According to a survey of 1,004 youngsters between 8 and 14 years old by Sports Illustrated Kids and Chicago-based C&R Research Inc., just 50% say they have attended a live sporting event in the past year. And of those who do get to a live professional game, only a lucky few -- 20%-- attend more than four games per year. This is out of the 81 baseball, 8 football, 41 basketball and 41 hockey games that are played at home by professional sports teams each season, let alone the thousands of others played by minor league and college teams.
And kids definitely are interested in visiting stadiums and arenas for themselves. Seven times as many kids surveyed say they would like to see a sport played in person versus those who would like to watch the contest on TV. Even kids who don't consider themselves avid sports fans participate in sports and report that they want to see sports live.
Fortunately for pro sports teams-- and the sports marketers seeking to reach them-- watching televised and streamed sporting events, talking about sports and reading about sports online remain popular activities among kids. In fact, kids claim to spend just under four hours a week on these sports-related activities.
However, sports team management should keep in mind that today's kids will be the ones making decisions about whether to take their own families to sporting events when they become adults. Encouraging families to attend live sporting events now will produce two positive outcomes for sports marketers. In the short term, it will provide merchandising opportunities afforded by souvenir vendors in stadiums and arenas. In the long term, it will create lifetime fans by instilling an emotional connection between kids and the live sports experience.
Appreciating sports requires specific senses to make a real connection in the human brain: the crack of the bat when a homer is tagged; the bone-crunching sounds in the frigid air when an NFL defensive lineman hits a wide receiver in the flat; and the vibration of the glass when a cross-check disrupts a power play. Hearing, seeing and feeling these moments live is crucial to making that connection and fueling the desire to experience the moment again.
In today's world, the cost of attending live sporting events means kids may never experience these moments up close and personal. Yet the need to fund their ever-growing payrolls means sports teams are charging more than ever to attend, putting the experience out of reach for many younger fans, regardless of the general economy.
Team Marketing Report's latest figures show that a family of four will spend an average of $196.89 to attend a single professional baseball game, up 3.2% from the so-called Fan Cost Index (FCI) for 2008 and up 32% from five years ago. And football fans have to reach even more deeply into their pockets. The national FCI average to attend an NFL game during the 2008-09 season was $396.36, a 7.1% increase from the previous year and a 31% jump from 2003 levels. (The FCI is based on the cost for four average-priced tickets, two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four hot dogs and two least-expensive team caps as souvenirs.)
Kids responding to the SI Kids/C&R survey say they spend an average of more than 95 minutes per week watching sporting events on TV, and nearly 100 minutes playing sports-related video games. The Super Bowl is a runaway favorite on TV compared with their interest in the World Series, NBA Finals or the NCAA Basketball Tournament. But the potential relationship here isn't being nurtured either, since networks air many games on school nights, when kids need to go to bed. In fact, our research found that 84% of all kids would prefer to see playoff games on TV on weekends, when they are able to watch.
So the question becomes: Will kids' enthusiasm for sports continue if most kids never or rarely see a game live?
If sports teams want to develop the next generation of season-ticket holders looking to expose their own kids to professional sports, now is the time to find ways to get them engaged without breaking their parents' wallets. Some baseball teams are offering family discounts to lower-attendance games, and minor league and college sporting events offer the live sports experience at a lower price point. Still, the opportunities for engaging kids with major market pro sports may be slipping away.
Watching sports on TV and becoming engaged in the competition definitely has its place with young sports fans. But experiencing the sport being played live by professionals brings an entirely different context for kids (and even for adults). If kids never enter the arena or stadium in the first place, how can they develop a sense of nostalgia about sports when they become adults? The reality is that people don't miss what they never experience.