Poe’s Perspective: Generation Z represents crucial sports audience

If there’s anything that’s certain about Generation Z, it’s that we are absolutely, entirely crazy about sports.

Despite a whole bunch of mistaken headlines and pseudo-psychology articles, most current college-aged kids fall into Gen Z — not the millennial sub-category, but a broad group whose birthdays span from the mid-90s to the early-2000s. This is a specific group that has in many ways baffled and concerned advertisers and marketing specialists over the years. One of the main issues to target with Gen Z has to do with something that we’re actually great at: media consumption.

Gen Z kids pretty much consume media from the time they wake up to the time they go to sleep, day in and day out. I’m not saying that’s a problem or a conundrum; it’s just a fact of life. From social media to streaming to mobile news, nearly every form of lifestyle for a Gen Z kid requires constant media consumption.

And yet, the biggest challenge of marketing to Gen Z is attempting to get the generation to consume one type of media — television. The obvious issue is that we’ve almost entirely ditched watching shows on TV in exchange for Netflix and Hulu, completely uprooting the way television is written and produced. But this phenomenon also creates concern for live sports, which act as the largest driver for TV ratings without any competition.

The Sports Business Journal tackled this topic in a series this week, and discovered that the problem isn’t a lack of interest. Young people still love and crave sports content as much — if not more — than previous generations. The challenge isn’t getting them to watch, but rather figuring out how to adapt live sports content into a format that fits the 24/7 media consumption schedule of young people.

The main thing the SBJ study revealed is that young people love to watch sports. Around 67% of college students polled said that they watch an entire game, not just highlights or recaps, at least once a week. That’s a crazy amount of consumption, on-par with what one would expect from a super-fan keeping track of their own team, not a casual fan just tuning into a random game. In addition, 85% of these kids agreed that their preferred screen was a television — rather than a laptop or mobile device — which makes sense, given the comfort of watching a game on a big screen.

The change is in how younger generations are consuming live media events generally. Although this group wanted to watch games on the big screen, almost 40% of them preferred streaming a game over using a cable plan. When asked about their consumption habits regarding recaps and sports news, over 48% of the college kids who were polled turned to Twitter or Instagram rather than turning on “SportsCenter” or another TV show.

This results in a problem that’s not really a problem. This age demographic in many ways represents an untapped market, a huge group of young people who are enthusiastic about sports yet are unfulfilled by the current offerings of the media market.

I often feel that the general mood toward the college-age demographic is somewhat adversarial. There’s obviously the evergreen joke that “millenials” (which in common usage is also used to refer to current college-aged kids) are ruining half of the world’s industries. But with regard to the media industry, I can certainly understand how the Gen Z approach toward consumption can be frustrating.

On one hand, we want more of everything — more content, more highlights, more news, more media, all at the same time and quickly accessible. On the other hand, it is increasingly difficult to monetize many of the ways that we prefer to consume sports media and, in the meantime, ratings and viewership of live sports and live television continue to dwindle.

Ultimately, however, I think it will be best if the leaders in the sports and media industries see our generation as an asset, not a challenge. As the SBJ study concluded, Gen Z in many ways is the direct-to-consumer generation, a new wave of consumers who want brands to cater and interact directly with them. In sports, this will demand change, but that’s not a bad thing. Change could open doors to hundreds of new outlets for revenue, including the mobilization of sports gambling and the rising value of esports.

And after all, who’s to say that all this change isn’t for the better? The desire of young sports fans — casual and serious — still remains. It’s up to the industry to learn how to adapt to them.

Julia Poe is a senior writing about her personal connection to sports. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs weekly on Thursdays.