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Millennials: Poised to Make their Move in Sports Event Spending

27 Jan, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

If the Baby Boomer generation’s spending habits have been described as a wave, the Millennial generation might be the undertow. And the preferences of that generation, the youngest in the workforce, are starting to be felt in the sports event industry.

The Millennials, defined as those born between 1979 and 2000, are the children of the Baby Boomers. They may not yet have the spending power of the Baby Boomers, but they’re coming into their own.

A MediaPost article noted that in years to come, Millennials will match, then overtake, the Baby Boomers in spending in every market segment that they participate in. It’s just a matter of time, after all. The Millennial generation is estimated at 78 million in the United States. At their peak, Baby Boomers, born from 1946 to 1964, numbered 76 million, but are fewer now. Granted, some of the youngest Millennials have not hit their spending stride, but they’re on their way up, and even now, they’re making the decisions that will influence the market for years to come.

So what do we know about Millennials and their habits, as those would influence sports? Here are a few things:

They don’t feel the same way about sports their parents didAn article in Sports Business Daily noted, “The greatest decline in avid sports fans in the last decade has come among 12- to 17-year-olds and 18- to 34-year-olds, according to sports demographer Rich Luker. That has raised concerns about whether those generations will take their children to sports events the same way their parents did, which is critical to sports maintaining the more than 90 million avid fans who have been the backbone of its business for decades in the U.S.”

Maybe that sounds dire. But looking at other aspects of the Millennial profile, a strong picture emerges of the target audience – and that audience has distinct potential, provided sports event organizers know how to harness it.

They are more altruistic than other generations: Main Street Media noted that Millennials are less influenced by traditional advertising than any other generation. Instead, they’re likely to be motivated by altruism. Does a sports event benefit a cause they believe in, or does it allow them to donate goods and supplies that will benefit those who are disadvantaged? If it does, they’re more apt to participate in it. This is the group that drives the movement of ‘voluntourism,’ traveling to an area and spending time doing volunteer work to benefit those less fortunate.

They’ll stand up for causes they believe in: Millennials have circles of friends from all races, ethnicities, religions, sexual orientations, physical and developmental abilities and gender identities. They take it personally when somebody uses language that violates their inclusive ethos. Last month, students at the University of Missouri protested racism on and off campus (and the school’s lack of response to it), and it led to the university president and the chancellor stepping down. The breaking point came when the entire football team threatened to boycott a game—an action that, according to an article in MediaPost, would have had created a tidal wave of negative public relations and economic impact, something students were well aware of. Because Millennials are tech-savvy (more on that in a minute), they’re also able to mobilize others to join in their boycotts, protests and more.

They’re more health-conscious than older generations: An article published in Business Insider covered a study that found Millennials put a tremendous focus on eating right and exercising. That lends itself to participation in sports activities, and support for them.

They’re seriously brand-loyal when it comes to athletic apparel: Millennials love them some Lululemon, Under Armour, Nike, North Face, Columbia and Adidas. Putting on an event? They’ll appreciate brand-name shirts, and they’ll pay more for registration in order to get them.

If they're traveling for sports, you'd better believe they'll be fitting in some pleasure too. According to an article in Travel Pulse, the Millennials are likely to fit in a day of sightseeing, relaxation or other leisure pursuits during a weeklong conference in whatever city they find themselves. Sports event planners will find these travelers are interested in all aspects of a city, meaning they're likely to be reading up on that destination before they go.

They demand connectivity at their sports venues: An article in Tech Republic stressed the importance of available wi-fi, pointing out that Millennials (who engage with sports on multiple platforms while a game is in progress) will refuse to attend live sports events if there are charges for connectivity. And as we’ve seen in the news, they’re likely to take their beef to the FCC (they’re looking at you, Hilton and Marriott.)

“I’m still waiting for someone to build an arena without a Jumbotron because everyone is looking at their phones,” said Casey Wasserman of Wasserman Media Group. “There will be changes in the venue that have to be thought of in non-traditional ways.”

They’re changing sports themselves: In February, Running USA will bring out its first-ever Millennial Running Study, which details the sports and spending habits of Millennials and their impact on the running industry.

The factors behind Millennials’ motivations and the fact that their behaviors are influencing running events is obvious, whether that is through the increased use of technology in endurance activities or the rapid rise of obstacle, color, night and costume races.

“Millennials are changing how participants engage with the sport and each other,” said Rich Harshbarger, CEO of Running USA.

They know where they can write online reviews, and you’d better believe they will: If Millennials enjoy a sports event, they’ll sing its praises. If they don’t, well, consider yourself warned. A total of 60 percent of Millennials actively rate products and events online versus 46 percent of other generations. It has been noted, for example, that in the obstacle racing community (an activity Millennials love), participants aren’t afraid to call out organizers of events they think didn’t live up to their promises.

They’re more tech-savvy than other generations: Business Insider stated that because this generation grew up with mobile phones (and many with smartphones), they’re used to communicating via social media, text and blogging. Main Street Media added that because they spend less time on traditional newspapers and magazines, Millennials are probably going to hear about interesting sports events online and in social media, as well as from friends and at the gym.

That leads itself to some seriously connected sports fans. In fact, notes Sports Business Daily, the power of their connectivity has taken officials by surprise. In 2014, when the San Jose Earthquakes set a minimum ticket price for visiting fans at $55, Seattle Sounders fans, whose team opened their season that year in California, took to Twitter in protest. It wasn’t long before Earthquakes supporters joined them, and then fans from both teams and both cities united to take their concerns to the league. Opposing fans joining forces is something MLS Commissioner Don Garber never imagined, and it underscored just how different Millennial fans are from their predecessors.

“That’s not something anyone in our generation thought of,” Garber said. “A Giants fan wasn’t hanging out with an Eagles fan to figure out how they were going to deal with away-ticket pricing. We better understand that. It’s going to affect the way we do business.”

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