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Changing Fandom Across Generations with Tom Smith

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Why does Generation Z consume sports and entertainment differently than prior generations? Why do some sports resonate better with Generation Z than Generation X? And why do changes in fandom across generations matter?

In this special podcast episode presented by the Emory Marketing Analytics Center, Goizueta Finance Professor Tom Smith and Marketing Professor Mike Lewis leverage insights from the 2022 Next Generation Fandom Survey to answer these questions.

Listen to the full discussion here:


Mike Lewis 0:00

Okay, welcome, everyone. Welcome to the Fanalytics Podcast with the online home of www fandom analytics. Today I'm joined by Tom Smith, a fellow faculty member at the Emory Goizueta School of Business. How are you, Tom?

Tom Smith 0:17

Well, Mike, thanks for having me on. I haven't I haven't done one of these things in a while. We were doing them every week for a bit. I know it's been a second. So thanks for having me. Yeah, the disruption of COVID Right. And everything kind of changed. We used to do them together in the in the office sitting around, sitting around the table, and then we moved online and things got.

Mike Lewis 0:37

Well, it's good to have you back, Tom.

Tom Smith 0:39

Thank you, sir. I appreciate it, buddy.

Mike Lewis 0:40

Okay, so today's topic. And I think this one is very much in the realm of one of the missions of this whole thing, one of the missions of the marketing analytics center, this idea of continuing education, right, so So the goal of the podcast occasionally is to put content out there but you know, high level academic rigorous content for our Goizueta alumni community and for you know, anyone else that wants to jump in. And so today's topic is, today's topic is related to this next generation phantom survey that my analytics center or sorry, Emory's Analytics Center has been running for the last couple of years. And our focus today is going to be on. And I think this is the one that gets a lot of people excited that there's a lot of results for the survey, but the one that really seems to resonate with people, and the thing that inspired the name was how is fandom changing? across the generations? Now, before I get to the first picture, Tom, we're about the same era. So

Tom Smith 1:46

yeah, I think we graduated high school within a year of each other.

Mike Lewis 1:49

We're about the same era. And so we've been both in in higher ed, and it's died down now. But what do you think there was a good 15 years there with a lot of angst about? Oh, no, now our students are millennials, and we don't know what to do with them.

Tom Smith 2:05

There was yes, there was there was a moment that was maybe five or six years, there were people were saying, Oh, my gosh, these guys learn differently, or they pay attention differently, or they have different interests, and how are we going to interact with these students? Or how are we going to direct them or try to corral them or what have you? And I don't hate that. Like, I think it's important for us to be aware of what our students how they behave, what they're interested in. If their behavior if they're paying attention to something, what they read what they don't read, you know, because for a lot of academics, the important connections are stories like, Oh, here's an example, oh, here's a case that I can draw from. And if they don't have that common context, it becomes really difficult to teach difficult subjects. So I don't I don't personally, I don't hate the fact that people say, Okay, now we've got a different group of students, and they learn a different way, or they have different interests. I find that fascinating.

Mike Lewis 3:02

Well, okay, so my take on it is that there's, like, the world is always evolving, technology is evolving, demographics are evolving. And so there's going to be in and as part of that the culture evolves. And so students are students and companies, customers are going to continue to evolve as well. I'm particularly a fan of like, this idea that there's a break point. And suddenly, well, if you were born in this year, you are this generation. And if you were born the year after well, you're you know, you're a millennial versus Gen Z or Gen X. And when I'm talking about if I go tongue in cheek, part of that is just because it seems like there's almost always an industry that revolves around this. Well, how do you market to how do you attract millennials? And I think we're seeing the same thing with Generation Z. And in particular, I think this is an issue for the world of sports. And I look at it here. I don't know if this is my take so much as the convention or the conventional wisdom, it all starts to come together, right? Gen Z, they grew up where their entertainment was delivered via like the smartphones, right? So it was something they held in their hand. It's not something where it's not a scenario where people were gathering in the living room or the family room or having a big TV set to watch the game. Right. And whenever it's. I think demographics come into this in an important way simply because, you know, if 20% of America was born in another country, well then guess what? They didn't grow up rooting for the Chicago Cubs or the Cincinnati Reds or the Pittsburgh Pirates, right? They grew up with, you know, the parents in those households are watching soccer. Right. So there's

Tom Smith 4:47

Yeah, I actually I actually agree with your take on that. And that is, I think it's a little bit too contrived sometimes people to say and I don't know why you were born between this date and that so now you're this as if as ifSome kid gets a memo when on their 13th birthday that says, Oh, your generation this, you have to behave like this. They're like, Wait, really like I'm kind of x, I sort of behave like my sister who was born three years ahead of me. And not like my brother who was born two years behind. So it's I don't think it's as is is easy. Well, it's, it's super easy to just say, well, here's a date. And then this this date backwards is this Jen and this date forward? Is that Jen, but I don't think that people really, like they don't self populate into their, you know, patterns like, Oh, I'm supposed to behave like this. So I better start doing it. Yeah, that's a little bit controlling.

Mike Lewis 5:39

I mean, look, I can remember back to the 90s. When, you know, our generation, Gen X was coming of age, right. And there was, I think they were Gen X is a bunch of slackers, right? They're the product of these divorced broken households. They're slackers. They're not motivated. They're not gonna be hard workers. And then we had the millennials, and well, they all had participation trophies. And, you know, they got participation trophies, for just showing up to play sports. So they don't have that competitive edge. They're much they grew up on the internet as well. So they're digitally. they're digital natives. Right? And so it's this broad, these broad kind of stereotypes. And like I said, I think there's, there's probably an evolution of this, I and I think you're gonna agree with me, because you tend to live in this world of sports. I think sports are probably a pretty good indicator, almost like a temperature check of where new generations are at simply because and I'll say this, and you can tell me I'm full of it, or you can agree with me.

Sports are about cultural engagement, right? In their cultural engagement in a very specific and important way. It's cultural engagement with the local environment, the local city for the most part, right? We both grew up in Chicago. In Chicago, Tom, is everyone Bears fans.

