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Staying ahead of the game with Gen-Z: how to engage your fans and create a winning formula

Written by Kathryn McGlynn, She/Her, Enterprise Account Executive

Published April 21, 2023

Sport fandom is a unique concept: few other cultural phenomena engage and enthral people from all over the world in the way that sport does.  As time and technology have evolved, the habit of participating, talking, reading, listening, or watching sports has remained a chosen past-time for billions across the globe.

You all know the drill: your forebears have a favourite sport and team, and you (usually) follow their lead.  In return for occasional moments of unparalleled joy, the price you pay for your fanhood is to buy a ticket, subscribe to the sports channels, or buy the jersey, the cap, the pyjamas…

You get the idea. 

For many, being a fan is a ritual.  For sports clubs, leagues, broadcasters, and sponsors, fan behaviour has been largely predictable for decades.  So have the revenue streams.  But one generation appears to be breaking the model.

Gen-Z is the first generation to have been born and raised firmly in the post-digital era, using technology and engaging with the world around them in new and different ways.  Unsurprisingly, sport is affected by these shifts.  Instead of habitually forking out large sums on game tickets or subscribing to an increasingly fragmented array of broadcast and streaming subscriptions, Gen-Z is more likely to engage with sports via bitesize digital content on platforms such as Instagram & TikTok. 

Moreover, Gen-Zers are much less likely to describe themselves as “passionate” sports fans when compared with older generations, and have been described as “fickle” in terms of their preferences and behaviours.  Whilst this may disrupt pre-existing commercial models which were founded upon reliable engagement from committed fans, it nonetheless presents the sports industry with new and exciting opportunities.  In a market forecasted to be worth over $600bn in coming years, industry disruptors are taking full advantage of these trends by:

  • Delivering content seamlessly across multiple channels, platforms, and formats (e.g. DAZN, MLB League Pass)
  • Entering into innovative brand partnerships designed to attract diverse target audiences (e.g. Amazon & DAZN; Liverpool FC, Nike & LeBron James)
  • Launching new, short-form variants of long-established sports to capture the attention of the fast-paced fan (e.g. The Hundred cricket tournament)

Innovations are exciting and the opportunities for successful innovators are huge, but the process does not come without risk.  Organisations need to invest significant sums in delivering game-changing innovations and with the stakes being so high, it is crucial to know that your strategy will hit the mark with all of your target audiences, which must include Gen-Z and perhaps even Gen-A. 

Like any industry, the competition for spectators, audiences, and customers in sport is increasingly competitive and, as on the pitch, not everyone can win.  What is certain however, is that organisations’ chances of strategic success are massively improved by ensuring that feedback and insights from your target customers are embedded in the heart of your decision-making process.  Only 25% of companies say that customer and audience insights are used to inform decisions that affect customers, despite the difficulty in delivering superior experiences and exceeding customer expectations without reliable inputs. 

Overcoming this challenge requires gathering insight from a highly engaged, always-on, and progressively profiled community of customers that fuels sustainable business impact.  Organisations should expect to conduct a two-way feedback dialogue with their audiences, across all channels and touchpoints of the customer journey.  As the world becomes increasingly digital, age-old methods of conducting research simply don’t meet the mark - businesses need real-time, integrated insights that cut across target segments and can be actioned immediately. 

Alida has empowered sports brands and broadcasters such as the Buffalo Sabres, XFL, SkyBet, HBO Max and Conde Nast to get ahead of the curve when delivering a best-in-class experience and co-innovating with their customers.  Take a look at their stories - and more - and let’s discuss how we can win this game together!