- Mark Beal, Rutgers University Professor and Author of Engaging Gen Z
- Paul Hennebury, GM, Sports and Entertainment, ATMECS
- Sai S. Sampathkumar, Director – Product Management, Sports, ATMECS
Prior to COVID-19, attendance at college football games across the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) fell during recent years. Empty student sections became more of a common occurrence, and just this week, the Super Bowl had its lowest rating since 1969. Generation (“Gen Z”), the demographic cohort born in 1997, now the largest generation in the world, is one of the main reasons for some of the reduced viewership, as watching live sporting events is no longer as important as it once was for previous generations.
“They swiped before they wiped,” said Mark Beal, Rutgers University Professor and author of “Engaging Gen Z,” who, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”), on Wednesday, invited to speak to its membership.
Paul Hennebury, General Manager of the Sports and Entertainment Division at ATMECS, a company which partners with organizations looking to innovate with Next Gen technologies, and Sai Sampathkumar, Director of Products Management at ATMECS, also joined Beal, and sponsored the discussion.
The key for sporting entities, including athletic departments, has become how to generate more Gen Z engagement and keep their attention, recognizing that Gen Zers also have tremendous influence on their parents’ spending decisions. The good news for athletic departments is that, according to studies, Gen Zers consider themselves fans of college football and basketball more than any professional sport. The issue, however, is capitalizing on that reality. The panel offered the following recommendations for athletic departments to try to do so.
Athletic departments must go beyond traditional channels, where Gen Zers typically consume content including YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram. The rise of short-form content, and highlights, create opportunities to deliver content catered to younger audiences. Approximately 50 percent of Gen Zers, for example, download podcasts.
Gen Zers crave unique experiences that they can engage with and share on their social platforms. Athletic departments should look to corporate America examples, like Target, which created a “Target Incubator,” sort of like a Gen Z think tank to advise the company on possible consumer engagement decisions. Because of COVID-19, many Gen Zers have also missed out on potential internship, educational, and work opportunities, so the opportunity is there for increased engagement.
In tune with the concept of organizations collaborating with Gen Zers to target younger consumers, it is not surprising that on social platforms, Gen Zers are typically most influenced by other Gen Zers – often their friends. All the more reason to target Gen Z.
In addition, diversity, equity, and inclusion is a priority for Gen Zers, who generally seek to contribute to society “purposefully,” supporting causes that they believe in.
The message is clear — the opportunity to engage the largest generation with new technologies and opportunities is there – but it is incumbent upon athletic departments to strategically act in that way. Otherwise, Gen Zers will continue to swipe away.