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Sports World

The Importance of Being a “Socially-Conscious” Brand in the Sports World to Connect with Gen Z

Get your gloves on. Tie those sneakers. We’re running onto the field today. Because the sports world is having a challenge reaching Gen Z compared to earlier generations. Less Gen Zers identify as sports fans when compared to Millennials and all adults. Indeed, only 53% of Gen Zers consider themselves sports fans compared to 69% of Millennials and 63% of all adults. That’s quite a drop. It can also be seen in the amount of sports watched. Gen Z is half as likely to watch sports every week as Millennials. So, what can sports brands do?

Knit has written about how sports leagues can crush it with innovation to reach Gen Z. Now, we’re focusing on the importance of being “socially conscious.” Gen Zers are famous for seeking the truth and for the value that they place on different issues facing society. They are social and environmental idealists. But they are also more likely than previous generations to set aside differences to mobilize around causes that they deem important. And they aren’t strangers to boycotting brands that don’t align with their values. For instance, 81% of Gen Z would boycott a brand they deemed to be macho. 

When we surveyed our group of zoomers, we found that as many as 86% (!) believe they have a personal responsibility to help solve global issues. But only 22.7% think that professional sports teams are making a positive impact on these issues.

What issues does Gen Z care about?

There are many issues that Gen Z cares about, but the top three in our own research are mental health, racial equity, and the climate crisis. In other studies, as many as 75% of teenagers are worried about the future of our planet. This concern can be seen at colleges where choosing degrees related to the environment is becoming increasingly common. Gen Z is also the most ethnically diverse generation, and 60% state systemic racism to be widespread (fairly or very) in society. They demand that brands pay attention and are inclusive.

Brands must have a deeper understanding of the issues that Gen Z cares about to better reach this generation. Concerning sustainability, the most important aspects we found were water, food, waste, and energy. And only 15% of our Gen Zers think that the sports industry is doing a great job supporting sustainability. 

Regarding mental health, Gen Z has a less positive outlook than older generations, and a higher percentage say they have unmet social needs. Those social needs are things like education, income, housing, food, social support, etc. In fact, 58% of Gen Zers say they have two or more social needs that aren’t met. That number is only 16% for people in older generations. The importance of mental health has already been seen in sports with stars such as Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles. They both stood up for their mental health and themselves as people, not just pro athletes.

How can the sports industry do better?

Gen Z wants teams, athletes, and venues to speak up on environmental and social initiatives. In our survey, 74% agreed that sports teams should speak up. It was a little higher than for pro athletes (72.4%) and sports venues (72%). The sports world is taking notice that more is needed for Gen Z than to be entertained and enjoy the product. The NFL, for instance, had the brand campaign “It Takes All of Us” in 2020 to show its commitment to social justice.

We now know some of the global issues that Gen Z cares about. But how does it relate directly to pro sports when it comes to teams vs. athletes? We have the data from our own fresh research to give a deeper insight.

Racial injustice is by far the most crushing issue that Gen Z expects pro sports teams and pro athletes to take a stance on. Interestingly, zoomers think it’s slightly more essential for pro athletes, than pro teams, to take a stance on education and food insecurity/hunger. On the other hand, they think it’s marginally more essential for pro teams to take a stance on racial injustice and gender equality.

Gen Z wants more from sports venues

Knit found that as many as 84.5% of Gen Zers think it’s important that venues implement environmental initiatives. That high number comes into an even clearer context when you consider that of our Gen Zers, only 24.7% have noticed things in venues that would be regarded as “climate-friendly”. So, what are some things they have noticed and want to see more of? Solar panels, paper straws, recycling bins, cardboard trays instead of plastic or foam, no Styrofoam, open roof, etc.

The number one key environmental initiative for venues to implement according to our research is recycling. It was chosen as a top-three by 74.5% of Gen Zers. The second and third most mentioned are energy-efficient cooling/heating and energy-efficient lighting. And 47% of Gen Z wants to see the details of sustainable initiatives on social media. But even more crucial is that it can be seen at the venue in person.

Social media isn’t only a good way to show these initiatives, Gen Zers (at 65%) also use it as a way to check that the brand they think is “socially conscious” actually lives up to it.

There are three key takeaways for the sports world to remember about Gen Z:

    • They are empowered to impact
    • They expect you to take a stand
    • Seeing (on social) is believing

Feel you got it in you for another round of Gen Z and sports? You might even be ready to get to the playoffs or win that trophy. If you do, download our report and get the full panel discussion on Sports Fans of the Future.

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