Youth & Sports Part II: The Rise of eSports

In part 1 of our series around youth and sports, we looked the importance of early engagement and participation to build fans from a young age.  Now, we’re exploring perceptions around leagues and the rise of eSports among gen-Z and millennials

Perceptions around Leagues

Gen-Z and millennials don’t feel negatively about sports leagues, with even less pervasive negativity than older consumers. Only ~10% say they feel negatively (bottom-2 box) for most of the leagues and associations.

Most consumers who feel negatively about leagues aren’t watching those sports anyways, with exceptions for the NFL and the Olympics.

Unsurprisingly, those with negative league perceptions generally don’t watch the sport. The two biggest exceptions are the NFL and the Olympics, keeping 35% and 37% of those with negative perceptions watching the sports, respectively.

Football ≠ dangerous: In the most invincible stages of life, younger consumers are the least likely to view football – and contact sports overall – as dangerous.

Young people are the least likely to say football and contact sports are dangerous – an attitude shared by millennials, albeit to a lesser degree.

So What for Leagues and Brands?

For most leagues, and league partners, there’s little risk of losing the segment of current viewers due to negative sentiment. Continue to build your league’s reputation and build trust, without straying too far from core values. Don’t stick your neck out and jeopardize core consumers to win back those with negative perceptions, who aren’t watching anyways.

As for brands, given overall low negative sentiment, advertising on or partnering with leagues likely won’t affect consumers’ attitudes towards your brands. Collaborating with leagues and associated parties likely won’t result in a backlash.

The Next Big Thing? eSports

eSports are undoubtedly on the rise, to the point where they’re tied with football for the youngest gen-Z segment’s favorite sport. Enthusiasm for the sports is largely driven by young gen-Z and millennial men.

eSports consumption is interactive. The social and flexible aspects make them appealing to young fans. There are countless genres and individual games that consumers can tune into at any time, and interact with other fans and players. Other than YouTube, Twitch – a highly interactive streaming platform where fans can talk about and watch video games – is a main way for fans to watch and keep up, especially gen-Z.

Some gen-Z report that eSports negatively affects their viewership of other sports, while it is more additive for millennials.

For gen-Z, eSports are having more of an impact on other sports viewership. As fans who have grown up with the emerging trend, 37%  are more likely to decrease other sports viewing. For millennials, it’s more additive, with just 29% saying eSports decrease other sports viewership.

A Big Opportunity for Leagues and Brands

A clear goal for leagues moving forward in navigating this space is to emulate the interactive aspects where appropriate. Sports must be social for future fans. Young sports consumers want connection with players and friends, as well as ability to customize and express individuality within a team context.

For brands, eSports widen the field of sponsorship and partnership opportunities. Even though they’re not at the level of other traditional sports yet, it’s undeniable that they generate heavy engagement from their core fan base, which presents an immense opportunity for brands. Don’t ignore eSports teams and players when evaluating potential sponsorship and partnership opportunities. The category may be small, but gen-Z and millennial engagement with is huge.

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