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Here to Stay: Generation Z’s Impact On Sports Content Strategy

Shorter attention spans, wider viewing ranges and a penchant for influencers. Here’s how the next generation consumes sports.

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Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Generation Z is already impacting modern culture and that’s unlikely to change.

The generation, born after 1997, will make up 40 percent of consumers by 2020 and already has a direct spending impact of $143 billion dollars. A recent panel at South by Southwest discussed strategies to capture their attention, as well as how Gen Z will radically shift the way content is distributed. 

“They’re going to be huge,” said Kathleen Grace, CEO of the production studio New Form. “They’re coming for us, and it’s pretty cool. They consume differently than any other generation.”

READ MORE: Bleacher Report Is Focused on the Second Generation of Social Media

The under-22 demographic consumes more than 3.5 hours of video daily, a majority of which is on mobile devices, according to Dude Perfect Chief Business Officer Jeff Toney. Much of the video is consumed in short snippets and by brand influencers connecting with the audience, a strategy that cultivates a special trust as well as offering plenty of engagement for those content creators nimble enough to stay ahead of the curve.

“You can’t become predictable,” Toney said. “One unfortunate thing is the generation is a little ADD, ‘Entertain me now if, I don’t like it, I have 1,000 other options to be distracted with.’ … The challenge is between continuing something that is popular and doubling down on what works, but, in parallel, introducing fresh, new concepts to continue to engage the audience.”

The impact on sports is yet to be fully felt, but it’s coming, said John West, founder of Whistle, a sports and entertainment media brand.

“The young generation is redefining sports; less watching on TV, less attending live traditional sports,” West said. “They’re still followers, but on social and they’re able to follow niche, non-traditional sports.”

That surge in non-traditional sports activity is driven by direct involvement  The proliferation of digital media allows participatory sports to reach more people looking to try and improve instead of passively watching elite athletes. Activities such as CrossFit and rock climbing benefit from improved exposure, which in turn can help spur participation numbers. But West, who has three children in Generation Z, said he often sees them outside recreating videos they see on platforms like Dude Perfect, from there they film it, edit it and add music before sharing and challenging their peers.

“To us, sports has been defined by leagues,” Toney said. “Traditionally, it’s only a select few who can compete on the professional level. But people who don’t have those inherent genes are competitive and like to compete with friends.”

Advertising consumption habits are beginning to change with those content shifts.

A Nielsen study found the demographic has an 86 percent recall rate of products, suggesting massive potential for stickiness. But according to West, Generation Z is also more likely to find content when it’s shared by a friend and allows them to engage directly. It’s incumbent platforms to provide the influencers and creators to establish genuine and authentic relationships with their key audience, which Generation Z users feel they can trust more.

“This generation views social influences and creators as their new celebrities,” West said. “There’s a relationship that can be developed that is tough to develop with LeBron James and Tom Brady.”

To that end, Toney said it’s important for creators to give users a view behind the curtain to get to know them better. For sports teams, in particular, that means showcasing its athletes away from competition. By and large, Generation Z cares far more about the name on the back of the jersey than the front. “When I was growing up, I’d follow the Detroit Tigers, doesn’t matter who’s on the team,” Toney said. “Nowadays, you’re not following a sport, you’re following a player because they fall in love with the personalities.”

READ MORE: How 3 Prospects Grew Their Personal Brands off the Field Before the NFL Combine

West said that despite how much older generations want to believe the social influence won’t stick, he doesn’t expect this media model to go anywhere.

“It’s amazing to me in traditional media and sports, they’re still skeptical the influencer is a fad,” he said. “We don’t see any data that when a 24-year-old turns 25, they un-wire. The habits they’re forming now are generational shifts that grow up with them.

“Embracing the power of social entertainers and the brands they’ve built organically is step one.”

It’s up to sports media to adapt accordingly.

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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Golf Digest Back Charging For Growth With New Owner

Golf Digest is set to embark on its third ownership transition in its nearly 70 years of operation and all signs point to growth under new owners.

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Photo Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Discovery, Inc. continues its drive into golf with the acquisition of Golf Digest.

Discovery had already entered the golf space, attaining exclusive rights deals outside the U.S. for the PGA Tour, European Tour and Ladies European Tour. GOLFTV, an international streaming service launched by Discovery this past New Year’s Day, is in year one of a 12-year, $2.4 billion deal carrying the PGA Tour’s TV and streaming rights outside the U.S. Discovery also has global content deals with Tiger Woods and Francesco Molinari, using GOLFTV as its platform.

The bullish approach follows the trend of niche content in today’s media landscape. Discovery knows this firsthand with Food Network and MotorTrend. In sports, Discovery has had success with Eurosport and realizes sport fans crave consistent coverage.

READ MORE: The Caddie Network Partnership With Golf Digest Shows Power of Niche Platforms

“We’re looking to evolve our business and investing in content and genres that work for traditional and digital channels,” says Alex Kaplan, Discovery Golf president and general manager. “We learned from our experience with Eurosport Player, it’s very difficult to build an engaged fanbase when we offer multi-sport content.

“Let’s go deep into a specific vertical. Golf rights were available in an expansive way, and it’s not just compelling to watch, but fans play it, buy it, travel for it. It’s an ecosystem that was particularly compelling.”

