As a new generation of sports fans emerges, the sports industry has the opportunity to either stay its current course or change with the approaching paradigm shift that is the millennial generation. The sports industry has talked about the needed changes — especially with the use of technology and social media among current sports fans — to make it in the future. But if sports franchises, teams, and clubs intend to compete in the coming years, they will need to focus now on the approaching customer market that will be vastly different than what has been the norm up until now.
The Power of Social Media
Sports teams cannot treat consumers the way they have in the past, especially now that the consumer base is changing with differing interests. In 2013 the San Jose Earthquakes set a minimum price for visiting fans at $55, which outraged Seattle Sounders fans, whose team opened the season against the San Jose Earthquakes. (Note: Regular ticket prices for the 2014 Earthquakes season started at $22 and a 19-game season ticket holder would start at about $14 a game.) It was not long before angry Seattle fans took to social media, voiced their concerns to the league, and even gained the support of Earthquakes fans. The almost instantaneous outrage at the new ticket prices surprised MLS Commissioner Don Garber. Although ticket prices were not lowered, they are getting noticed at the highest levels of sport.
The Baby Boom generation is aging and the millennial generation – born between 1980 and the early 2000s – is taking on more importance in the sports business world. The way TV ads are portrayed, tickets are sold and packaged, and millennials are influenced should change to attract the new generation of consumers. When making a Super Bowl ad, it is no longer enough to just make the top of the list on USA Today’s Ad Meter or to get great reviews from long-standing critics.
In 2011 Volkswagen created a Super Bowl ad called “The Force” which has over 60 million views to date on YouTube. But the view count is not the only good thing coming from relying on social media as advertisement. Tim Mahoney, Volkswagen of America’s chief product and marketing officer, says that the largely positive comments posted about the video are what get the company most excited. The posted comments lead to viewers passing the ad on to friends and family, which increases the viewership of Volkswagen’s ad and keeps the commercial relevant longer. Just as television was troublesome for print advertising, social media is changing the way the entire ad industry is behaving. Proctor & Gamble stated in 2013 that it will devote almost 35% of its advertising budget to social media. David Lubars, chairman and chief creative officer at BBDO, a worldwide advertising agency, states that if a company cannot some up with an idea as a tweet or a text, they probably don’t have an idea. Mr. Lubars is essentially saying that ads need to be simple and appealing to the millennial generation.
Effectively Marketing to Millennials
Even back in 2002, a focus was starting to build on the effect millennials would have on the sports market. When dealing with a new generation of consumers, it is important to understand the market and how it will play into future success for the organization in question. Tim Mask, an account planner/youth marketing specialist at Maris, West & Baker Advertising Communications, offered the following summary:
1) Millennials have never known a world free of cell phones, personal computers and cable television.
2) Millennials possess sophistication unparalleled in history when it comes to marketing.
3) Millennials are masters of multitasking, can focus on multiple areas of interest, and are not limited to a few central activities to interest them.
With a clear focus on a new target market, a sports organization can create a realistic model that will attract the new generation of sports fans. The main question is how a sports organization can create such a model that may be foreign to how the things used to be done. Mask goes on to say that sports marketers should try to make their product or sport reflect the overall millennial mind-set. So instead of being overly concerned with relating to a particular group of kids, it may be beneficial to understand what they are thinking and if they will enjoy a certain product if presented in a way that is pleasing to the new consumer. It only takes a few moments on YouTube to see what millennials think is funny and engaging, and it may surprise marketers that these sometimes silly clips will do more to engage their intended target audience than something that was done traditionally.
Shorty Industry Awards honor the best brands, agencies, and professionals on social media, and have a section specifically for sports. Magnus Racing, a racing team based in Tooele, Utah, who recently got nominated for a Shorty Award, is an example of an organization using humor in the traditionally conservative world of professional car racing. Through their use of humor through video, social content, and press releases, fans and automotive media have created a motorsport counter-culture known as #MagnusMilitia. Magnus Racing’s ability to rely on creativity, humor, and fan engagement instead of spending a lot of money on traditional marketing has helped them to create a brand and marketing approach that is very different from anyone else.
