College football attendance has dropped for seven straight years, and a big factor has been students who don’t go the games. If students don’t attend games while they live on or near campus, how do we expect them to attend when they graduate or even provide financial support for the athletics department as they grow older?
These Generation Z students, born from the late 1990s through the beginning of this century, consume and talk sports in fundamentally different ways than other generations. They are critically important to athletics departments as the college sports consumers of the future. This year, Gen Z will become the world’s largest generation—and will represent 40% of all American consumers.
Our colleges and universities are adjusting to the behaviors of Gen Z by creating social experiences and “Instagrammable moments” which is what Gen Z fans want. To encourage attendance for the duration of Alabama home football games when even Coach Saban has expressed attendance concerns, Alabama launched an initiative that incentivizes student support through the fourth quarter.
We can look to the pro leagues for inspiration on how to reach Gen Z. In a recent Sports Business Journal poll, the NBA ranked highest out of the major sports organizations in delivering content and experiences that Gen Z wants. The NBA was ranked number one in understanding Gen Z the best. College sports ranked third on that same list.
Generation Z will make or break college sports in the future—we must do what it takes to keep them engaged.