In 2020, Nielsen reported that sports popularity had dwindled among Generation X and those under the age of twenty-years old. This presents a major problem for sports franchises as the key to a successful business venture is to grow your audience especially for future generations. History is replete with businesses that failed to attract the next generation only to fall into the annals of time.
In that vein, this is why CBS joined forces with Nickelodeon to brand more children-focused NFL playoff programming to increase viewership and engagement. It is also why Twitch and other platforms have increased their content distribution of sports content to reach the growing esports audience, which tends to enjoy gaming over watching live professional sports. Lastly, we can see the business strategy where professional sports teams have invested into esports teams and programming to coincide with their team marketing. It is of note that there has also been a consolidation in the gaming industry showing the value of intellectual property to larger sports properties that leads to potential for monetization.
Another way sports brands are looking to grow viewership numbers, even among the most resolute sports fans, especially during a time where people seem to have more time to watch television, is to provide behind-the-scenes content of athletes and teams. The aforementioned also includes the growth of sports podcasting as an additional way to reach audiences of all ages and interests. Clearly, social media has and will likely continue to be a part of the sports engagement content production and distribution delivery strategy.
Back in 2018, Nielsen also reported that fans under the age of 50 by a +70% percent margin wanted to see more about their teams involvement in the community. That is an interesting statistic because the key question is whether that +70% was referring to social or philanthropy issues (e.g., building baseball diamonds for communities). Arguably, pre-2020 would have referred mostly to philanthropy. What the future holds is yet to be seen, but sports in the past was mostly an escape for people looking to enjoy sports for the sake of enjoying them. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will be seeking a return to a focus on just sports content in 2021 and beyond. As it turns out, unsurprisingly based on viewership preferences, sports like entertainment is meant for that purpose—to entertain—anything beyond that in 2020 has been met with decreasing viewership numbers.
People like choices and freedom in what they watch, which has led to the golden age of content and distribution. The most avid sports and entertainment fans will say that they appreciate the unpredictability of storyline and consistency of quality. Being forced to watch something is not a part of American sports and entertainment. The companies that deliver content to people based on their interests and location will be very successful.