Technology is there to help the sport, whether it is related to fairness and integrity (videorefereeing, hawkeye etc) or development of the game (stats, performance data, artificial intelligence etc). Stadiums should become technological and social meeting places, where they can have fun. This way a sport will be much more in line with what they want.
Also interesting to read: 10 great technologies that will change sports
3. Engage through social media and influencers
Gen Z is continously active on social media. By building relationships and creating communities and digital platforms from a very young age forward, you’ve got their attention. Better, connect with them and let them create such an environment. Focus more on your stars in the game rather than on your teams. They can be hugely important influencers for you. They trust those stars more than the average ad.
4. Create snappy, contagious and preferably viral content
This is the video generation! They are not interested in long live broadcasted games. GenZ is long gone before the game finishes. They like highlights or funny wacky content (Dude Perfect is just a perfect example of content they like), background interviews, buildups etc. They want to produce their own videos (tiktok!) and show these to the world. Develop platforms to make it easy for them!
5. Create on-site experiences
GenZ are multitaskers. They want to have it all! For stadium and clubowners it is important to create fan experiences. This does not only make the sport or game more attractive but also makes it interesting for GenZ to actually visit a game and share this experience with their friends (both off- and online)
6. Approach parents before they will make their own decisions
Fandom is contagious! If you are taken to a game when you are a young kid and you see all these happy faces of fans around you, you are hooked. It is copy paste! Approach and connect with the parents of all these young kids before they get to an age, when they make their own decisions. It is low hanging fruit!
7. Connect with E-sports where possible
E-sports is the sport of the future. GenZ is totally into it. Connect with these sports! In Fifa20 clubs like Ajax have got their own E-athletes, who represent the club. It is a new market, where you can leverage your club/sport.
8. Create fantasy leagues
Fantasy football, fantasy golf etc. Lots of sports federations have already introduced these fantasy games which fit the bill with GenZ. Exploit and leverage where possible!
9. Make GenZ participant in decisonmaking
GenZ calls the shots when playing their games. They decide and do not want to just passively stare at something. Preferably they want to be live participants. In one of my earlier posts you see some examples of how you can make them participate. Especially the Fan Controlled Football League should fit the bill here.
10. Shift away from TV content distribution
Sports federations and clubs should reconsider their distribution of content. TV will continue to lose marketshare to streaming. Discovery has bought the rights for the Olympics and the US PGA (golf) for a fortune. No doubt, this has to be earned back and TV alone won’t pay the bill. The race towards who will be the Netflix of sports will definitely gain traction in the coming years. Remember that GenZ is value conscious! They want to pay only for the content they watch, not for what they don’t!
11. Be global
Many traditional sports like soccer and basketball) are already global. For all sports (also the non-traditional) and clubowners, the world is your market and marketshare can be gained anywhere. You better make use of it, before anyone else does it
To conclude, it does not mean traditional sports are out, it means these sports have to adjust their offerings fast. If not, they will slowly lose share and fade away! In case you feel different or have anything to add, please let me know. And if you are Gen Z, I am not one of you and maybe I am dead wrong! Share your thoughts, I am curious on what you guys believe!
This post was originally published in november 2019 and has been updated