The demographic, which is on track to outnumber millennials by 1 million by 2020, is changing the way sports are watched and marketed, according to a study by Whistle Sports.
The company, which targets a young male audience, found 52% of 13- to 21-year-old males follow nontraditional sports more than traditional sports. Those sports include extreme running, competitive gaming, obstacle courses and physical skills competitions like the CrossFit Games.
The study also found that young men (55%) would rather watch highlights of a traditional sports game in an effort to avoid ad overload.
Traditional sports deemed full of advertising include football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer.
Sixty-nine percent of young men surveyed felt brand advertising in nontraditional sports was appropriate. The challenge for marketers is toeing the line of advertising in a non-obtrusive manner.
This doesn’t mean that traditional sports marketing is a lost cause.
Bud Light came up with a successful out-of-the-box approach to marketing to a young audience — a long-suffering one, at that.
NFL’s Cleveland Browns went a whopping 635 days without a win. That had to change eventually, right? Enter Bud Light. A month prior to the team’s win, Bud Light placed locked, mini fridges, dubbed “Victory Fridge” at bars throughout Cleveland, with the promise to unlock them when the Browns finally won a game. When the Browns defeated the New York Jets, the refrigerators automatically unlocked, awarding loyal fans with a well-deserved beverage.
Another NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, is highly aware of the Gen Z audience, going so far as to hire an 18-year-old as a consultant last year. Jonah Stillman co-wrote the book “Gen Z @ Work: How the Next Generation is Transforming the Workplace,” with his father. His job for the Vikings includes marketing duties and connecting with fans.
Stillman told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his first order of business is to differentiate Gen Z from millennials. "In order to connect with Gen Z, you must first recognize that we are our own unique generation," Stillman said. "Many leaders and organizations tend to blend us in with the millennials, which is a huge mistake."
He also discussed using Snapchat as a means to connect with fans, noting that “Gen Z-ers will gravitate to platforms like Snapchat where we have more control over who sees our posts."
Retired baseball player Alex Rodriguez, now a game analyst for Fox, noted the importance of targeting Gen Z to keep baseball relevant. In a New York Post guest column, Rodriguez said that MLB needs “to look for creative ways to attract more fans in Generation Z, a group who will never know what the world was like without their cell phones at their fingertips. Our ability to connect with this generation will determine if baseball can continue to be America’s favorite pastime.”
Even the Harlem Globetrotters, a brand that’s 93 years old, has upped its social media output in an effort to connect with a Gen Z audience.
How do you reach sport-loving Gen Z-ers? Via nontraditional sports, traditional sports — or a combination of both?