Downfall or Transformation of the sports industry?

Trends in society and how they impact the future of sports

06.06.23 • Author: Venice Osswald

The passion for sports has connected people for centuries. Matches, competitions and events give athletes from a wide range of sports the opportunity to demonstrate their skills. However, the focus is not only on the sporting activity. Rather, it is about the feeling of solidarity, euphoria and solidarity. However, the sports industry has seen considerable changes in recent years with regard to its fan culture. This blog entry attempts to answer the question of the extent to which technological, social and cultural upheavals are proving disruptive or beneficial to the future of sports.

the future of sports

the Future of Sports

"You have to turn them into fans at 18 or you'll lose them forever."

This statement from Tim Ellis, CMO of the NFL, is thought-provoking. One of the sports industry’s biggest concerns is that so-called Generation Z is becoming less and less enthusiastic about traditional sports. Gen Z are people, broadly defined, who were born after 1996 and grew up with smartphones and the Internet. Accordingly, they have different preferences in terms of their leisure activities than generations who spent their youth without advanced technology. 

Regarding this issue, many reflections and studies have already been conducted. One undeniable fact is the decline in television ratings for sporting events. Historically, television broadcasters have been the primary venue for broadcasting games, which previous generations still enthusiastically embraced. Sitting comfortably on match days with friends and family, whether at home or in a pub, represents a cultural heritage. In the course of time, however, technology continues to evolve and older media formats are seen as increasingly uninteresting by younger fans.

a Collective decline of the attention span

Due to the overabundance of information that can be accessed at any time through social media, the concentration and attention span of an entire generation is declining in the long term. This process is progressing gradually and has not yet reached the consciousness of many people. As a result, it is almost impossible for the majority of young people to concentrate on a long game on TV. Boredom and the urge to distract themselves are becoming more and more present. Sports entertainment is not enough and so people turn to cell phones, social media or mobile games pretty quickly on the side. The sports industry is facing a major challenge because of this. It’s important to consider this for a positive development of the future of sports.

"Younger viewers follow more sports than older ones”

This research result, which sounds paradoxical at first, comes from a global study by Nielsen and LaLiga Tech. People from 15 countries and 4 continents were surveyed regarding their sports consumption. On average, under-34s are enthusiastic about 6.3 sports and list a total of 65 sports among their interests. Unlike previous generations, Gen Z have strong preferences for streaming, mobile sports experiences as well as gaming. 46% watch sporting events on smartphones or tablets. Only 15% turn to on-demand. Likewise, the majority of people surveyed enjoy interacting online with other viewers and statistics during a live game. 

Dealing with change is a key indicator

According to some experts, it would be a big mistake to ignore the divergent preferences of young people and continue as before. The future of sports depends on the interest of young people. Even if this is not yet clearly evident, we cannot close our eyes to it in the long term. With comprehensive data analysis, evaluation and appropriate responses to the public’s desires, the number of sports enthusiasts can even be increased. Below are some inspirations listed for effective and modern sports marketing, that could positively influence the future of sports. 

Integrate social and emotional concerns into sports

Younger fans’ expectations of entertainment are higher these days. The focus is no longer on the mere sport, but on the desire for emotional, personal and profound stories. The emotive mood of sports can be excellently combined with non-sports themes that demonstrate social and emotional importance. Viewers crave athletes who represent a role model with whom they can identify. Close people who share the same values, instead of superstars, are in demand. Athletes or clubs who speak out on social media and advocate for issues that go beyond their athletic performance are particularly valued in this regard. Examples include para-athlete Kadeena Cox. She suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses her reach to give other sufferers courage and hope. Secondly, in addition to health, environmental protection is also a relevant concern.

 Adidas has decided to take an active stand against plastic pollution in the ocean. The company has developed an app in which it promises participants that for 10 minutes of active running time they will remove one plastic bottle from coastal areas. Around 6,700,000 people took advantage of the offer. From this figure, it is evident that fans gratefully accept dedicated invitations. 

In addition, younger fans are interested in personal concerns of athletes. Heidi Browning, CMO of the NHL, says the following about this:

"They want to see our players in their real lives, see them with their wives, know what they're eating or drinking or watching on Netflix."

Toxicity in virtual spaces

Exchanges between like-minded people on social media are perceived as an important custom by the fan community. However, to the chagrin of many sports-loving online users, these interactions are characterized by hate and incitement. It is not uncommon for bullying, racist or sexist insults to occur against fans who support the opposing team. Verbal attacks on the athletes themselves are also not uncommon. Often, the respective platforms do not do enough against this alarming abuse. The younger generation in particular stays away from the negative influences of the interactive portals. Positivity, support and tolerance are the order of the day, which is important to consider for the future of sports. To get young people to engage more with the topic of sport, virtual spaces would have to be created in which these conditions can be guaranteed.

Media expansion

Streaming services such as Netflix are becoming more popular every year. So it is well worth considering expanding the media offering from television to other formats. Formula 1 already had the crucial idea of having the docu-series “Drive To Survive” broadcast via Netflix. Drive To Survive is about passionate racing drivers who take the road to success and face some obstacles along the way. In this way, Formula 1 has responded to the audience’s desire for emotional and personal stories. Statistics show that it has certainly been successful as a result of this approach. 46% of fans who watch Formula 1 and said Netflix series are 34 years old or younger. 

Another way to make sports attractive to young people is to offer online games. According to surveys, the gaming industry is also popular in connection with sports themes. Some top teams have already taken advantage of this. The NFL Tycoon experience on Robox is a game where players can virtually build their individual stadium, build teams or compete in rankings. Roblox has seen growth from 35 million to 150 million users between 2017 and 2020 and can therefore be seen as very attractive to the sports industry. Games that also enable communication with other players contribute to fulfilling users’ social and emotional needs. 


The changes in fan culture can be seen as a great opportunity for sports if they are responded to appropriately. The sports industry must not miss the change in preferences, otherwise this carelessness will eventually fall on their feet. Young people can certainly be inspired with creative and innovative marketing strategies. An understanding of their needs must be created. Generation Z strives for personal, emotional and inspiring insights that transcend athletic performance. Modern technology, such as online games, streaming services or social media, can be used to win over the young audience. Contrary to common expectations, enthusiasm for sports is also present among this target group, it is just increasingly shifting to the virtual space. It is also important to mention that it is beneficial to address international audiences and not just limit oneself to the local area. Globalization and technological change can give a decisive advantage to the future of sports.

"You can also be a fan and consume everything digitally - highlights, stories about your favorite athletes. You can buy jerseys, you can play video games. You're a fan too, but your way of interacting with sports is different from what we traditionally call fandom."

– Heidi Browning, Chief Marketing Officer of the NHL

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