The metrics on them are scary. They’ve disappeared from the trackable universe into “dark sharing.” Two-thirds use ad blockers on their laptops, and mobile blocking will follow. Even Facebook and Twitter are losing Generation Z by the millions. 99 cents is their favorite price. They think nothing of pirating video streams, but they rarely watch sports from start to finish because the highlights tell the story.
CAN THE SPORTS INDUSTRY EVER MAKE MONEY ON THEM?
Here’s the secret: The kids now coming of age are actually the most informed young sports fans in history. They are cord cutters, but they have not cut themselves off from sports. Sports programming and data are such a deep part of their culture that they feel a sense of ownership. And that’s the very trick to reaching them—empowering them to take sports media as we know it, mash it up and distribute it as they see fit.
Just not with you.
We thought Facebook was their television and Twitter was their radio—the technologies that defined their generation. Twitter’s 140-character limit seemed the epitomization of their notorious 8-second attention span. Then, in the last two years, something happened.
Only 1 in 9 use Twitter to express themselves or communicate. Fully a quarter of users 13 to 17 years old abandoned Facebook this year: Facebook has lost 11 million young users.
“” refers to communication that can’t be tracked or measured by web analytics programs. On internet content sites, now half of web traffic hits pages from sources that are untrackable. Dark sharing now accounts for 84% of all social sharing. Millennials prefer social networks like Snapchat, Whisper and Secret—but they’re also skipping centralized sites to message each other, often in groups, using iMessenger, WhatsApp, Line, WeChat, Kik and other apps designed to avoid texting charges.
|Born 1985–2000||Born from 2000 onward|
|Grew up during a strong economy with little global unrest||Growing up during recession and terrorism, marked by sporadic mass violence and national divisiveness|
|Their books and movies explored magic and fantasy, often in quasi-historic kingdoms||Their books and movies portray dystopian futures where kids are imprisoned or hunted|
|Spend money readily without price awareness||57% would rather save money than spend it|
|Consider diversity important for fairness and inclusion, even if it costs||The most diverse generation ever sees diversity as crucial to problem solving; grew up with an African-American president and have seen same-sex marriage legalized|
|Online tools fed their need for acceptance, but they’ve had to learn hard lessons about harassment, lack of anonymity, being too kind to strangers and loss of privacy||Have been taught since birth to avoid spam, ads, phishing, bots and predators, connecting only with real friends online|
|Saw name-brand college education as path to success—taking on monumental debt and driving up application rates everywhere||More likely to “hack” education by taking advantage of cheaper community colleges, online credits and professional courses|
WILL BROADCAST GET NAPSTERIZED?
Two out of three millennials use ad blockers on their laptops. On mobile, it’s not common yet in the US but likely to follow the global trend toward mobile ad blocking. One third of smartphones in Asia employ ad blockers—and the rate is double that in India and Indonesia. However, it’s not that they hate ads. The number one reason they run ad-blocking software is that the ads slow down the loading of pages. In fact, according to a recent study by USC’s Center for the Digital Future, young millennials actually like ads with sports more than any other generation.
It’s not illegal to watch someone else’s stream. So it’s no surprise that watching pirated streams of sports is common. However, the number one reason millennials watch pirated streams is that the content they want to watch isn’t available to easily buy. In fact, it’s the older generations accustomed to free television who are least willing to pay for sports content. Fans under age 36 are willing to pay a higher price for sports channels than any other generation. Even more notable is that they’re willing to pay a higher price for a sports channel’s IP stream than they’d pay for the same content on a television channel—because stream access can be watched anywhere: at home, at work or on mobile. Facing average bills of $99, 35% of millennials have cut the cord and stopped subscribing to cable TV. Young millennials are now averaging only eight hours of linear TV a week. Is the era of unbundled, à la carte channel subscription inevitable?
- India has offered à la carte channels since 2011. A la carte on top of skinny cable is coming to Canada this year.
- 63% of all sports fans are interested in paying for a sports channel. And 86% of Americans are sports fans. On average, they’ll buy 3.5 sports channels.
The real change will be the end of channels as we know them. Tomorrow’s consumers will only want to pay for the hours (or games) they are actually watching. New sites like PopChest that make blockchain payments for content easy and fast, will train consumers to expect to pay only for what they actually watch (10 cents at a time), and this expectation will become pervasive. Can’t figure out what channel your Spurs game is on? That’s irrelevant—just watch on their Facebook page.
They love sports. 81% of millennials participated in athletics during childhood— more than any previous generation. That percentage is going up about 10% each generation. Participation evolves into fandom and zeal for fitness.
They follow stars more than teams. Stop blaming them for this—they haven’t been around on this world long enough to develop team loyalty. In fact, they like it when stars change teams; it makes sports more interesting.
They love footwear. They follow the new releases of cleats like the Milan press follows fashion week. They collect athletic shoes and have an active secondary market, reselling to their friends not just pristine shoes—but used shoes their friends couldn’t afford to buy new. (The Financial Times pegs the secondary market for sneakers at $1 billion.)
They want to be able to choose from different announcer teams. And toggle between them to hear what others are saying. And turn up the crowd sounds.
Highlight shows, sports reality shows, talk shows and documentaries are not second tier to them, not something to suffer through because a game isn’t on. They like alternative sports content just as much as live games.
In the same way, they like the offseason news cycle and trade drama just as much as they like the playing season.
They love humorous bloopers from sports. They can’t get enough sports humor. They share videos of players making dumb mistakes as much as, or more than, great plays.
They care more about the transcendent moment than who won or lost. They don’t care what sport it’s from, or whether it happened in the NFL or in Pee Wee league. Often it’s a single play exhibiting extraordinary athleticism, but it’s just as often as when a player overcomes adversity—Mo’ne Davis pitching in the Little League World Series or Eric Berry fighting lymphoma to make the Pro Bowl again.
They attend games not “for the game” but to hang out with friends or family and enjoy top-notch food and beverages. Their favorite thing during games: becoming part of the action by getting featured on the jumbotron.
Even if sports betting were legal, they’d rather play fantasy, because a fantasy team is a mash-up of players across teams— the ultimate parlay and the ultimate bar bet.
Yes, they want to “interact” with the content—not just share it or comment. This is the co-creation generation. What they really want is to take sports content and mash it up for dramatic or comic effect, mixing in their own audio and commentary.
Broadband.tv’s deal with the NBA to create the Playmakers channel— allowing content creators to play with NBA clips. BBTV has 16 billion monthly views on YouTube and 76,000 licensed content creators.
Adidas’ Creator Studio, which empowers soccer fans to create and submit designs for their club’s alternate jersey, gamifying the entries by social media vote, is right on target for this generation.
The Musical.ly app, which empowers lipsyncing to pop music, has over 100 million users.
Trick shots, elaborate handshakes, spectacular fails and insane footwork are all juicy fodder—and their reach can be exponentially multiplied by being reedited by thousands of creators, not just one—all incentivized to share in the income.
The micropayments market is well established in Asia.
Stop policing illegal use of highlights—empower it and monetize it, allowing kids to share fractional royalties with leagues. The future is a “mixed ownership” model. Frictionless, digital-rights management attached to the blockchain—sites like PopChest and Interledger—can make sure everyone gets their cut.
Generation Z lives and breathes at the convergence of fashion, sports, culture and technology. They experience sport through apparel, and likewise experience fashion through the lens of sport. They communicate with friends through style; their choices embody references to music. And above all, their apparel must help them perform.
Vice president of strategic branding, New Era