The acquisition includes all brands under the Golf Digest brand, including Golf World, Golf Digest Schools and The Loop. According to the press release, Golf Digest attracts 4.8 million monthly readers and 60 million monthly video views. That’s along with its 2.2 million social followers.

This is Golf Digest’s third transition of ownership in its nearly 70 years of operation. All three have brought the media company different advantages, says Golf Digest editor Jerry Tarde, who’s been with the company for 42 years.

Tarde said The New York Times, which acquired the magazine in 1969, brought the basics and values of journalism, while Conde Nast, the owner since 2001, brought design, art and sophistication to the brand. Now, Tarde believes Discovery will bring growth.

Tarde, along with being editor-in-chief, gains a new title and role: Discovery Golf global head of strategy and content.

“This is an organization we’re at the heart of, in terms of developing sports and connecting with a high-value audience that’s passionate about the subject,” Tarde says. “This is the most exciting thing to happen to Golf Digest since it was founded in 1950. It lights a fire under us and gives us an opportunity to improve and expand U.S. coverage.

“We’ll also be able to extend it worldwide to more than 200 countries.”

On the other side of the equation, the acquisition gives Discovery a golf presence in the U.S. Kaplan said Discovery has been collecting its golf assets and knew an editorial vertical would be crucial, but it could take years to build. The Golf Digest acquisition allows Discovery to acquire that piece with one check.

“Our offering to golf fans and golf advertisers is now that of a global platform,” Kaplan says. “We can bring an aggregated golf audience anywhere in the world.”

READ MORE: GolfPass Could Set Standard in 21st-Century Sports Media

With a strong strategy in place, it will be business as usual for the time being, Tarde says, but there will be talk of new ideas and potential investments. Discovery will retain Golf Digest staff, continue the U.S. monthly print product and acquire global licenses for editions 70 countries.

“We’ve got a great team that’s been underutilized, really,” Tarde said. “Because of the way the publishing economy has been treated, our business has been in retreat. That’s now the way I spent my first 30 years. We were charging.

“This is the exciting part, we’re back on the charge.”

Like Tiger Woods on the prowl on Sunday.

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Inside the XFL’s New TV Deals

With nine months to go until its first game, the XFL has locked in its lineup of broadcast partners for all 43 regular season games.

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Photo Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

With nine months to go until its first game, the XFL has locked in its lineup of broadcast partners.

The deals will see all 43 games appear on either broadcast or cable TV and will see them divided up between ABC, Fox, ESPN, ESPN2, FS1 and FS2.

What do you need to know?

1. – 24 of the XFL’s 43 games to be on broadcast TV (13 on ABC; 11 on Fox)

2. – According to Joe Flint of the WSJ, the deals are for three years, but no cash is changing hands.

3. – As part of the deals, the broadcast partners will cover the production costs of the games, which John Ourand notes will run $400,000 per game.

4. – Disney and Fox will keep all the television advertising inventory for the games while the XFL will handle the selling of sponsorships in the venues, according to Flint.

Will we see a repeat of 2001? 

The XFL’s reboot will come 19 years after McMahon and company attempted to make spring football a thing. Like the AAF this year, the league started with a promising opening night and then sputtered to the end. By the end of its first and only season, the XFL saw its ratings fall from a 9.5 to a 1.5 at their lowest point, according to OSW Review.

While the first time around may have not gone as planned, executives from all sides of the table are enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“The effort Vince is throwing behind it with his own personal capital and the combination of Fox and Disney platforms give us the best chance to make spring football work.” – ESPN programming chief Burke Magnus to Joe Flint of the WSJ.

Rolling into upfronts…

The announcement of the deals couldn’t have come at a more strategic time for all parties involved with upfronts scheduled to begin in six days. Given the fact that the broadcast partners will be responsible for selling ads, it would be rather surprising if the XFL inventory wasn’t included in their presentations.

Last year alone, the television upfront market for commercials generated $20.8 billion in commitment from advertisers, up 5.2% from the previous year, according to an estimate by Media Dynamics.

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Why Fewer Ad Breaks are Coming to the Super Bowl

Fox will be cutting back the number of commercial breaks for the big game by one, having only four breaks per quarter instead of five.

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Photo Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

Next year’s Super Bowl might feel slightly different to viewers.

That’s because Fox will be cutting back the number of commercial breaks for the big game by one, having only four breaks per quarter instead of five, according to Brian Steinberg of Variety.

Fewer breaks, but the same amount of commercials…

Although Fox will be cutting down one whole commercial break each quarter, the four that remain will be slightly longer, allowing the broadcaster to still have the same amount of slots for advertisers even with fewer breaks in the action.

This isn’t a first for the NFL…

The league has been working with broadcast partners since last year to find new ways to deliver advertisements during telecasts. The initiative last year focused on delivering more sponsored vignettes and less “billboard” ads, a change that could be difficult at times for the networks seeing as in the past they have used the “billboard” inventory as bonuses to big-spending sponsors, according to Variety.

Why do they want to cut down? According to calculations from Streaming Observer’s Chris Brantner, the average NFL fan watches almost 24 hours of advertisements in a season.

Or other leagues…

As leagues battle for the attention of their consumers, making sure they give them less time to check their phone or change the channel has become a priority.

Earlier this year, MLB announced that it was planning to reduce each national commercial break by 25 seconds, NASCAR has been using split screen advertising since its days on ESPN back in 2011, and the NBA has done it with ESPN during timeouts.

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