Tom Smith 7:02

Still, yeah, there's still Bears fans, everyone bulls fans

Mike Lewis 7:04

in our generation.

Tom Smith 7:07

Oh, our generation 100% We're all Bulls fan.

Mike Lewis 7:10

Everyone, Cubs fans. And there's

Tom Smith 7:13

a couple of goofballs out there who like the White Sox. Just joking, of course. But yeah, I mean, but they like the Sox at the end. But there's but they're definitely not rooting for Cleveland. And they're definitely not rooting for St. Louis.

Mike Lewis 7:24

No. And there's one thing there's one that insists on wearing a Packers jersey to school, right. But it's, you know, it's how you get picked on. It's how you are engaged in the world. Right? And it's, it's a collective act in a lot of ways. Okay, so Tom, I'm gonna throw up a slide here. So, you know, for listeners of the podcast, we're very much in the process of trying to add some video elements. So you can find this on YouTube and see the slides but we'll talk through some of the numbers. I'll actually let sort of let Tom identify what numbers he wants to talk through the most. Okay, Tom being the guest can drive a lot of thank you. Okay, so, the slide I drew up is titled sports fans and sports apathetic by generation. So this comes from the survey we've been running for the last couple of years. Basically, the way what this slide is summarizing is the percentage of each generation that either indicates their sports fans. So this is a simple seven point scale. So if a person indicated a six or a seven, they're a sports fan. If they indicated a one or two, we call them sports athletics. Okay, so I'm not even going to go out there and say they hate sports sports, but I think if you, you know, sports, apathy and sports, hatred, probably, you know, pretty similar concepts. Okay, so looking at this, Tom, anything? Well, I will, let's just sort of go for it. So Generation Z, the first group highlighted here 33% sports fans 28% sports apophatic Does that surprise you?

Tom Smith 8:57

Not even a little bit. Okay. And I mean, what's, what doesn't surprise me is I'm looking at Gen X's, and there's 43% fans and 20%. apathetic and then it's then you move over to Gen z's, a lot fewer fans and a lot more people who sort of why do

Mike Lewis 9:14

you think it goes to sort of the parents and then their children?

Tom Smith 9:18

Yeah, except just, I mean, you started this by saying, you know, think about us when we grew up, right. And so I was, well, let

Mike Lewis 9:29

me I was super listening on audio. Okay, so, Generation Z is very close. 33% fans 28% apathetic. It starts to ramp up. As we get to the middle generations, millennials aren't 40% fans just 19% millennial, so a two to one ratio, Gen X 43%, faster, 20%. apathetic. So again, a 2.1 a two to one ratio, roughly. And then as you get to Baby Boomers, things actually start to dip down a little bit. had on the sports from with 37% fans, and 25%. apathetic. And so you looking at the data quickly, there's definitely a peak and fandom in the millennial in the Generation X groups. Fandom legs, really dramatic is very poor in some ways in Gen Z. And the results are mixed at best in the baby boomers.

Tom Smith 10:24

Yeah, so I mean, I think this makes sense. And so when were these data collected,

Mike Lewis 10:29

they were collected right at the beginning of the summer, so they're a little bit not gonna apologize for that takes me a while to get to all the processing and writing and graph generation.

Tom Smith 10:43

And so if you don't mind, can, I may ask you a couple little clarifying questions about the data, because I want to make sure that I'm understanding this correctly. If that's if that's okay. So I'm thinking about Gen z's. And so I don't know if the questions. So let's suppose that if you ask the question, like, do you support a team, right? And they say no. But do you recognize a player? So it might be someone who says, Oh, I'm a I like LeBron James. I don't ever actually watch him play basketball. But I mean, he seems like a really good guy, or Oh, I like following Charles Barkley on Twitter. I mean, I don't watch basketball. But Charles Barkley has such an interesting cat. Would that person if they say, I know Charles Barkley is or I know who LeBron James is, but I don't watch basketball. Would they be? Okay, you you've identified a fan of basketball star, but you're apathetic towards a team or you're not really a fan? How would you? How would you classify that person?

Mike Lewis 11:38

Well, I'm, you raised a good, you raised some tough issues in a way, right? It's this issue of are you a fan? I mean, you can get it that in a lot of different ways, right? I mean, do you watch? Do you watch the games on TV? Do you follow it on social media? My thinking is what you do with this type of surveys, you start at the highest level? And so almost the very, you know, very near the top was was the question of, Do you consider yourself a fan of sports? This rough six, you know, seven point scale? And then it drills down? Are you a fan of any specific athletes? And then it even drills down into specific behaviors? And well, why do you go to the games? You know, do you collect memorabilia? Do you watch the games on TV? So it's, and this is a fairly standard, I think surveying technique where you start with kind of this high level, almost emotional response. So right out the gate. Hey, Tom, are you a sports fan? You know, I get that gut reaction. And then I drill down because, you know, I don't want to ask you the detailed questions of, are you? Are you more interested in teams that win? Are you more interested in teams with uniforms? Because like, I don't want to prime that stuff. Right? I don't want to get you really thinking in depth. I want that gut reaction. So what we're looking here is that just that gut reaction, which I think is appropriate, because it's almost saying to these different generational cohorts, sports, what do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

Tom Smith 13:10

Right. I'm just sort of thinking about how some how my kids might respond to this. My middle son, or my, my younger son is just a freshman in college now. So he wouldn't I don't think he would consider himself a sports fan. But he does, like there are some athletes that he says, Oh, that guy's kind of cool. Or oh, yeah, I really like that athlete, just like Tony Hawk, or whether it's like LeBron James. But I've never seen him sit down in lectures, watch a basketball game. But he knows who these people are. And you might say, oh, yeah, I found that guy on Twitter, I look at this guy's Instagram or whatever else. And so I'm just like, so he probably would go into the middle scale. Like, he'd be on the if seven is high, and one is low, he might identify with an athlete that say, he's not much of a fan at all, and be down in the two or three range, what have you. And I think that that makes sense. And I think that then if I'm looking at these numbers, and thinking about how that survey is probably put together, I'm saying, yeah, there's proof. Clearly, I think younger generations find themselves let's say focusing on a particular player, or but maybe not even what that player is doing on the court or on the field, like something else that that player is involved in. And so then it'd be like, okay, so you're not it's not about the sport of this player. It's about the personality or some other aspect of them that you find to be appealing. And I would suspect that a lot of them say yeah, like and I'm not really big into that team, but that guy is great or and I like watching some of his videos on YouTube

