Hollywood, Calif., June 14, 2018 – It’s no secret that sports fans are choosing to change the way they engage. While once satisfied with watching as spectators, Millennials and Gen-Z are now demanding to be a part of the story. Our clients, from the PGA Tour to Yahoo Sports, ESPN, HBO Boxing, the New York Rangers and the History Channel, have come to us with a challenge: What do we need to accomplish to make these younger fans feel valued and welcome?
We’ve spent the last few months asking people directly, through 12 focus groups, sending out thousands of surveys, and even a hosting a full day workshop with Immersion Neuroscience to test audiences’ neuro response to various creative approaches. The responses spoke loud and clear, and have changed the way we approach branding and marketing, specifically in sports.
First, we quickly learned that sports fans don’t want to be preached to. They don’t want to be told how to feel, and they are no longer as interested in hearing someone else’s opinion on a subject they feel they understand just as well.
Our favorite moment from the focus groups happend when we tested four different potential brand directions to college-aged males for one of our clients. The big idea for one of the concepts expressed, “this is a sports brand that understands you”. The essence was“We know your teams, we know your players and we know how you feel!” As the video finished, one of the participants looked up at the sky and so eloquently proclaimed, “Who the f*&k is we?!”
While the moment was admittedly hilarious, it triggered an immediate change in our thinking. We realized that rather than build a sports brand that claims to understand “you”,the fan, why not let the fan build it themselves?
Secondly, our research reinforced our understanding that Millennials and Gen-Z distrust advertising and no longer consciously look to brands to dictate culture. They believe that the power to move culture lies in their own hands (and it clearly does). Look no further than the Parkland, FL high schoolers single-handedly changing the national conversation on gun rights.
How does this apply to sports?
There is a shifting dichotomy in the sports media landscape. Where there was once a clear line between the content provider and the content receiver, the line has now been blurred significantly. Between influencer marketing, UGC, instant fan analysis on twitter, daily fantasy, legalized sports gambling and the insane global rise of eSports, fans have now forcefully given themselves a spot at the negotiation table.
The choice is simple: we can continue delivering sports the way we always have and risk becoming obsolete, or we can relentlessly focus on creating ways to give fans the power they deserve. It’s already happening across the landscape and will be very interesting to see who comes up with the next big thing.(I currently have my eye on the Fan Controlled Football League, launching May 2019, a new pro football league where fans call the plays!)