3 Ways Millennials Are Changing Sports Marketing

3 Ways Millennials Are Changing Sports Marketing

Sports marketing has always been focused on traditions. Whether a college football rivalry or a MLB weekend series, marketers love to embed their brand alongside the passion that surrounds sports. Fans watch football on Sundays. It’s tradition. Weekends in March are full of bracket-busting upsets. Its tradition. A brand sponsors the coach’s weekly radio show every year. Tradition. Tradition is a cornerstone for impactful sports marketing. 

But what happens when younger fans start consuming sports in ways that ignore tradition?What happens when sports fans quit caring about tradition? And what happens to sports marketing as millennials become the influential demographic in the industry?

In this article, I highlight 3 ways that millennials are changing traditional sports marketing, and what it means for the modern marketer that wants to build brand value through sports.  

milennial sports fans

They Follow Sports Differently

Millennials watch sports and consume sports media differently than older generations. Having a second device open during a sports event has become second nature and millennials more readily turn to alternative video sources like Youtube for highlights and sports video. This trend is accelerating, and Forbes highlighted why ESPN should be worried in light of this shift. To pile on, Twitter is now streaming live sporting events, including a few NFL games this past fall.

In addition to shifting TV habits, millennials are not attending sporting events as frequently as older generations (70 percent attend less often or never). When they do attend, their attention is heavily distracted by non-“game related” engagement on their mobile devices. That timeout promotion during college basketball does not command the attention like it used to. Gametime is different for millennials. 

The Modern Marketer**…**recognizes this change is a big one, and one that must be addressed. It fundamentally changes how a marketer should value and approach traditional sports marketing assets (stadium signage, media rights and event promotions). The first step in approaching this challenge is to shift the focus from “How do we get them to engage with our properties/assets?” to “How can we adjust our properties/assets to fit their engagement?” (This NACDA report is worth a quick read to help on this topic) 

millennial mobile sports

They Demand Mobile

Mobile engagement is the central channel to connect with millennials. A whopping 86 percent of millennials own smart phones across America. Millennials do not view their phone as a calling device; they view it as their remote to the world. Whether it is searching for score updates, social media posts, or sharing photos, millennials will turn to mobile first. They expect brands and sports properties to deliver awesome mobile options for their consumption. No longer is mobile a nice add-on. This is the game for millennials.

The Modern Marketer**…** recognizes that a mobile-first strategy is paramount for winning with millennial sports fans. Any marketing promotion needs to include digital assets and mobile opportunities to drive meaningful engagement. Ignore mobile, and you are ignoring millennials. 

brad paisley sports marketing tour

They Want Live Sports & Some…

Millennials desire memorable experiences in a greater way than older generations. For sports, this means millennials are looking for “add-on” events, activities and excitement that go beyond the sports competition on the field. A look into MLS’s recent attendance growth and success with millennial fans showed that 54% purchased tickets for reasons other than the sport. (Source) Reasons like food, drinks and music resonate much higher with millennials than older fan bases. It is one of the reasons that IMG-College is reinventing itself more and more to build entertainment properties and leverage music talent with their multimedia rights holdings. (see Brad Paisley’s tour stops at college football stadiums). 

The Modern Marketer… must get creative in cross-promoting other entertainment and marketing assets to make the sporting experience “bigger” if they are going to impact millennial sports fans. Millennials still want the sporting event to be the central focus, but they expect something bigger than the game, and want memorable experiences to share with their friends. If the modern marketer decides to go all-in on sports, they need to make sure it is “sports & some”. 

So where does that leave us with tradition?

Yes, traditional sports marketing assets will continue to hold value. But that value will be shifting over time, and the change is rapidly increasing as millennials increase their purchasing power. The modern marketer sees that sports traditions can still provide the core assets to build a millennial-focused campaign, if they are leveraged in a winning way. 


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