Mike Lewis 14:48

out there and see how you react to it. Is this the end? I'm gonna make up a term. The Nikah zation of sports where it In this comes Top of Mind with the recent departure of Serena Williams from competitive attendance, tennis. And I'll tell you what got me thinking along these lines. So Serena Williams is an absolute superstar, right? She's a household name. She has big, big money endorsements, Subway, Nike. I think there's one with Direct TV where they merged her with Wonder Woman. Right? If you actually in you know, the reason US Open might be, might be an anomaly in terms of tennis ratings, but if you look at tennis ratings, they're terrible. Right? And so the way you were describing it got me your your kids reactions or relationship with sports got me thinking that it might be similar. Their their relationship to athletes might be similar to a lot of folks relationships with Serena Williams, where everyone knows who she is, they may even consider her one of the greatest athletes of all time, or the greatest female tennis player of all time. But it's not clear to me that they've ever seen her play a tennis match. And if they have, it's really just via some highlights on ESPN. And so is that is that the scenario? And if so, why? Why is some of these folks such big stars? Well, because in some ways Nikes making a star now.

Tom Smith 16:26

Right? And I think it might also so one is I like that idea this Nike and position sports. Compete droid your idea of

Mike Lewis 16:36

competing versions now you added a syllable? much

Tom Smith 16:39

did I? I'm always adding syllables. So So I think it could be that and it could also be sort of the the digestible nature, whether it's Instagram or YouTube or pick your poison with respect to how you view content. But yeah, so just thinking about my grandkid who likes Trey young right out of the box. So but I don't think he would ever watch like a full basketball game. But I definitely have seen him on YouTube, like watching like Trey young moves. And then he's like, I'll just see this move by Trey young and like, I think it was in the middle of a game. Like I think I watched the game and it was in the middle of the game. He's like, Oh, you watch the whole game. Like I just watching these moves. It's like, wow, what that's you Oh, you you, you just want a six minutes of like, Trey young leaving somebody in the dust right and moving having some amazing or, and then but then that's that's your content is like six minutes of Trey young. And then you can but you haven't watched the full blocks minutes. It's insane. Six seconds. The hell I mean, if you just take stick a bunch of his moves, add them all up, like one after the other after the other after the other? Who won the game? Don't think stuff like he wouldn't, because he didn't watch the game. He watches the he's watching the video of trick of you know, whatever, Trey Young's best moves of 2021 or something top 10 moves,

Mike Lewis 18:08

right doesn't even care who wins the games.

Tom Smith 18:12

God he's gonna listen to this later. He probably does. Like he's gonna say of course, Bobby, of course, want the hearts to win. But he's not. He's not living on it. And he's not. It's isn't this doesn't make or break him. Now for reference, and I couldn't be I could be just like totally old school or maybe. I mean, so I remember listening to the Cubs on the radio on the bus on the way home from school because they would start playing at like, one o'clock in the afternoon. And so you get on the bus after school and junior high or high school. And I could like I literally have old transistor radio, turn it on, listen to the end of the game. And, and or listen to the Bears game on the radio at night because my dad would be like, You got to go to bed. And so I'd be like, the bears would be playing I'd be in bed like listening to the game. And I couldn't fall asleep until they missed the last field goal or whatever else. And then the next morning, you're at school and it's like, oh man, just you that came like he missed the field goal. That was a huge part of every Monday morning was talking about the Bears game at school. Like everybody knew how many yards Walter Payton had the day before everybody was talking about the game, whether they beat Green Bay or not. That is just not happening right now. And that data, you know, I think it shows that shows. It's just people are not saying like, you know, you see the Hawks won. This is like oh, wow, did you see that Hakuna homerun. Like just the home like all they care about is the home run. That's it just that home run. They lost like 14 to one and you see that home run like that was amazing. That's it. It's just watch that home run.

Mike Lewis 19:50

Yeah, there's that statement or that those set of that set of statements, you know, peak some questions for me and some ops ovations. I think you're right. That if you go back to, you know, being a kid in the 70s, in the 80s, and I suspect even the 90s. A sports were really kind of almost like, that was almost like the backbone to the boys conversations, wasn't it? I mean, that was that was almost like the foundation that that was. That was the starting point. It was all about sports. And it was all about how the local teams had performed. And I think, you know, everything I see suggests that that is almost completely gone, that it's no longer that foundational element of young men is culture. That's fair.

Tom Smith 20:41

I mean, I think that's a good observation, right? And it's, I mean, I'm just thinking about in Chicago, because it gets cold and it gets nasty. But it from October to January, that is you, your whole week is like I want to have the bears are going to do. You're paying attention that you watch the game on Sunday. You talk about it on Monday, and then you're you're reading the paper and you're getting ready for the next week, and what have you. And so it's all about football, it's all about the bears for four months, like that's it. And then you start talking about like, okay, the weather is going to clear up, you know, like, oh, I can wait for the Masters, right? And then it's like, okay, then you get opening day like now we're going to have the Cubs, the Cubs is going to finally win this year. And so then you you're starting to talk about other things, but it's always revolves around. You know, how the bow the bulls doing is Michael Jordan doing right? And then oh, how the Cubs doing? They have a good chance this year. And then and then it then the summer happens, everybody's swimming and then you go back into the fall and you start paying attention to football again. And in Chicago, it would be Oh, how's the alumni doing right during during the winter or the college ball college basketball? So how's the DePaul blue demons playing? How's your vi playing? Right? As you vote, you're gonna go are the demons gonna go to the to the March Madness. I mean, it's very much revolved around. Now we're going to concentrate in this. Now we're concentrating on the Paul the blue demons. Now we're concentrating on the Cubs. Now it's back to the bears. Right? It's it was very seasonal. You could I mean, no, it

Mike Lewis 22:15

was. It was almost it was it was sort of it was our natural, like calendar. Right? It was, yeah, it was our natural program.

Tom Smith 22:25

That's right. Our circadian rhythms were set to him or whatever the team,

Mike Lewis 22:30

everyone wasn't into it. But I think everyone acted like they were into it. So it's almost like it. You know, if people asked you if you're a sports fan, it would have been almost a default answer if yes. And I don't think that's true anymore. And so another observation from this data is perhaps sports fandom is not automatic anymore, that these teams, it used to be something that was almost given to them, because kids were young boys in particular, were part of the local community. And so you are going to root for the local teams. I don't know that's true. And when we were talking earlier about, you know, the kids now follow athletes rather than teams. I suspect that's a big part of it is driven by the technology that we I mean, you talked about your grandson being a Trey young fan growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta. If we hadn't had this conversation, I would have guessed he was a LeBron James fan more than a Trey young fan. So one of the questions always asked me was, Are there more LeBron James fans in Chicago? I sorry, in Atlanta than Trey young fans? I think the answer probably yes. Probably.

Tom Smith 23:33

Probably. Yeah. But he so I think he also follows the box. He said he envisions himself as a future basketball star. I mean, he's very good. I mean, he's 10. And he's, he's a very good player. So but he's following. He's following the Bucs. He's following their superstar. I'm gonna butcher the guy's name and so she incompetency so it's gonna make fun.

Mike Lewis 24:02

It's the curse of the professor. And it's a challenge that gets worse every year. Now you look at into your, your class of students from all corners of the globe. And it's like,

Tom Smith 24:12

good. So, I mean, he's he follows the box. He's following LeBron. He's following Trey young he's found I mean, there's so there are a handful of athletes that he envisions himself like, Oh, I like this guy's move or I like this guy's, you know, post up or whatever else. And it the technology makes it so easy for him to see highlights from the box to see highlights from the Lakers to see highlights from the Mavericks. And then to watch like, you know, two minutes of Trey young highlights, like that's it like and he doesn't ever actually get to watch a game. You think about our generation. It's what was on Sunday night, Sunday afternoon. Where was the bears? Like that's it but now with your NFL red zone or whatever else, but you can watch any game you want. Are you just are you just like streaming through the highlights like you're watching a game and then they'll just cut in because someone scores a touchdown. Same thing with with baseball, like, here I am. I'm in Atlanta, and I still watch my cubs on whatever it is MLB TV. And so I don't have to be. I don't have to be a Braves fan. Like I go to the Braves games. But I mean, I don't have to be a Braves fan. Because I can watch my cubs on, you know, online, like every night. And I mean, I still do, it's a tough year for us. But I still do, but my kids not so much like they're not logging on listening to a full game. Like that's not gonna know for them.

Mike Lewis 25:37

Okay, so with that as a segue starting to talk about different sports. The next slide is a sport by sport survey at the same fan versus Well, I'm just giving you the fandom rates here just to keep the chart a little bit cleaner. So the chart is basically showing for each sport football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, eSports Summer Olympics and Winter Olympics, the percentage of each of the four generations that consider themselves or indicate that they're fans of that sport. Okay, so this is a tough visual for an audio predominantly audio format. But Tom is looking at these, I think what we do is we sort of go mate, perhaps sport by sport. And we don't have to hit all of them, as you just sort of take this in anything look interesting to you. And then I'll sort of dig into that specific sport. I mean, like, right off the bat, I'll start with the first one. Football is the king of American sports. I don't think that's any surprise to anyone. You know, the Superbowl draws about 100 million viewers every year, the NBA championships and the MLB. World Series draw, you know, 1012 15 million depending on who's playing the NFL is the closest thing we have to a mass media to a mass market product. If you look at the rates of fandom across the different generations, is the lowest with Generation Z at less than 35%. It starts to pick up with millennials at 41% Gen X at 44%. And then tends to peak moved down a little bit with the baby boomers at slightly less than 40%. So the same general pattern is we had for overall fandom, so I mean, that's the base, maybe we can compare the different sports to where footballs at

Tom Smith 27:32

and to be clear just for people who are listening. So there are more fans of football than there are of anything else regardless of what generation so regardless of what generation, so Gen Z's read more football fans than any other sport, same thing with millennials, exes and baby boomers, and for for so it is the king. What, what strikes me here is I was looking at like eSports and baseball for Gen z's. What so they're not identical, but they're pretty darn close. Right? So you think like, wow, so So baseball is like an old person's gaming or old generations game like so. Boomers still love baseball, I mean, relatively, and relative to all the other generations as well. But Gen Zers. Like baseball and eSports. I mean, eSports is catching up. It's a little bit behind baseball. But I mean, it makes sense. Like you said, why would I want to show little action over three hours, where I can sit down and watch somebody play, you know, Minecraft or whatever I like, you know, or Mario, you know, Super Smash Bros. and like, oh, there's a competition. I can watch them. It's very excited. There's lots of stuff going on lots of audio visual, you know, excitement. And so that's that. That's a fine of a fun result. I like that finding. So

Mike Lewis 28:52

baseball, the percentage of Gen Z fans of baseball is about 21%. And as the generational cohorts age, it goes up. So it peaks out at about 26 27% for the baby boomers. Baseball is similar, in some ways to some of the Olympic Games. But this characterization of baseball's and old person's game does seem to be what the data, what the deep data shows. Some of the other ones, you know, basketball, you mentioned eSports soccer have the reverse pattern, right? That the fandom rates are highest for the for the younger consumers, and they drop as you get as you get to older levels. I mean, there's no surprise that baby boomers don't like eSports right. I mean, it's a foreign concept.

Tom Smith 29:46

Yeah. Which is great.

Mike Lewis 29:47

I mean, but I was good. I mean, I don't it's probably not gonna surprise you, but the patterns with basketball and baseball. Does that surprise you at all? Or is it just like yeah, that's about that's the conventional way. As from that's just what it is. Baseball is kind of dying in basketball strong with the youth.

