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Study: Nine in ten Gen Z sports fans use social media to consume content as consumption habits shift

Sports will increasingly rely on weaving in live, digital and interactive experiences, according to Deloitte survey.

28 June 2023 Ed Dixon

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  • 58% of Gen Z and millennials say live events are their favourite type of content, compared to 71% of all fans
  • NFTs still struggling to gain traction
  • Sports bettors tend to be more active fans

A new study from Deloitte has highlighted changing patterns of sports consumption and fan behaviour, especially among younger fans who have different views on what constitutes the ideal viewing experience at home compared to older audiences.  

Deloitte’s inaugural survey, entitled ‘2023 Sports fan insights: The beginning of the immersive sports era’, drew responses from approximately 3,000 people in the US, and discovered a strong foundation of dedicated fans willing to invest time and money into their fandom – provided these expectations were met.

A key finding from the study is that nearly three quarters of respondents (71 per cent) said live events were their favourite type of sports content. However, this figure drops to 58 per cent for Gen Z and millennials.

In addition, more than 90 per cent of Gen Z fans use social media to consume sports content, including game clips and highlights, live events, athlete interviews, and posts from athletes.

Meanwhile, social interaction plays a crucial role in the sports experience for Gen Z fans. The survey shows that 61 per cent of the time, Gen Z fans are watching live sporting events from home with others. Furthermore, 38 per cent of said having friends with at home would make them more likely to watch sport.

Deloitte added that a majority of Gen Z fans follow an athlete online, with 46 per cent watching a live sporting event from home as a result of following that athlete and another 33 per cent attending a live sporting event in person.

Another finding is that fans are redefining their sports consumption habits at home by assembling a mix of engagement channels, with a noticeable shift among younger generations. Three quarters of fans rely on TV to watch events but this decreases to 60 per cent for Gen Z and millennials, indicating that younger fans are watching on a range of devices.

The survey also examined the integration of sports betting into the fan experience. Among those surveyed, bettors are more likely to have attended a game in person, bought sports merchandise, paid for a streaming video service to watch sports, bought season tickets, or participated in a fantasy sports league over the past 12 months than those who don’t bet.

Among all sports fans (over the age of 21) that were surveyed, 22 per cent reported betting on professional sporting events in the last 12 months, with the percentage increasing to 30 per cent for Gen Z and millennials. Of all bettors, 35 per cent place bets at least weekly. 

Deloitte also provided more evidence of streaming’s surging popularity. Nearly one third (30 per cent) of all fans (and 46 per cent of millennial fans) have subscribed to subscription video on demand (SVOD) services specifically for watching sports in the past 12 months. Streaming now accounts for 22 per cent of sports viewing, with television accounting for 60 per cent.

Experience is cited as a key factor. Indeed, 64 per cent of Gen Z, 71 per cent of millennial and 52 per cent of Gen X fans said that they have a better viewing experience when watching a specific sporting event on a specific streaming provider than on cable or broadcast television.

Deloitte also touched on the rise of digital assets. While Gen Z and millennials are more aware of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and fan tokens, the actual adoption of these remain low. According to the survey, only seven per cent of Gen Z and millennial sports fans have purchased or received a team fan token, and eight per cent have purchased or received a sport or athlete-related NFT in the past 12 months.

Fans are also unclear of the purpose of digital assets, including sports-related NFTs. They study found 30 per cent of millennials who are familiar with NFTs in sports say they are a fad, 36 per cent say they are an investment and 25 per cent say they are something fun to express fandom.

Yet, if accompanied with the right benefits, more fans might be willing to purchase fan tokens. The survey found that around 60 per cent of fans would be willing to buy a fan token if it offered them a chance to get free exclusive merchandise or free premium seats at a live sporting event.

“The rise of streaming services, coupled with changing generational behaviors, necessitates a change in how the industry views engagement,” said Jana Arbanas, vice chair, Deloitte, and US telecom, media and entertainment sector leader.

“Gen Z, in particular, seeks immersive, social experiences both at home and at live events, with a noticeable trend towards multiple devices and platforms. Simultaneously, the integration of sports betting and digital assets like NFTs challenges us to redefine fan engagement.

“The future of sports will increasingly rely on weaving a seamless tapestry of live, digital, and interactive experiences that resonate across all generations.”

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