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Volume 22 No. 27
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Youth movement: Reaching Gen Z

Make room, millennials. Gen Z is here, with growing influence and money to spend. We asked industry leaders for their thoughts on the best way to connect with the next sports-mad generation.
Gen Z prizes having an unforgettable experience (and, of course, their phones).
Photo: getty images

They began using tablets and cellphones in their strollers, and because 9/11 happened when they were toddlers — if they had been born yet at all — they’ve never known a world that wasn’t polarized and at conflict. Some even use that day as a defining characteristic: If you can’t remember it, you are a Gen Zer.

Now, as the first wave of Generation Z — broadly referred to as those born from the late 1990s through the first decade of this century — reaches adulthood, the sports business community is among the groups trying to get a handle on them. We asked leaders in a variety of fields to share with us, in their own words, how they and their companies are connecting with this generation, what changes can already be felt, and what further disruption might be next as Gen Z fully comes of age. Those stories begin on Page 22. 

By next year Gen Z will represent 40 percent of all American consumers, and they already spend more than $140 billion annually, independent of what their parents spend on them. Even for marketers now inured to disruption, Gen Z represents a formidable challenge. As traditional media continues to matter less to this group, things like reach and frequency will become as relevant as typewriters and buggy whips. 

“Gen Z doesn’t want to be marketed to, they want to be the marketers themselves,” said Mark Zablow, whose New York City-based Cogent Entertainment Marketing has clients including Constellation Brands and Dave & Busters.

Despite challenges, Gen Z will support MLB.
Photo: getty images

“They want to discover and experience brands and products and be rewarded for those efforts. They are driven by social media currency, or just currency. With the gig economy anyone now can be a home trainer, tutor or influencer. You will see that explode even more as this generation has to support itself.”

Having experienced the worst U.S. economy since the 1930s depression during the Great Recession of 2008-09, Gen Z is naturally more pragmatic. Cause-obsessed, yes, but in a different way.

“Compared to even millennials, they are more hands-on and they want to be involved in making the world a better place,” said Marianne Rotole, Octagon senior vice president. They’re more social, emotional and collaborative than their millennial predecessors, but while both groups value experiences over material possessions, Gen Z is even more so and with a broader reach. As a byproduct of being “digital natives” and having never known an America that wasn’t at war, “They are just naturally more global than any generation,” Rotole said. “And they’re more accepting of other cultures.”

Gen Z still prefers watching the action above all else.
Photo: getty images

Instagram is their social media platform of choice, while YouTube is more of a utility — employed the same way baby boomers used that ubiquitous encyclopedia set in their homes. They are so accustomed to diversity that it’s an issue only when it’s not readily apparent, and that diversity needs to include every race, gender and sexual orientation.

Sports properties are increasingly concerned with the home viewing experience rivaling live sporting events. However, marketers suggest that with Gen Z eternally searching for “Instagrammable moments,” adding or changing unique locations for social media photos will become as fundamental for those staging events as having sufficient parking and beer.

With their current fixation on content, marketers await the day when even that can be personalized. To Gen Z, everything from sneakers to Starbucks is customizable — or should be.

They are the ultimate direct-to-consumer consumers.

Survey: What Gen Z wants, and why they will support brands

Earlier this year, Momentum Worldwide commissioned Dynata to conduct a survey of consumer behavior. The WE KNOW Experiences Study polled thousands of respondents in various age groups across five countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Japan and Romania — and Momentum shared the responses by members of Gen Z with Sports Business Journal.

What Gen Z wants from their experiences

Want to laugh and have fun

Want to learn something new

Want to escape from everyday life

Will pay more for a brand that provides them a positive experience

Would rather spend their money on something they can experience rather than a material possession

Believe price/cost is secondary to a memorable experience

Gen Z and brands

Would welcome a brand that encourages them to celebrate the little moments

Say it’s important that brands offer customized experiences for more than one type of consumer

Say brands need to form an emotional connection with consumers in order to succeed

Like/follow on social if they have a positive brand experience; 29% post/tweet about it

Sporting events

Find live sporting and music events have become better

Find joy in a live sporting event

In U.S. found joy/excitement in watching a live sporting event in the past month (34% in other countries)

Will recommend a brand-sponsored event after attending if they had a positive experience

Of U.S. Gen Z who go to Snapchat first to share moments from a sporting event or game. Globally it’s Instagram (25%)

Younger vs. Older

Say smartphones have had a positive impact on their day-to-day activities:

Gen Z