Young viewers take to streaming platforms for sport and follow more competitions than Gen X and Boomers

Millennials and Generation Z’s are following more sports than their older counterparts, but are using digital streaming platforms to fuel their obsessions, according to a new study.

Streaming and mobile experiences, including Fantasy games, are the preferred platforms of younger sports fans, who are following more competitions than the Gen X and Boomers, research from LaLiga Tech and Neilsen shows.

However, the same report confirms that sports fans are becoming more fragmented across streaming, app and gaming platforms, underlining the need for sports properties to continue broad technology development and data analysis to stay on top of changing fan behaviours and capitalise on the interest of younger groups.

The report, entitled 360 Fan Engagement: A pathway for sports to understand and engage with their online communities, has been developed by global audience specialists Nielsen along with LaLiga Tech, the technology subsidiary of LaLiga. Its findings are based on the response of over 20,000 individuals of all age groups and from 15 different countries, spanning North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The findings show there is a growing audience for sport. Respondents aged 34 or under claimed to follow an average of 6.3 sports, a marginal increase on older generations. In total, respondents listed 65 different sports as being of significant interest, revealing the clear opportunity for even niche competitions to generate a meaningful following.

While the younger audience is consuming sport at an equal or greater rate than previous generations, their methods of consumption are clearly changing. Nearly half (46%) of younger fans expressed a preference for watching sport on smartphones or tablets and are 15% more likely to seek our on-demand content. This same group is also over 50% more likely to play games while watching a match and over 41% more likely to be engaging with Fantasy games.

This interaction with digital platforms also appears to be shaping expectations around the live broadcasts, as 55% of Gen Z respondents expect to see and interact with live statistics during play.

Emerging global markets show the highest interest in sport, underlining the need for competitions to focus on engaging an international audience beyond their home market. Nigeria (74%), Indonesia (70%), Colombia (69%), Turkey (67%), India (67%) and UAE (65%) returned the highest percentage of respondents who see themselves as sports fans, while less than half of respondents in traditional sporting hotbeds such as the USA (46%), UK (44%) and France (43%) saw themselves this way.

The arrival of over the top (OTT) streaming as a mainstream platform was confirmed by the study, though not necessarily to the detriment of traditional broadcasting. In total, 41% of global sports fans are already watching at least some sporting events via OTT. However, half of this audience (47%) also puts their television on at the same time, suggesting that streaming has added additional windows to consume sport, rather than replacing existing ones. This trend for multi-screening has risen by 5% globally in the past year according to Nielsen’s data, and 10% among the Gen Z audience.

The report concludes that all sports competitions have a huge opportunity to gain broader global visibility by creating their own digital platforms, but that any such investment must be backed up by data analytics if these organisations are to achieve lasting fan engagement across a digital ecosystem.

As fans of all ages are accessing sport across a broad range of technology platforms, the report recommends that the industry focuses on how to build an understanding of their digital audience in order to improve the fan experience and increase growth opportunities.

Crucially, by analysing the data that fans are producing across digital environments, organisations are better able to understand how fan behaviour changes from one platform to another and can build personalised profiles of each fan, leading to stronger and longer-lasting relationships.

Fabio Gallo, product lead at LaLiga Tech said: “The future of sport depends on its fans so as those fans change their behaviours, it is essential that the industry responds. This report underlines trends that we have been monitoring for some time; digital audiences are being attracted to sport through gaming, streaming content or mobile apps, but their level of fandom has not changed, in fact it may even be increasing. Now is the time for sports organisations to prepare for the change by creating owned digital platforms that allow their content to be discovered by a new generation, using data analytics to create stronger fan links than we have ever seen before.”

Ramón Amich, general director at Nielsen Sports Spain added: “The changing behaviour of sports fans is one of the key findings of our study. We see that fans are already choosing to consume sports through digital platforms as an additional option to traditional formats. Fans are looking for immersive experiences and to this end we detect a clear preference for digital channels. Clubs, sports entities and federations face the challenge of improving communication and viewing experiences to retain fans. In this context, the analysis of the data generated by smart devices is an essential part of strengthening loyalty among sports fans, while allowing organisations to collect data, get to know their customers better and analyse their needs in greater detail.”

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