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US and UK Sports Fans Reaching Digital Natives

Report by Alistair Taylor
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The 20,000 Foot View: Sports as a product is feeling the squeeze of the peak attention economy. Sports fans in the traditional sense are ageing, and appealing to a younger digitally-native audience is a fundamental issue that rights holders can no longer ignore. Sports rights holders have realised the importance of their virtual (gaming) counterparts, acknowledging that they are taking much of the attention of a large proportion of their fanbases, but also nurturing expected future fans who do not interact with the real-life version of sports. Key to this dynamic is the current spread of distribution deals—which makes viewing fragmented and expensive for fans, due to rights holders’ legacy approach to award rights to the highest bidder regardless of reach. Sports are rapidly losing future fans to e-sports and gaming in general – now is the time for traditional sports to fight back.

Key Insights

US sports franchises lead the way in addressing reach over revenue, with the NFL acknowledging in September 2018 that models should target reach over revenue in this digitally-transformed landscape. Opening up rights distribution to social and digital platforms domestically is fundamental in targeting younger audiences, who do not engage with pay-TV offerings – something UK rights holders will need to adhere to going forward.

UK

  • UK sports fans are ageing: only        of viewers of the English Premier League (EPL) are aged        while        are over       
  • Just        of        year olds watch live sports on TV
  • Games franchises do not always drive engagement: FIFA players are less likely than overall consumers to watch live sports on TV by        percentage points
  • Sports games may drive streaming:        of FIFA players are Amazon Prime Video weekly average users (WAUs), compared to        of EPL viewers 
  • Soccer fans are relatively young: the EPL has a younger average audience compared to tennis and rugby viewers in        2019, at        years old relative to        and        footprint aids in addressing digital natives: wrestling has an average audience of        years old, down largely to digital pioneer WWE

US

  • Football and baseball fans are maturing: only        of American football and        of baseball viewers are aged        while        and        respectively are over               of        year olds watch live sports on TV
  • Basketball has the digital natives’ attention:        of basketball viewers are aged        with        over        illustrating the benefits of basketball’s diverse distribution partnership strategy
  • Gaming helps drive engagement: Madden NFL and NBA        players are        and five percentage points more likely than overall consumers to watch live sports on TV
  • Basketball fans more evenly split across age demographic: basketball has the youngest average audience in the US in        2019 at        years old, compared with        for both American football and baseball, and        for ice hockey

Companies and brands mentioned in this report: ABC, Amazon, Amazon Prime Video, Coupe de la Ligue, DAZN, Disney, Disney+, English Premier League, ESPN, ESPN+, FIFA, FIFA, Hulu, La Liga, Madden NFL, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Football League, National Hockey League, NBA        NBA        League, Pro Evolution Soccer, Take Two Interactive, Tencent, Thursday Night Football, TNT, Twitch, WWE, YouTube

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