June 09, 2001

If today’s youth are tomorrow’s consumers, the future looks strong for sports, according to the latest issue of SportTainmentsm News, by Harris Interactive. While, on average, adults are diehard or avid fans of four sports, youths are diehard or avid fans of seven. In terms of sports participation, 80% of youth participate in sports compared to 41% of the general population 18 and over. This 80% is also participating in more sports, averaging between seven or eight sports, compared to adults, whose average participation is in three or four sports.

Youth buying power and strong influence on family purchase behaviors are catching the attention of companies. A recent survey of nearly 4,000 youths online by Harris Interactive in July 2000 revealed that online youth aged 8 to 24 are currently spending at a projected rate of $164 billion per year. Businesses are now developing sponsorship promotions that appeal to this growing market. Texaco’s NASCAR sponsorship, for instance, included youth-focused give-aways for fill-ups with the hopes that kids would encourage parents to stop there for gas.

Capitalizing on youth’s enthusiasm for sports requires leveraging information on these general trends.

The Olympic Games and the football are the top sports among boys, girls and the adult population; but, fan interest beyond that is much more varied. For the adult population, Major League Baseball (MLB) is third in terms of the percent of the population who are fans, where as for boys, that spot is held by college football and for girls, the NBA. For boys, wrestling is the fifth most popular sport where 41% are fans compared to only 25% of the adult population.

In terms of attendance, youth are:

17% more likely to attend a MLB game than adults

79% more likely to attend a NBA game than adults

53% less likely to attend a NHL game than adults

The 18-24 year olds, as would be expected, dominate the collegiate sports stadium and arena while the 13-17 year olds attend high school and community sports events. The particular sports they attend, however, are much more varied than those that adults attend. Eighty-five percent of adults attending college sports go to football games compared to 69% of college-aged youth. These youth are more likely to attend other college sports – forty-five percent more likely to attend women’s volleyball for example.

In general, youth’s sports interests are more diverse and much more fickle. Youth can be diehard fans of a sport for one month and not even follow it the next. With short, intense and easy to follow stories the youth flock, but just as quickly their interest can wane. Sports seasons are long and extend across changes in youth schedules. Youth organize their lives based on school calendars and youth activities that change quarterly. As a result, kids with free time to follow baseball early in the season themselves may be out playing mid-season.

These mixed interests present challenges, but also opportunities, for leagues, teams, and sponsors trying to reach this crucial consumer. The opportunity is in fan retention as young fans become hooked. Fashion trends change rapidly, so marketing strategies that focus on how "cool" a sport is to watch or follow create immediate –albeit brief—opportunities with passing trends. Out of sports emerge opportunities to create easy to follow stories based on rivalries, athletes’ personalities and profiles, teams’ records, etc., which contain fans’ interest.

Youth are also more diverse in their sports participation. They are more willing to try out different sports as they grow up, eventually to narrow them to the few at which they excel. This diversity presents an opportunity for marketers to create brand loyalty across sports. Brand positioning here is critical. Asics, Saucony, Fila, New Balance, and K-Swiss are significantly more likely to be chosen for individual or non-organized games than Nike, Reebok, AndOne and adidas, which are the brands of choice among organized team sport participants. Expert 13-17 year-old basketball players were more likely than beginners to buy Nike while beginners were more likely to buy Reebok.

While positioning brands within the youth market, it is important to understand the complexity of their motivation. "Cool" fades and is less of a driver of participation in sports among adults while "fun" is more of a driver. Youth, on the other hand, are significantly more motivated to participate in sports for social reasons than adults.

Maintaining youth interest is crucial for success – not merely because they are the fans and consumers of the future – but because even "today," they are very brand and sponsor loyal consumers.

The Consumer Impact Index (CII) for sponsorships with the youth far exceeds that for sponsorships with adults (CII: a measure of sponsorship loyalty based on fans’ actual usage)

For youth, the Consumer Impact Index in 2000 for Professional Wrestling sponsors was 16, with the NBA second at 15 and the NHL third at 11. For adults, the top CII by league was the NBA with 4.4, the MLB with 1.9 and the NHL with 1.7. Thus, youth are brand loyal to sponsors of their favorite sports.

So how does a company reach these fickle youth fans?

A combined holistic and interactive approach to sportainment strategy is key with the youth market

Youth with Internet access are:

twice as likely to visit sports Internet sites than adults

three times more likely to go to sites for sports tips and ticket purchasing

five times more likely to visit chat rooms and video games on these sites

Forty percent of youth with Internet access who go to sports sites go for customized live coverage compared to 16% of adults – this is almost a three-fold increase since December 2000.

The youth sportainment market is a key consumer group, a strong and important place for developing brand loyalty. Reaching this youth audience is more challenging than reaching the adult population because of their diverse interests and fickle tastes. Generally speaking, however, short, intense and easy to follow stories that capture interest along with interactive programs and promotions allow messages to integrate into the youth lifestyle – where the loyal consumer is born.

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