Are Millennials’ TV Watching Habits Jeopardizing the Future of Sports?

Millennial sports fans are moving away from cable television and traditional sports towards online video game tournaments and other “eSports.

A study conducted by LEK Consulting revealed a “sharp generational divide” among sports fans. This divide is marked by a change in TV viewing habits between millennials (those between 18-25 years old) and those above 35. The report stipulated that millennials are spending less time watching traditional cable television, and thus, losing interest in traditional sports.

As background, LEK conducted a survey of 1,500 U.S. sports fans, which showed that millennial sports fans with any interest in eSports significantly prefer their favorite eSport to traditional sports. Non-millennial sports fans reported spending 41 percent of their media time on TV, but only 9 percent of it on online TV. However, millennial sports fans reported to spending only 33 percent of their time on TV, but 20 percent of that TV is online.

LEK stated that this divide is significant, as the study indicated that 30 percent of respondents across all age groups said “watching games on TV growing up” was their top reason for becoming a sports fan, equal to the number who cited “playing sports as youngsters.” LEK continued that this could threaten the grown of the industry, as “[f]or years, sports programming has been part of basic cable, and more has been available via premium cable TV sports tiers. . . TV has been the historical conduit for sports fandom. So the decline in legacy viewership points to a decline in sports fandom going forward.”

Even though television is a main source of funding for sports leagues and their teams, LEK’s study showed that in the fiscal year ending in October, ESPN lost 90 million subscribers. Thus, as director of LEK’s sports unit stated, “[t]he old model is under pressure. . . Traditional sports organizations rely on TV, especially cable TV, to attract new fans and to generate revenue now through ownership of regional sports networks. But they will likely come under increasing pressure to change their model, especially five to 10 years down the road.”

LEK recommended that sports organizations and leagues wanting to attract a new generation of fans may need to adapt their offerings, tuned to millennial tastes, such as direct-to-consumer digital offerings, fantasy sports, and eSports.

Some leagues have already begun reacting to those millennials who have ditched cable, “by providing over-the-top viewing options to reach millennials where they are viewing media content.”

The NFL successfully made headlines when it steamed a game in London in 2015, and then sold the rights to stream its Thursday Night Football games to Twitter. Similarly, the MLB built on the success of its service when it acquired the rights to stream the NHL off its streaming technology business, BAM Tech. Some NBA owners have also successfully pushed for eSports teams. Finally, last week, Major League Soccer and Facebook executed a deal to stream at least 22 regular season matches via Facebook Live.



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