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Is Sports Betting the Secret Avenue to Accessing Gen Z?

This much is clear: Gen-Z is not watching as much sports as their parents and older relatives. Just 53% of zoomers consider themselves sports fans, compared to 63% of all adults. And the difference is even starker among men, with 58% of male zoomers versus 75% of all men considering themselves fans.

But just because zoomers aren’t flocking to sports in the same way as previous generations doesn’t mean that sports marketers should ignore them. A better approach is to consider alternative ways in which these consumers can be reached.

Indeed, recent research suggests that sports betting, legalized in 9 states and counting, could be one promising channel through which to connect with the elusive Gen-Z sports demographic.

Gen Z’s Sports Betting Appetite

To take a step back, this story is of-course larger than just Gen-Z. In the last year, sports viewership has been declining across the board. While there is no definitive explanation for this, changes in viewing habits caused by new technologies (particularly streaming and social media) have certainly played a part. Regardless of the exact causes, 2020 saw a 51% decrease in viewership for the NBA finals, and an over 40% decrease in game six of the World Series.

Subsequently, both leagues and broadcasters have been scrambling to innovate new ways to reconnect with dwindling audience shares – especially within Generation Z. In addition to new streaming strategies, social media partnerships, and a tepid embrace of cause marketing, the rise of sports betting has been seen by many as one way to potentially save the industry. 

This strategy may end up working the best for Gen-Z, whom many studies indicate are the generation most interested in sports betting. 10% of zoomers polled by Civic Science reported betting on sports “very/somewhat often,” compared to just 6% of all survey participants. Though the figures are not mind blowing at first glance, they are worth a deeper look with additional context applied, as only 33% of Gen Z are currently of age to gamble!

And the upside of this generation is aparent, as 27% also said that they would be interested in betting if the practice was legalized in their state.

So with Gen Z  more likely to take up sports betting than older generations, interrogating why this is the case can help leagues and teams figure out how to better connect with Gen-Z in general.

Why Gen Z is placing a wager on sports

One of the top reasons Gen-Z may be drawn to sports betting – even as less of them are watching sports in general – is due to the experiential and social aspect of the activity. While Gen-Z is often characterized as being more fiscally conservative and less prone to discretionary spending, they are willing to take out their wallets for unique social experiences.

During the pandemic especially, betting even small amounts on a big game allows zoomers to elevate themselves from passive viewers into more active participants in the event. Making money off of betting may even be immaterial, some zoomers reported to USBets, and is certainly less important than engaging in the experience. “Obviously we want to make money,” said one member of their Gen-Z focus group, “but if I lose $20 on a game, it’s OK. It’s definitely more about the commotion and cheering and everyone being together.

How can sports brands capitalize on betting

Some sports brands have already enjoyed success by catering to Gen-Z’s love of social experiences – in particular by harnessing the power of social media – and the approach to sports betting should be no different. Social media is definitely a key channel to reach this demographic, whether by sharing the points spread and  over/under during a live game, or even partnering and co-branding with sports betting apps to claim valuable “phone real estate.”

There are also plenty of other technological innovations that can be taken advantage of to maximize the ROI of sports betting. Micro Betting, in which fans wager small amounts on something as simple as a coin toss or a single at-bat, could provide nearly limitless touchpoints to engage zoomers during a sports event. Other applications, such as Peer-to-peer wagering and even eSports betting, prove that there is a diverse range of options for any brand interested in exploring sports betting as a way to reach Gen-Z in particular.

Reaching out to Gen-Z is, arguably, the existential problem facing sports brands today. If leagues and broadcasters are unable to adapt to new technologies and navigate changing consumer trends, they risk losing an entire generation of fans. And as zoomers form a more significant sector of the economy in advance of the largest wealth transfer in American history, the stakes are only getting higher. Those who bemoan Gen-Z as being “unreachable” will inevitably lose out to those who strive to meet them where they are at.

This means embracing sports betting as a potential new vertical, as well as understanding the larger, underlying trends of gamification and experiential marketing. For brands who are able to harness these trends effectively, the future of Gen-Z sports fandom will be a sure bet.

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