ACTIONABLE RESEARCH ON GEN Z AND MILLENNIALS
How Social Media Is Changing Sports Viewing For Gen Z

How Social Media Is Changing Sports Viewing For Gen Z

Gen Z is finding the sports content they want to watch on social media—and now those platforms are making sporting events and athletes a bigger focus than ever before (and leaving long games behind)…

Gen Z and Millennial sports fans are watching games differently—and increasingly not watching game and matches at all, choosing instead to follow along with social media. YPulse’s sports research shows that 70% of 13-37-year-olds agree: “I don’t need to watch sports games live to keep up with what’s going on,” and YPulse data shows that 13-37-year-olds who report watching the leagues/sports that they follow on live TV declined from 86% in 2016 to 65% in 2019. Increasingly, social platforms are instead feeding them the non-traditional sports content they want, and positioning themselves as the future of the industry.

Young fans want sports media experiences that foster sharing, connection, and interaction—and that come in bite sized pieces. According to Business Wire, Gen Z and Millennial sports fans want content “beyond live games,” creating a “generational shift” for leagues and teams, Video management platform Imagen reports that four times as many of these young viewers watch non-game sports content than Boomers, and 78% are “dual screening” while watching live games. The opportunity to deliver content like funny videos, player stats, behind-the-scenes clips, and more is clear. It’s no longer enough for leagues to provide a medium for young consumers to watch the game—they now need to engage young consumers by creating avenues for them to engage with each other, the teams, and the athletes themselves. Of course, young sports media brands that live solely on social platforms are racing to be Gen Z’s ESPN 

While sports highlights on social media and athletes as influencers are nothing new, social platforms are beginning to play with sports events and content in new ways, continuing to change sports viewing. Here are some of the ways that social platforms are actively increasing their focus on sports content, changing the industry, and taking over sports media for Gen Z:

EVENT-TANGENT SOCIAL CONTENT

According to Digiday, the hype around streaming full games on social media has died down. While two years ago, Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were fighting over who would get to stream Thursday night football games, many are discovering that long-form game broadcasts on social aren’t engaging users, who are more likely to exhibit “shallow consumption.”  One sports exec tells the site, “Effectively, [digital platforms] want the content around the main event on their platform, not the event itself.” Instead, social platforms are creating content and features that play off of a sports event, without actually worrying about airing the bulky big game. Snapchat tells Adweek their app is the way to reach Gen Z and Millennial sports fans. According to a Snap Inc. survey, 75% of users who intend to watch March Madness use the messaging app while watching live sports, nearly 65% of that group will use it to chat with their friends about the games, and more than 60% will update their Stories during the games. They report that Gen Z “uses Snapchat to enhance their live sports experience,” and brands who want to “own” a live sports event should be looking to their tools. This year will be Snapchat’s third partnership with the Olympics, and they’ll be capitalizing on the event with content only available through the platform, such as behind-the-scenes footage and AR lenses. According to the app’s director of creative strategy, “For a fraction of the price of a prime TV spot, brands are using platforms like Snapchat to amplify their traditional campaigns while driving engagement.” TikTok is also making sports events a focus by creating tangential content for young users. The Wall Street Journal reports that the app  will be using their winning Super Bowl marketing strategy on. The short-form video app successfully partnered with brands for the Super Bowl on hashtag challenges and campaigns, and ran their own ads during the game’s live stream. According to the app, “TikTok is part of the zeitgeist now,” and they’ll “continue marketing at these large tentpole moments.”

SOCIAL-FIRST SHOWS

Content isn’t just being cross posted on social; sports shows are now being created specifically for social platforms. ESPN is launching several new series on Facebook Watch, a video-on-demand service that offers both short-form and long-form content. Countdown to GameDay and Fantasy Focus Live, two of the shows that will air on Facebook Watch, will encourage engagement from young consumers who are no longer watching their sports on cable. Features meant to engage young fans include polls and live Q&As. ESPN’s Hoop Streams, a social media Inside the NBA for Gen Z, is in its second year and first full season. It’s meant to be a “fun way for NBA fans — especially a younger demographic that is naturally drawn to digital content—to enjoy the league,” according to the Boston Globe. The show averages 1.6 million streams per episode, hitting a high of 2.4 million on Feb. 3. And it’s not just in the U.S. that Facebook Watch is airing live sports. Last week it was announced that the platform would be exclusively streaming two of the matches of the Football Association Cup in the UK. The NFL announced a multi-year partnership with TikTok in September of last year, bypassing traditional sports media like ESPN entirely, with plans to deliver highlights, sideline moments and footage from behind the scenes. With only 2.6 million followers on their account (compared to an average of 16.7 million viewers per game during each season) there’s still a lot of growing to do, but “partnering with TikTok is a natural extension of [the NFL’s] media strategy,”

TAPPING SPORTS STARS

Beyond transitioning content, social media brands are partnering with athletes and sports media titans to reach younger demographics. Instagram was a key factor in sales for Serena Williams fashion brand, with jackets only being able to be purchased through Instagram shopping feature.  Similarly, merch for the Los Angeles Clippers can only be bought through the platform. Young consumers don’t just want products, they want an experience. “Instagram has been encouraging the experiments from the sports world,” the head of sports for Instagram tells The Wall Street Journal: “Shopping as a feature is a main priority for Instagram Sports.” James Harden, a Houston Rocket fan favorite on the court and Gen Z favorite for his meme-able facial expressions, used the platform to sell his Adidas shoes through his personal account, reaching an audience of over 11 million followers.