Find the archive for the complete set of Next Generation Fandom Survey results here.
Sports have long been a mainstay of American culture. Major League Baseball has been the American Pastime, the NFL’s Super Bowl attracts more than 100 million viewers, and the NBA might be America’s most popular sports export. But these leagues were built during a different era. There were fewer entertainment options, and technology (radio and television) led to more communal viewing (and listening). The leagues also grew during a period of greater population homogeneity and family stability.
But now, sports are facing an uncertain future as American society is undergoing a rapid change on multiple dimensions. Technology advancements are changing how people communicate and view information. Demographic changes have altered the frequency of shared traditions and experiences. Changing family patterns such as smaller family sizes, fewer fathers in the household, and later family formation all limit the transmission of generational fandom.
These technological and demographic changes may place cultural and entertainment institutions under considerable pressure. If America is a fundamentally different society in 2022 compared to 1972, then the things that fascinated Americans 50 years ago may not be the things that fascinate the current population. Baby Boomers came of age in a very different America than Generation Z. How these diverse generations relate to sports and other institutions is likely driven by the very different environments they experienced.
Even beyond these long-term trends, 2022 is also a time of turmoil. While COVID was finally waning, gas prices skyrocketed, and a war broke out in Europe. Short-term turmoil matters because fandom is about cultural engagement. Societal shocks and the national mood can have long- and short-term effects on fandom. Notably, COVID has disrupted everything, including sports. The pandemic disrupted schedules and limited opportunities for communal sports consumption. The impacts of COVID on Generation Z fandom may be exceptionally long-lasting as they occurred during a formative age.
This report examines how the sports consumer is changing across generations. As of 2022, Generation X and older Millennials are the core sports consumers. The Baby Boomers are retreating from fandom, while Generation Z represents the next cohort of sports fandom.
Each generation comes of age during a different technological and cultural moment. Generation Z has grown up with smartphones and social media but not with a local newspaper and rarely with multiple familial generations watching the home team on a central TV.
There is probably also a lifecycle to fandom. Fandom is often about public displays of group affiliations – e.g., wearing a Dallas Cowboys or Manchester United jersey. This type of public display likely plays different roles over a lifetime. For young people wearing a team jersey can be an important tool for creating their social identity. For a middle-aged person, sports might be a tool for bonding with family and friends. For an older person wearing a team jersey might feel silly or juvenile.
Much has been made about Generation Z being “different.” Generation Z is coming of age in a very different America, but every “next” generation baffles the older cohorts. Gen Z were disaffected slackers, and participation trophies spoiled Millennials. The following report goes beyond stereotypes and investigates how fandom and cultural engagement are evolving across generations.
The report's highlights include:
Sports fandom is lowest for Generation Z, followed by the Baby Boomers. In marketing parlance, sports face challenges in retaining their most experienced customers and in acquiring the next generation of customers.
Football is the most preferred sport across all Generations. Basketball has overtaken Baseball with Generation Z, Millennials, and Generation X. Only the Baby Boomers prefer Baseball over Basketball.
Generation Z had the highest rates of fandom for Soccer and Esports.
Baby Boomers have the least fandom of any Generation across all entertainment categories.
Generation Z fandom for entertainment products is not generally lower than older generations.
Baby Boomers seem to be the Generation most alienated from cultural products.
The results suggest that the sports industry may not understand fandom transmission across generations. Alienating older fans likely have consequences for acquiring younger fans.
The full report can be found below: