On March 11, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, got a message halfway through a game that took place before the NBA playoffs. Mark was informed that the NBA would be suspending the season. Like NBA fans everywhere, he was shocked. Speechless. This was a moment that NBA fans will remember for years.
The drama surrounding this story and many other lockdown-related sports cancellations are part of what led Wizer, in partnership with Wilson, to conduct a joint study that explores how fans have been dealing with the impact of COVID-19. In our study, we interviewed 1,000 people in the U.S. under the age of 35. The study, which took place in September, provided some very interesting insights into the relationship between customers, brands, and social impact.
How is the “New Normal” Impacting Sports Fans?
Our study highlighted the fact that different generations have had different kinds of reactions to the lockdown – with the younger participants (ages 16 to 24) generally demonstrating greater flexibility, quickly moving on, and finding other ways to fill the void.
This range in response is due to a variety of reasons: For one, Generation Z is less engaged in live sports. In fact, many Gen Z participants said that they generally don’t watch games live.
Second, there were more options available to Gen Z digitally. Most of their ongoing sports consumption is typically over social media – which, by definition, is much more agile as a stream than TV because it highlights different topics and interests on a constant basis.
When we look at consumption by stream, TV is just one of many channels for this generation. Having so many channels allowed Gen Z to quickly adjust their streaming method and move on – in contrast to boomers and Gen X, who tend to have a greater reliance on TV.
Should Sports Take Part in Social Movements?
In our open-ended questions, Gen Z participants expressed something else that we found interesting: They shared with us the fact that they care about social issues – and expect their favorite sports brands to take the right social stance. In fact, 82% percent of Gen Z participants saw sports as an effective channel to drive social change.
So, to reach Gen Z, sports brands should consider taking an active part in social movements. Particularly, any sports brand looking to improve its conversion rates – i.e., conversion of brand awareness to trial – will want to explore this further.
But things are not quite that simple; Gen Z is equally likely to stop buying from a brand that takes a stance on the “wrong” cause. In fact, no less than 69-77% of our participants stated that they would “stop buying from a sports brand that took a stance on a social issue I disagree with.”
Top 5 Leagues Followed by Gen Z
Study participants from Gen Z stated that their top five professional sports leagues were:
85% of our GenZ participants said they would prefer to purchase sports equipment brands that are officially licensed by a professional league. This means that, as a brand, it makes sense to back one or more of these leagues – thereby helping to drive your brand purchasing.
The Question of How Much
Study participants said that the professional leagues are doing either too little or too much around social issues. Finding the right balance seems to be a big challenge – especially during times of significant social change and stress.
Leagues, brands, and athletes are all expected to back the right social causes, but only in the right way. In addition, players are expected to act as American patriots – where patriotism is believed to be demonstrated by social involvement as well as by having respect for the American anthem and flag. This is a tough call for anyone.
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, there has been widespread criticism of companies that “talk the talk” because their words ring hollow when not backed by action. It’s really not easy to get it exactly right – and this is what prompted a recent study by EyeSee that explored this same question of the “right” way of expressing support for the BLM movement or raising awareness about COVID-19, such that it will be perceived positively by respondents.
The Shock of Sporting Event Lockdown
We know from other studies (conducted outside of the sports arena) that some brands opted to do stop, pause, think, pull back from advertising – and to do absolutely nothing during the lockdown. But this went against what the Gen Z consumers expected brands to do.
Consumers – especially those of the younger generation – were looking for a clear social voice and immediate action.
Across All Age Groups – Everyone Celebrated When the Lockdown to Ended
Despite the fact that Gen Z adapted most quickly to the end of sports event – and that the void was quickly recovered by these young fans, who moved on in their lives – sentiment was ubiquitously happy when the leagues came back. 89% are excited sports are back and 60% were stressed about not being able to watch sports. That’s something practically everyone could agree on!
Wizer’s Technology Provides Insight to Help Guide Decision-making
The insights shared here regarding Gen Z – which were based on our study – were generated using the Wizer platform, which allows decision-makers to focus on strategic insights while research operations are executed seamlessly.
By automating research processes end to end, Wizer’s platform allows quicker, more informed decision-making for agencies and brands – from project setup through data collection and on to analysis, visualization, and reports outputs.