Tom Smith 30:05

Yeah. So that's I mean, that's what these data is showing is that is that the group, the Gen Xers that have the least amount of fandom towards baseball Gen Z's with baby boomers having the highest amount of fandom. And then basketball is 100%. reverse that. And I think that that has to do with, I believe, how the NBA has positioned their sport. And that is how they promote it, who's, who are the stars, maybe the ability for the stars to continue to move around and find and create these super teams. It's just, it's not as easy to do that in baseball, you know, with a with a 14 person roster. And the fact that you can have, let's say, three or four people who jump into a team and all of a sudden make a team very successful. You can do that with basketball, right? And we've seen that happen with basketball, it's not very easy to do that with baseball, where you can say like, oh, let's just have the whole infield like decide they're gonna go play for the, you know, the Minnesota Twins. Like that's just not going to happen. And so maybe that's doesn't make the game very exciting. But it makes baseball really exciting. It's like, oh, these five superstars three of them are gonna get together and they're gonna go to Miami, and then they're gonna win a bunch of championships. And then they do it. And they go, Wow, that was exciting. Again, not exciting for me. But super exciting for, for some Gen Z.

Mike Lewis 31:28

Yeah. I think there's I mean, again, I, I don't think there's really one. I don't think it's a magic bullet that explains everything. I think you're right. For whatever reason. You know, basketball has always played this game right up the star system. I mean, we can go back to magic and bird right there the face of the league to my gold to Kobe, to LeBron to, well, who's next might be a little bit of a dilemma for the NBA. But, you know, the and I think that goes along with what you're talking about with your your, your, your, your kid and your grandchild that they are, you know, this is almost more personality driven than team driven. Right? And maybe, you know, that's one of my thoughts that might be driving some of this. But beyond that, right? The NBA is the pop culture League, right? I mean, that's where you're gonna see the musicians hanging out, you know, you know, that in it. I mean, they're almost more built, I think for the social media moment, then this beautiful game played on a manicured lawn, if the slow days of summer. Here's my question to you. Is this always going to be the situation? Will the NBA always do better with the younger people? And but as they age, will those people stick with the NBA? Or will they migrate to the beautiful outdoor drinking beers in the sun? Or is this a permanent shift? And baseball is the third sport basketball is the second sport going forward?

Tom Smith 33:05

Yeah, I think you're onto something. I don't know if that's what you wanted me to say. But I think you're onto something, I think, the way that basketball has positioned,

Mike Lewis 33:13

Tom, I gave you two options. I hope I'm right.

Tom Smith 33:17

So so I think basketball has positioned itself and as you mentioned, has positioned itself for decades, with respect to being the sport of a star like okay, this is the magic show. This is the Michael show. This is magic Michael show this is you know, Michael Shaq, you know, whatever it is, it's this is a show of these superstar athletes. And because the, you know, there's only five men on the court from each side, you can have a dominant player who can take over the game, like in a second. She's just like, Oh, my God, I just scored 20 points in a row. That's not going to happen in baseball. And even with these amazing stars, each player doesn't have as much individual impact, right. So there's a natural tendency, if you need immediate gratification, that basketball can give you that and it's positioned for that the way the sport is played, is set for that. The league understands that the league plays to those tendencies very well. The league understands that it has to cultivate fans. I think it does it pretty well. And I think it's also funny what you what you mentioned about the rock stars showing up at the basketball arena.

Mike Lewis 34:33

I don't think you're showing your generation. Again, no rock star,

Tom Smith 34:38

rap, rap style, whatever rap stars, whatever they show and I so, you know one of our one of our colleagues, one of our friends at former Emory, Emory alum, and one of the former owners of the Atlanta Hawks, was in a lecture a couple of years ago with my class and he said, You know, it's really funny hanging out with these NBA players. He's like all the NBA players all want to be rap stars. And the rap stars all want to be NBA players. So it's the rap the rap guys are hanging out literally in row one on the side of the court. And afterwards, they all they want to switch sides. They're like, Oh my God, I wish I was a baller. And they're like, Oh my God, I wish I wish I was like, you know, you know, throwing throwing up dollars on on the strip, like, it's, they want to be each other. And there's just so much natural tendency for them to want to be each other that it just creates this amazing, you know, atmosphere where it's like, oh, that's where the energy well, then here. Well, if you're 25 year old kid like you that there's so much energy there, you can't help but be attracted to that whole vibe.

Mike Lewis 35:44

And that's fine. Why does that vibe no longer exist? In major league baseball. I mean, look, I'm old enough to remember and I've never been a particularly hardcore baseball fan. But I might argue that if you went back in time to like the late 70s, early 80s Someone like Reggie Jackson was the biggest sports star in America.

Tom Smith 36:05

Okay, and Bo Jackson and both,

Mike Lewis 36:08

but, you know, okay, now who's the biggest baseball star in America now?

Tom Smith 36:14

Trout, sho Tay Otani. Shohei. Otani. Right. Okay. Well, I mean, hakuna, Jr. Right? I mean, it's probably trout. Okay. So,

Mike Lewis 36:25

LeBron James de gras hunt LeBron James 131 million Instagram followers.

Tom Smith 36:36

Right, trout is like the best baseball player in the league. Right? So how many how many Instagram followers does he have?

Mike Lewis 36:45

I don't know. I'm, you know, it's always it's always tough to do this live given limp. chip in, you know, 55 year old Instagram skills. I mean, you know, it doesn't even, you know, it doesn't even like auto fill. Okay. Now, I think I've done this in the past, and I got news for you. It's not 141 or 150 million folks. Know, and I'll be fine. I will always ask the question of folks that, you know, everyone in America knows who LeBron James is. Everyone in America knows who Serena Williams is? I don't think everyone in America and I don't think 20% of the people in America know who Mike Trout is.

Tom Smith 37:26

Okay. You're right. Unless you're a baseball fan. You know, how

Mike Lewis 37:30

did baseball lose that from being America's game? And again, I bring up Reggie Jackson, because he had the glamour of the modern athlete, right, he had that kind of impact across the culture. I mean, now I'm like, trying to think back who was the last major league player that had that kind of star power, that transcend. And maybe this is the key word that transcended baseball, to be a pop cultural figure.

