From a purely observational context, it strikes me that we’re at an interesting cross-roads in generational marketing. So much of what our sports fan and participant research focused on during the first decade of this century was meeting the needs of a maturing Boomer generation that did not always follow the leads of prior generations reaching a similar life stage. Fast-forward to the present day and it seems that everyone is trying to unlock the secret sauce that resonates with Millennials. And on the surface level this makes sense.
Like the Boomers before them, Millennials represent a large mass audience that will harness a huge amount of buying power as they move through the next several decades. But sheer market opportunity is far from the only commonalities between these two generations. Both share a tendency towards self indulgence and a desire to come together as part of a community and manifest themselves in unique group experiences. Research has also shown a similarity in the priority that each generation places on family coupled with a belief that time may be the most precious commodity, particularly as we move further into an era of constant connectivity, instant gratification and participatory journalism.
So, what does all of this have to do with sports marketing, you may ask. The answer could lie in the other underlying phenomenon that just as Boomers became more child-centric in their thinking and life focus, Millennials have been delaying their departure from the nest, and with Boomer life expectancy on the rise, the tables will ultimately turn as their children seek to return the favor by caring for a generation that will seek to age chronologically, but remain active and relevant as long as health permits. So there is a confluence of need states and life stage situations that lend themselves to what our research continues to point out are a desire for multi-generational experiences that can simultaneously optimize the precious commodity of time and meet each generation’s needs for activities with purpose and self-actualization.
As a concrete, sports-specific example, I cite recent qualitative research that we conducted for a sports-centric resort management company that was seeking to re-position itself as more mindful of the needs of multi-generational travelers. In initial discussions and review of various sports related amenity concepts, it became evident that the mindset of most group participants was that there was a great divide between certain active sports interests traditionally targeted to the younger members of the family, and more traditionally older skewing sports like golf, tennis and other historical resort staples.
Respondents saw these activities as disparate, limited in their appeal and more appropriate for only one generation at the expense of the other. In the case of the older golfers, they viewed their golf-centric trips as separate and apart from a family vacation. Yet, upon presenting some potential concepts that bridged the gap between the generations, offering accessible “entry ramps” to what had been seen as the singular domain of one generation or the other, the proverbial light bulb went on and respondents across generations were equally enamored with the opportunity to “have the best of both worlds,” enjoying personally favorite activities at the same time that they could integrate quality time with other generations within the nuclear and extended family.
We’re also seeing this in a renewed focus that many sporting event properties are placing in developing cross-generational marketing messages as well as on site experiences that extend the value and relevance of the actual sporting event to those who historically might not have been as interested in attending. Similarly there has been a marked and vocal push towards a more acute focus on cultivating the next generation of fans and participants, particularly in sports like golf and baseball.
Forward-thinking marketers in these and other sports are coming to the realization that part of the winning formula in achieving these goals, lies in recognizing the opportunity that multi-generational offerings provide. To me, that can mean leveraging the fact that the common values shared across life stages, often includes a desire for each generation to bond across a shared experience that ultimately optimizes time allocation and the premium placed on “family time.” Sports seems uniquely positioned to exploit this opportunity.