The Deloitte Center for Technology, Media & Telecommunications has released the findings from a survey of 3,000 U.S. sports fans age 14 and older.
Although there are few surprises for anyone who has been keeping up with developments in sports fandom, the survey results reinforce what rights holders and their brand partners should be preparing for as they seek to engage with the next generation of fans.
Overall, the study bolsters the idea that content is king, particularly interactive and personalized content. Brand partners that don’t prioritize connecting through the myriad channels available (the “interconnected and interdependent digital tapestry of experiences,” as Deloitte refers to it) over traditional rights, assets, benefits and activations centered around the live event experience will clearly miss out.
Live events are still critically important as the engine that drives the fandom train and must not be ignored, but the study clearly illustrates a shift in focus for young fans. “Seventy-one percent of all fans say that live sporting events are their favorite type of sports content. However, this drops to only 58% for Gen Z and millennial fans. They have a more diverse set of favorites, which include highlights and clips, documentaries, and sports-related social media videos.”
Below three takeaways from the study regarding how to leverage sponsorships for new audiences:
Partnering with streaming services. In the activation model of the past, the first stop for many sponsors was a media buy on a property’s broadcast partner. As streaming services claim a bigger share of sports media rights, brands have an opportunity to do more.
The SVOD viewing experience for sports events is “more interactive and personalized than watching the same event on cable or broadcast TV,” according to about half of the survey respondents. In addition, 56% of fans said they had a better event viewing experience on a streaming video service than on cable or broadcast TV.
The brand perspective on streaming is also positive, judging by comments made by Sean Kellenberger, senior vice president and head, brand, marketing and digital strategies for RBC Wealth Management on the latest episode of the TicketManager All-Access Interview Series podcast.
Discussing RBC’s new MLS partnership and the separate deal the company struck with Apple TV+, he said: “They structured the package giving us access to deliver not only streaming advertising but other ways that we can activate. We have a number of sponsorships within the games that are either in front of the paywall or on MLS Season Pass, including power rankings and player of the week. We get to do some really interesting bridge programming during the golden hour in addition to our 30-second spots during the games.”
Building communities. At-home sports viewing is a more communal experience for younger fans, according Deloitte. “Most of the time (61%) when watching live sporting events from home, Gen Z fans say they’re watching with other people (compared to 53% of Generation X and 48% of Boomer fans).”
In addition, “nearly 40% of Gen Z fans say they’d be more likely to watch an event from home if they were watching with friends or family.” As the report notes, that does not necessarily mean in person. Younger fans seek to tap into their online social networks to share the experience.
Thus, brands have an abundance of opportunities to expand upon the pioneering efforts of sponsors such as Heineken, whose multi-platform Star Player game transformed TV watching into an interactive experience for soccer fans a dozen years ago.
Boosting youth participation. Brands that want to have a long-term impact on their property partners should seek ways to help build the pipeline for future fans.
According to the study, one of the primary ways to do that would be supporting programs and promotions that encourage kids to get involved in a given sport, as participation appears to be a key driver of fandom.
“When asked to pick a single reason for the genesis of their fanhood, around a third of fans attribute it to their participation in youth sports—the top overall reason,” write the report authors.
Overall, the study provides multiple insights into what fans want, which should be the number-one concern of properties and partners everywhere.