Tom Smith 38:02

So I don't want to I mean, I was about to say Barry Bonds are seeing

Mike Lewis 38:06

probably is very bad for some iffy reasons, right.

Tom Smith 38:11

But right, I mean, there was a moment where everybody was sort of on on the edge like seeing what is Barry Bonds going to break this record? Right. I mean, this summer

Mike Lewis 38:22

of what you think you're right, that that's the that homerun era of Sosa versus McGuire and then bonds probably was the end of baseball being a baseball players transcending baseball to become cultural icons.

Tom Smith 38:40

Right, and it's so I don't think you can point to that and say, well, it was this than this than this than this, which is different than what you did with basketball when you said, okay, it was bird and, and Magic Johnson and then Michael Jordan, and then you know, you've got Dennis Rodman, and then you've got Shaq, and then you've got Kobe, and then you've got LeBron, and then you've got Dwayne, Wade, and you've got I mean, you can there's dots, you can connect those dots in basketball. You cannot connect those dots. In baseball, you're like, Okay, Sammy Sosa Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds. Pause. Big, big pause. Right. But even with football, I think it's, it's, it's, I mean, because the, you know, the season is short, and it's, it's very concentrated. People can focus on the team and they can focus on the quarterback or running back or wide receiver, and then they focus on just that player. It's I think it's also a lot easier to just say like, oh, I I'm just gonna focus on Tom Brady or Gronk or, you know, or this, this wide receiver that player I'm gonna focusing on the center, right.

Mike Lewis 39:52

Sorry, this is a pet topic causes me to get on the soapbox, Tom. It does and I'll tell you why. Over the last, and there's this is a deep story involves some analytics and a metric I've created called QB wins, I maintain that the quarterback position in the NFL is frankly, like the key to American sports. That in some ways, if you really start to dig deep and not really not even that deep, that you're going to come up with really compelling narratives, in, you know, like 90% of the teams. And I think that's actually what makes that league that league go I you know, it's kind of funny with the way that salaries have exploded. I'm actually of the opinion that the NFL quarterback tends to be, well, some of them are grossly overpaid, but a lot of them are tremendously underpaid. Or their actual impact on the, my belief has come to be, and again, I won't bore people with how much of this I've been investigating, but the levels of talent across NFL teams is far more similar than people let on than people believe. And so the quarterbacks really are making a an enormous marginal difference. But I'll tell you in the run up to this, I mean, you give me give me a division in any NFL division, and I'll sort of give you my spiel on each quarterback just for fun.

Tom Smith 41:23

Oh, you want me to do that right now? Okay, all right. Okay. All right. So Well, I mean, I'm NFC Central, kind

Mike Lewis 41:30

of NFC North.

Tom Smith 41:33

MC, nor is NFC North is so is that a senior is where the I think the bears were NFC central are

Mike Lewis 41:38

gone. Most north, south and west. Okay, so the NFC Central? Well, you know, the Packers are gonna win that division. Rogers Aaron Rodgers is actually statistically the best quarterback in the league for the last three, four years, passing mahomes. And so he's actually you know, with all of his contract troubles, he's coming back to play for legacy, right? He's actually gonna win the Super Bowl or to to cement his legacy as the second player. The next team in that division, Kirk Cousins for the Minnesota Vikings cousins. storyline is great because he was the first guy to almost have this NBA like move to have player empowerment right when he got that massive guaranteed money deal. He's also taken a ton of heat because he's only a slightly above average quarterback. Justin fields for the bears is perhaps the most hype quarterback that we've seen ever because you will fields even go back to he was on a Netflix show. I don't know if you're aware of that he was previewed at a Netflix show in high school, then went to the University of Georgia lost out on a battle to Jake Fromm transferred with some relative ugliness with the Georgia community. Got to Ohio State then became the poster boy for let us play during COVID. He dropped dramatically in in the pre draft in the run up to the draft with relentless media hype got to the got to the bears performed so poorly. He got his coach fired. He's like my favorite player to watch. I can hardly wait to see what he does this year. And then you've got golf, sort of almost being exiled to no man's land in the NFL, a very solid quarterback. What can he do? You know, as an above average quarterback, what can you do for the Detroit Lions? And I'm telling you

Tom Smith 43:35

love that guy. I love that. I think he's a great I'm telling you. It's like

Mike Lewis 43:38

I'm almost like, fixated on this idea that I can explain the entire NFL or 90% of the NFL just by following the stories of the quarterbacks.

Tom Smith 43:47

I believe we have to have lunch more often because I would just I would like to go through like the entire the entire NFL. It's so yes, you're very good at this. And you've and you've proved an excellent point, which is your fandom still shows that football is the king. So people are attracted to these, these these players. And if you can tell a story, then they're gonna they can tell the story to like they can like the average fan can say maybe that's not a good analogy. Because I mean, this is what you do. But the average fan can point to this and say like, okay, golf is, you know, he was underused. And he was under appreciated in LA and so you know, or, I mean, the fourth charges became the chargers, right? The LA. I mean, he was he was so he was he was under appreciated over here. And so and then and then now he's over here, and we're gonna build a team around this guy. Yeah, the average fan can tell that narrative, which is, which is important. Like, that's what the NFL needs to be able to have a story

Mike Lewis 44:50

and I mean, maybe that's the thing, right? That's what every league needs is those stories, right? There's got to be compelling. And so you know, fandom probably Built on that community thing, right? So as you're sitting there in grade school, and everyone is rooting for the Cubs or the bears, that community is part of it, but having those compelling narratives. And look, I mean, to me, that's why the NFL is still king. Because no one does that better than the NFL. The NFL it look, I mean, as I follow this closely, the NFL has the narratives. They've got the, they've got the community, they've got the gambling. I mean, think about the impact of fantasy football, where folks are crazy about this stuff. And I think the big thing the NFL still has is, they're the closest thing to an event, right? Lord only knows when the next baseball game is or the next basketball game is right. But those football games Sunday afternoon, right.

