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Volume 20 No. 42
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Which sport can say: We are young

TV networks have found their fountain of youth: It’s live sports. And it delivers young demos filled with the kind of people who, when they typically watch television, DVR past the commercials. But not with live sports.

SportsBusiness Journal looked at the average age for select championship events over the last four years and found that almost all league championships fell within the 25-54 demographic. The ability to pull in that younger audience is, arguably, the primary reason why sports rights cost so much.

“Anyone who is not in the target demo for most ad buys is pretty much ignored,” said Ed Desser, president of Desser Sports Media.

The data provides a snapshot at which leagues skew younger and which ones skew older (see chart). League sources point out that the average age of viewers for their respective championships represents one factor among many that they study in an attempt to attract a younger audience.

“The sweet spot for advertisers is in the 18-49 and 25-54 demos,” said Chris Russo, a former NFL executive and the outgoing CEO of Big Lead Sports. “It’s always good to have the bulk of your audience in that category.”

For the major sports championships in the U.S., only the Masters and the Indianapolis 500 have average TV audiences that fell outside of that demographic in 2011. Last year, CBS’s coverage of the Masters drew an average audience that was 56.4 years old; ABC’s coverage of the Indy 500 was 55.4 years old.

“That’s really not surprising to me,” said sports media consultant Neal Pilson. “Golf traditionally skews older. And the Masters has become an efficient buy for advertisers targeting 56-year-olds.”

At the other end of the spectrum is MLS Cup, which had an average audience that was 39 years old in 2011, and the NBA Finals, which had an average audience that was 40.6 years old. The Super Bowl had the third-youngest audience among major sports events last year at 42.5.

“The NBA has to be happy with that number,” Pilson said.

Not surprisingly, the Winter and Summer X Games have the youngest average audience among the events tracked, at 34 and 33 years old, respectively.

But even older-trending sports events, like the World Series, can attract an audience that advertisers want to reach, Pilson said.

“In sports, age demos are important but not the sole driver of advertisers’ decisions,” Pilson said.

In 2011, the World Series’ average age was 52.5, older than the BCS, Stanley Cup Final and NCAA men’s basketball championship. But the World Series’ demos leaned heavily toward well-educated men who make a lot of money. Viewers who make more than $125,000 per year are 25 percent more likely than the total population to watch the World Series, according to data from Fox. Most importantly to advertisers, they watch the games live.

Still, MLB has made moves to try and lower the average age of its fan base. That’s one of the reasons why it created the MLB Fan Cave last season in New York City. The league found that the average Fan Cave “fan” was just 30 years old.

“You’re always trying to grow your audience long term and create new fans,” Desser said. “The most efficient way to attract new fans is to turn them onto your sport when they’re kids.”

Where have all the young men gone?
The average age of viewers across sports' top properties in the last four years
Year NBA Finals
World Series (Fox) Stanley Cup Final
Super Bowl
(Fox, CBS,
NBC, Fox)
mls cup
(ESPN, espn, espn, ABC)
Daytona 500 (Fox) Indy 500 (ABC)
2011 40.6 52.5 45.8 42.5 39.0 50.2 55.4
2010 40.7 52.6 44.9 43.0 38.0 49.7 55.4
2009 40.6 49.9 41.2 42.4 33.0 48.2 54.4
2008 41.9 50.6 41.5 42.3 39.0 47.4 51.9
Year The Masters (CBS) BCS
(ESPN, ABC, Fox, Fox)
NCAA Men's
Championship (CBS)
Summer Olympics in prime time (NBC) winter Olympics in prime time (NBC, NBC,
Summer X Games
Winter X Games (ESPN)
2011 56.4 45.3 47.0 48.0 (2008) 53.0 (2010) 33.0 34.0
2010 57.0 46.8 48.4 47.0 (2004) 51.0 (2006) 27.0 36.3
2009 56.0 46.5 46.9 45.0 (2000) 48.0 (2002) 31.2 35.8
2008 56.1 47.6 46.8 42.0 (1996) 48.0 (1998) 33.0 34.6
Compiled by Austin Karp, SportsBusiness Daily      Source: Nielsen