A challenge for any organization is growing sales by taking care of their current customers while at the same time looking to the next generation and meeting their expectations and engaging them in their product. John Dillon, Vice President of Marketing for Denny’s, stated three principles to think about in an effort to reach out to the millennial consumer:
1) Don’t treat them the same as your other fans
2) Be where they are (don’t wait for them to find you)
3) Be authentic and genuine—don’t oversell.
Millennials do not want to feel like they are being catered to because they are younger or inexperienced, and they do not want to see commercials or an ad trying to mimic a millennial’s lifestyle. The use of social media is fast becoming the best option in engagement with this new consumer group and sometimes promoting the product should be second to actually engaging the fan.
Bringing Millennials In
After reviewing several techniques on how to reach millennials, sports organizations will realize that this is sometimes easier said than done. Natalie Wilson, consumer insights strategist with Taylor at the time of the article, said about 68% of smartphone owners say they use their devices while watching sports, which leads to another avenue marketers can go to engage consumers through the use of Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform. Since millennials are generally connected to the Internet, stadiums have recently been looking into connecting with fans online. For this reason, many teams are investing in Wi-Fi at their stadiums.
According to the 2011 Cisco Connected World Technology Report, one in every three college students and young employees believes the Internet is as important as air, water, food, and shelter. The report also stated that two of five said they would accept a lower-paying job that had more flexibility with regard to device choice, social media access, and mobility than a higher-paying job with less flexibility. Chris White, general manager for Cisco’s sports and entertainment group, said the demand for connectivity is incredible. Cisco has provided connectivity to more than 200 sports venues around the world because they know how important it is for fans to have the Internet. Creating a venue where fans can connect to the Internet creates a better opportunity for a fan to snap a photo and share it with friends instantly, which helps create a lasting memory and a genuine experience for a new consumer. Qualcomm has been working with the MLB to implement Wi-Fi improvements to each of the 30 MLB stadiums to keep up with the numerous fans using smartphones at these games.
With millennials getting more attention and organizations adapting to the changes that are needed to keep this new generation engaged, it is very important for organizations to understand how to treat the new market. Millennials are the next generation of consumers that businesses need to cater to, and not knowing what millennials need will be a hindrance for that company’s strategy in the future. Wi-Fi at stadiums is a good step, but there are multiple aspects that sports organizations need to implement to keep millennials entertained and coming back for more. According to Genevieve Schmitt, if a company is not aware of how millennials’ minds work, then that company will have missed the mark. Millennials have a short attention span and there is generally only one chance to catch their eye — which must be done on their terms or they will lose interest.
However, some do not believe that more technology will bring Millennials to games. Mark Cuban said that the atmosphere inside an arena, the electricity you feel when you walk into an arena, is what makes going to a game special. Cuban recently attended an SMU basketball game and noticed that there were no special apps and no one was asking for advanced statistics; in fact, Cuban said that there was no consideration for technology anywhere in the arena. Cuban said he did not see the students using their smartphones in the student section during the game and is convinced that apps or statistics will not work to enhance the in-game experience. The only time that fans will use their smartphones is if they are bored, so an increase in technology will not fix the problem of fans using their smartphones instead of watching a game; an increase in fan engagement will come through good entertainment.
Staying up to date and investing in current technology to allow better connectivity at games and a modern look for fans will ensure the survival of any sports organization and will provide a better atmosphere for fans that need the connection to sports and the connection to others through the use of technology. Although fans may or may not use their smartphones the entire game, if technology at the stadium either matches or exceeds the technology the fan experiences at home, it can have a profound impact on the way the fan views live games. Riding in an airplane that has a TV monitor at every seat versus an airplane that does not have a monitor can impact the value of the flight to the consumer.
Disney just invented a wrist band that can allow a user to enter the park, unlock their hotel room, connect photos taken of them from Disney employees to their account, and charge food and merchandise purchases to their hotel room. These wrist bands can be customizable and are becoming very popular. Millennials love to be a part of breakthrough technological advances, and if sports teams can create technology that fans can only experience at live games, it can be a boost to their business. How much to invest and what avenue the organization will take to achieve its technological goals is hard to say, but approaching the next generation of fans through a different strategic lens will help prepare the organization in the future when it faces needs unlike what it has experienced in the past.