Tom Smith 45:51

Right now I want to I want to I like your parlor trick. Although I want you to expand I want you to say like, Okay, tell me about the front hockey line of each team. In the smite division. You're like, Wait, there is no more smiley division. This is despite went out in 1987 or something. So

Mike Lewis 46:12

yeah, I think the trick can only be done with the NFL, right?

Tom Smith 46:17

Yeah, that's a good part of the trick. It's a great party trick. I'm gonna have you come over for a party. I'm just gonna say like, next up. Mike Lewis.

Mike Lewis 46:23

I'll give you one of the craziest ones. Think about the beauty of the Carolina Panthers. Who had Sam Do you know that they traded for Sam darnold. And so Sam Donald doesn't work out. Then they got in they signed Baker Mayfield. So I think those guys both came out in the 2018 draft. So the Panthers have the number one pick in the 2018 draft and the number three pick in the 2018 draft. And neither of these guys is actually believed to be a legitimate NFL quarterback at this point. Baker Mayfield on top of it has like probably the highest ratio of advertising, you know, of spokesperson dollars to wins in the NFL over the last 510 years. I mean, again, the stories are incredible. I mean, and again, the NFL look, the NFL always wins.

Tom Smith 47:12

Yeah, it does. It does. You know, I'm looking at these numbers here. And it's, I am like, I'm shocked that I shouldn't be but I'm shocked like soccer is more popular more fandoms for soccer than there is for hockey in Gen z's. There's more fans for Esports than there is for hockey in Gen z's. And it's pretty close for millennials to like eSports soccer and hockey. And like they just they're like, and I'd rather watch somebody play Minecraft, then, you know, then watch the Detroit Redwings. I think it's just fascinating that people are there, they're probably motivated by an experience and what does that experience provide for them? And also, I am sure that there are economies that are involved agglomeration economies are we call it a club goods, where you say like, okay, so how many Gen Z's are going to get together and be like, Oh, just see the renderings last night. Whereas they can all like, go online on Twitch and watch some some, you know, some eSports fan, like, you know, get their vibe on and see like, oh, we can only watch this guy for a couple hours. Right? And, and, you know, we can subscribe and add subs and whatever else and like, then, you know, we can all be part of his show like and that's not going to happen in hockey. I think there's just the fan experience for some of these sports lends itself to more fans instant gratification accessibility, being able to talk about it amongst themselves being able to gain that utility because they're each talking about it. So I think that's driving a lot.

Mike Lewis 48:45

I mean, some of it you mentioned a bunch of stuff hockey in I mean, that exercise we went through in terms of baseball, and I asked you who's the Yeah, you're, I mean, you're not a marketing guy. You're an economist guy. But there's this classic technique in marketing research and let's let's sort of play a game here. Tom name a name a soft drink. Coke, okay. And that's what I want that initial reaction, right? And the answer is always Coca Cola name a fast food restaurant. Okay, again, sort of this idea of Top of Mind name a hockey player. Mary, I thought you were gonna say Grexit. Right. Okay, know that that's okay. Name an NFL player. Okay, he's still playing. Right. And I think that's, that's kind of getting at its some of what's what's going on here in terms of what's happened with you know, name a baseball player. You know, I mean, it's not that current kind of, it's not that current kind of pop star League. The other thing that you mentioned in passing on this is soccer looks like they're going to be stronger in the future. They In baseball, they're gonna be right around where baseball is. It's almost like we're gonna have a battle for the third sport between soccer and baseball. I think that sounds crazy to folks of our generation. I have to think one of the things that people don't want to bring into this conversation is demographic change. And you got to realize that the composition, the racial composition, and where folks are from is changing so dramatically and rapidly in this country, that soccer is going to have a real natural built in advantage in that where, you know, baseball is the core baseball audience, it tends to be shrinking.

Tom Smith 50:38

Yeah, for sure. I mean, your data points that out, I've seen other data that points that out, is that for the baseball audience, it's getting older, they're dying out, they just can't go to the stadium, they can't go to the game anymore. But the soccer seems to be an event. Like you can have an A, like you'd have a family event and go to a soccer game or go to a match and say, like, Oh, this is great. This is who my team is. I couldn't even tell you like one player on the on the United like, I just couldn't, I just couldn't even tell you. So and what's what's kind of what's kind of crazy, but

Mike Lewis 51:12

um, so I mean, that's fair. I mean, in some ways, one of the things that I should note, remember, right, I'm asking this survey about, are they fans of soccer, I'm not asking you about mls or EPL or national teams, right? Because I think there's some of these things get very tricky, and I can't, I can't ask all the questions I actually want to ask. I think it's fair to not have a favorite player on the United I mean, you think about the business model of the MLS, it is actually not to keep players, right. It's to develop players and to sell them off. I mean, in some ways, Tom, we're sitting in a very weird place in America, to think about soccer. I mean, that Atlanta United club. I don't know that there's a parallel story to what they did in any other league, right? You know, where they came in. And suddenly, you know, a good soccer audience was 20,000. And they had 60,000. Right? I mean, that's a strange, and there's all this fandom around it. We're sort of all the, I don't know, young millennials and kind of hipster class of people was going down there and singing songs. And almost that's it almost LARPing that they'd been fans of the United for 30 years.

Tom Smith 52:22

Right. And the team was like four years old. Exactly, exactly. It's like, oh, man, do you remember when back in the AD D like not the team? No, four years ago. So we've been there for a couple of seasons, guys. Yeah, it was it was an event. I don't know if I told you this. A couple of years ago, this was now maybe more like five years ago, six years ago. We were on a flight. My wife and I were on a flight. We went up to DC. And we were on the flight with the DC. I don't know if it's called the DC metro, the DC United. So so we were on the flight with the soccer team, like on a just a commercial flight with the soccer team. And so we get off and we're waiting at luggage. Like I'm the luggage carousel with the soccer team. And everybody's wearing their warmups and whatever else and they just wanted to some guys, and I'm like, oh, yeah, you guys did with the second day of like, Can I get a selfie? They're like, okay, and so I took a bunch of selfies with the soccer team, and I'm looking up and I'm like, Oh, you're this guy, or this. You're this guy. But I couldn't I mean, could you imagine just like, sitting sitting around and be like, Oh, you're on the same flight with the Chicago Bulls. Like, they just get off and you're like, oh, getting luggage that was that just couldn't have like, that was an impossibility. That could not happen. But there we were, like with the soccer team. And it was and everybody was like, Oh, they're the soccer team. Let's go

Mike Lewis 53:47

10 and 511. So it kind of works.

