Navigate Research

Industry Insights

As the industry leader in evaluating and measuring marketing investments, Navigate has a wealth of knowledge in the sponsorship and marketing space. This blog shares our knowledge and insights on current events in the sports business, marketing and sponsorship worlds.

Gen Z, Millennials & Sports

Navigate Research - Wednesday, August 28, 2019

By Ally Corbin

Who is Gen Z, and why does it matter that we define them?  Why do generations need to be labeled in the first place?

Generations Defined

Before thinking of Gen Z, or any generation, it’s important to understand the value of labeling generations and why we define groups of people in general. 

People are fascinating – we are all creators, consumers, investors, life-long learners, critical (or not so critical) thinkers, and we’ve been doing such activities since the beginning of human existence.  New and advancing technologies have paved the way for how we gather and share information, but at the core of communication, we’re all doing the same thing to varying degrees, and we’ve been doing so for centuries.  Pending the time period in which you grew up, the way you create, consume, learn, and think are different than your predecessors thanks to technological advances, yet the goal or impetus is usually the same (e.g. communicating across distances, keeping yourself occupied, earning money, etc.).  Generations are a means to group people together by birth years to simply understand them as a collective. 

Generations are typically defined by birth years grouped together of 15-20 years; sources vary with exact dates, but the table below helps to establish general time-frames in which we think about modern Western generations.

Generations, Socially Speaking

From a social science perspective, generations are defined as a cohort who experience the same significant events, thus shaping the way you view the world at a given point in time – e.g. new inventions, modern technologies, war, noteworthy crises, etc.  Generations are beneficial to help individuals relate to other human beings, and they’re also beneficial for businesses to make strategic decisions to reach targeted audiences. 

Entrepreneurs, brands and organizations, are usually seeking ways to better understand patterns of people – how people exist, what they like or don’t like, what motivates them, where they can fill gaps or assist pain-points, etc.  These patterns can be simplified into three categories: (1) time (2) talent and (3) treasure.  

Understanding this information helps businesses inform the bottom line.  The way someone spends their time, talent and treasure is dependent upon their age and life experiences.  It important to understand nuances that exist between generations to ensure the bottom line reaches all audiences. 

Without getting specific, it’s clear that Millennials likely navigate life differently than members of the Interbellum Generation.  It gets tricky, however, when generations border one another.  This is where Gen Z comes into play.  We asked ourselves, “How do Millennials differ from Gen Z?”  And since we’re in the sports and entertainment industry, we also wanted to know, “How does Gen Z fit in to the sports landscape?”

Gen Z Interest 
Many people over the age of 45 tend to think anyone under the age of 30 are Millennials.  The term Millennial has taken on more meaning than the true generation definition – there is stigma with the term that relates to “young people” who are “lazy” or who are treated more leniently than the previous generation, and thus their choices, assumptions and behaviors are different (or less than appreciated by older cohorts).  That topic is a good one, but not so much meant for the purpose of this blog.  Our goal of going deep on generations is to understand the emerging workforce cohort, which are Gen Z, who are  different from Millennials.  

There are quite a few details that exist on Gen Z from other research and exploration, but little information exists when it comes to how Gen Z engages and prioritizes sports.  We chose to conduct a Gen Z study to start to peel back the onion on what makes Gen Z unique and proactively understand how our industry can connect and motivate those in Gen Z to consider sports higher on their preference list.

Navigate Gen Z Study Details
Understanding the nuances among a large group of people is a tall feat.  It’s important to understand our Gen Z study is the first of many, with the initial round meant to scrape the surface to inform the next round of investigation.  Our study was designed to gain input from Gen Z and Millennials, focusing on understanding Gen Z  and comparing their behaviors and preferences to Millenials.  Earlier this year (2019) we surveyed 500 members of Gen Z (ages 13-23) in the U.S. as well as 500 Millennials (ages 24-36), posing nearly 40 questions to both groups.  

What Topics Were Measured?
Before diving into sports and asking the burning questions of, “What leagues do you like most?” or “How often do you watch?” we felt it was important to have context with their interests and what grabs their attention in general.  

We asked about...

  • The local connection to the team(s) nearest the city in which they grew up
  • How they identify as a general fan
  • How they became a fan
  • Their overall rankings of leagues, attributes associated with leagues 
  • Watching and attending habits 
  • Sports content engagement (from TV to microsites)
  • Platform preferences
  • Predictions for the future when it comes to watching and attending

We ended the study on a lighthearted note, asking Gen Z to describe their generation to someone in the Millennial cohort, and we ask the same of the Millennial group to share their perspective to Gen Z.

What Did We Find?
We’re excited to unveil our findings over the coming months, including a macro approach of what we found with Gen Z and sports overall, as well as providing details within pro and college specifically and how the conclusions can provide guidance for decision making.  

As a teaser, it is safe to conclude that Gen Z are not as passionate about sports as Millennials, but there is opportunity to increase their focus by integrating elements that are higher on their priority list.  Pro sports come in at the number 5 (out of 12) overall spot among Gen Z interests.  

35% of Gen Z consider themselves ‘interested to very interested’ in pro sports compared to 48% of Millennials.  We have theories as to why the differences exist, including sports playing history, influence (or lack thereof) by their parents, and increased avenues that can/do grab attention of ‘kids these days’.  Additionally, as much as Gen Z are different from Millennials, there are several overlaps and subtleties that make the groups tricky to differentiate.  

Stay tuned for more insights from our Gen Z study as well as a guest blog post from our Gen Z Consultant, Grace Masback (rising Junior at Princeton University).