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Generation Z: Can the sports industry ever make money on them?

What Does Generation Z Want?

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.

  1. 01

    BROADBAND’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.

  2. 02


    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.

  3. 03


    The app, which empowers lipsyncing to pop music, has over 100 million users.

  4. 04


    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.

  5. 05


    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.

Lindsey Koch

Vice president of strategic branding, New Era

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