Tom Smith 53:50

Right, right. And they're also I mean, they're also making like $90,000 a year or you know, $140,000 a year, not $140 million. Okay? It just, I mean, it just sort of shows you like the level of interest. The interest is, oh, we're watching the team, I have no idea who's on the team. Right? They can be standing next to you in you know, in the line to get the soft drink. Right, and you would have no idea who

Mike Lewis 54:13

they are. But the point is, I think really that soccer. I mean, in some ways, it's interesting to take these sports apart. And soccer, MLS, American soccer, may have almost more than baseball like profile long term, right? Where you are fans of the team rather than fans of the players. Right? Because the players are sort of, like I said, you know, Atlanta develops a star player, and then they sell them off to Europe. Okay, so Tom, last slide, and then I'll let you go. This is a picture of again, overall sports and then fandom for the different major sports we've been talking about. But here I've I've cut it for old versus young generation Z. So kind of getting back to this point of, you know, in some ways, there's not homogeneity across these generations. These things tend to evolve over time. Versus young generation Z, I just split the size of the sample. So we got 1000 generation Z's 500 or so there were 20, and last 500, so that were 21. Two, I think 25 or 26. And looking at this picture, well, I mean, outside of the Olympic Games, you see a massive deficit in fandom. For every sport. We're for the young generation Z's compared to the older generation z's.

Tom Smith 55:34

I am, yeah, but don't Yeah, but double digits. In some cases, it's,

Mike Lewis 55:37

I don't know how you're gonna react to this one. I'm just sort of throwing this one out there and saying, hey, I want to see something scary for the sports industry.

Tom Smith 55:46

Yeah, I think that every, I think every team should get their hands on this slide deck, and be thinking about, Okay, well, what happens in the next 10 years? When you're when you're young Z's are you what you think is going to be your core fan base? Well, they're the danger, they're not going to be your core fan base. So either you got to modify your product, to appeal to

Mike Lewis 56:11

something. Let's get some fundamentals here. If you don't become a fan, when you're, let's say, eight, 910 years old, right? Can you become a fan? And if you can become a fan? Is it fundamentally different? Can you become a fan in your 20s and your 30s?

Tom Smith 56:33

Because you could, I mean, it's a lot of human capital that has to be invested for you to learn the sport and learn the history of the sport and be able to talk to people about what it used to be and who used to be on the team and how they've evolved and how the team has gotten better. I mean, that's part of one of the the benefits of being a fan is that you're able to converse with other people and have some kind of common understanding of the game.

Mike Lewis 57:01

Being in the audience here.

Tom Smith 57:03

Yeah. Yeah.

Mike Lewis 57:04

So if I was talking about this stuff, I would say, you know, being a fan is part of a subculture. And as part of a subculture, you've got to learn the history, you got to have the knowledge, you got to understand the hierarchy. Tom phrase that really interestingly, that there's a lot of investment in human capital, that you have to the fan needs to go out there and learn, essentially, the fans skills and the fan knowledge to fit in, in the fan community. I just thought that was an interesting, an interesting parallel in terms of perspectives.

Tom Smith 57:36

Right? Well, I, you know, I tell my students all the time that, you know, we're we're basically teaching the same set of skills just through a different lens, right? So whether it's economics, or finance, or for marketing, or, you know, some kind of Isom, or, you know, data analytics, let's say, it's, we're all using the same tools, we're just we're applying them in a different way. And we're thinking about it from a slightly different perspective, which I think gives us, let's say, a unique way to evaluate or look at what the data are. So and I think about, okay, being a fan, like, what is it? What does it give me, I mean, it gives me personal satisfaction. But it also there's some satisfaction that that I can achieve by talking to my other friends about the Cubs, right or about the bears. And so my dad is a huge Bears fan. And so if he's going to call me on Sunday evening to talk about the bears on Monday be like, Oh, just see the game. So in order for me to have a good relationship with my dad, and to be able to, like, have utility from that relationship, like I have to be invested, I have to watch the game. And so that we can have, we haven't have common conversation, right, because my dad can't have that conversation with let's say, my older son who's not a Bears fan, right? And so, but my dad can have a conversation about, let's say, like muscle cars with my younger son who's into muscle cars. So like, but there's an investment that needs to be made in order for that connection to happen. And if fans want to have those connections, they have to invest the time into understanding what the sport is about, but also the history of the sport, so that they have a point of reference. So they can say, Oh, this team is better than this, or this quarterback is better than that person, or this is how our team is likely to next year, we're going to be good. This is why or Oh my God, when we meet Green Bay the second time around, this is why it's going to be different. You need to have those investments.

Mike Lewis 59:33

You know, Tom, I think this is a good place to I think this is a good place to pick up the conversation. You know, I think that well I think that was well said and captured a lot of the you know, we're not gonna I don't think we have time to sort of get into the some of the bigger questions that might naturally arise from this of what's the future of the sports industry, or even if we could give a bigger that doesn't matter if sports fades in prominence, but I think you know, you We've identified a lot of the key elements, right? So why sports matters, right? That it's something about people's self identity. It, you know, connects communities. And for a lot of reasons, you know, technological change, demographic change, it's very much under under pressure at the moment. So appreciate you coming in. You got any last thoughts?

Tom Smith 1:00:22

No, I'm glad you're collecting these data. Like I'm a big fan of data. And I like talking sports. So keep this keep these data coming. And, you know, let's have some more conversations about some of your other fans and measures that you've got got rolling out.

Mike Lewis 1:00:36

Thank you, Tom Smith, as always, folks, all this content is You can find links to the podcast and the YouTube channel and some of the graphs that we've been discussing. Till next time, thank you


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