The Generational Divide In Sports Marketing

  • by , Columnist, June 11, 2024
One of the first rules of being a marketer or a market researcher has always been to take yourself out of the equation.  “We are not necessarily the same as the target customer,” is a mantra I’ve repeated throughout my career to both staff and clients.  To understand people’s needs, and perceptions, good research means divorcing yourself from what you observe and analyze and letting the data inform the story.

At the risk of treading gingerly across that line, it has irked me somewhat when certain recent surveys that we’ve conducted in the sports marketing space have excluded fans or participants in my age group -- for the first time.  Even when I was in the heart of the desired target market, we’ve often called out derivations of the old line that “40 is the new 30,” as life expectancy and one’s active years continue to be pushed outward.

It has been a constant truth that particularly for luxury brands, there remains a correlation between household income, spending and one’s age.  With heightened economic sensitivity and the “K”-shaped recovery that I’ve commented about frequently in this space, it seems even more important for sports marketers to be mindful of who can truly afford and desire to acquire what they are selling. Of course, it’s great to  “think young," but it’s important to recognize that for an increasing percentage of Americans, age becomes just a number.



With that in mind, I call upon some salient observations from research that we conducted with sports fans just last month, that delved into the generational divide in sports marketing.  Overall, the research found that two thirds of U.S. sports fans agreed with the sentiment that “Older adults are marginalized in American society, today.”  But interestingly, those under age 35 were significantly less likely to agree.  Concurrently, 64% agreed that “Older adults are not the focus of consumer marketers.”  Again, that incidence dropped precipitously for respondents under the age of 35.  Regardless of which generation is correct, the perception is reality argument certainly suggests some missed opportunities in creating content and messaging that resonates with the older set of fans.

And that brings about another interesting phenomenon that we looked at, regarding the increased prominence of performance analytics in sports marketing and coverage.  As a numbers geek, I need to remove my own personal fascination with sports analytics, particularly as some of my gray-haired peers have vocally lamented the emphasis that we are seeing on these new age statistics.  Here, we see another generational divide.  We asked fans whether or not they felt that “the focus on performance analytics in sports is something that has enhanced [their] overall fan experience.”  Just under half agreed, overall.  But that number grew to nearly six in ten among those fans under the age of 45.  Two thirds of those age 65+ disagreed.

So, there’s no magic bullet answer that will satisfy everyone.  But to the extent that today’s sports marketing is more about inclusivity, isn’t it wise for those creating and pushing out the content and activations to meet people in their comfort zones?

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