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Getting Millennials into Sports Means Letting them be Kids

20 Apr, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Wanting to Escape #Adulting, This Gen is Swayed by Fun Activities, Getaways

Millennials are poised for world domination – someday. In the meantime, they enjoy escaping back into childhood periodically. And that just might be really good news for sports event organizers.

The generation, generally defined as those born between 1980 and 2000, has many things going for it: it’s tech-savvy, altruistic and health-conscious. And all of those things will influence sports events – eventually. For now, though, this gen is escaping from #adulting (yes, that is a proper term these days, so make sure you use that hashtag) and if sports event organizers are wise, they can help them do that (and help themselves reap the benefits.)

According to an article in Adweek, the trend of regression has not gone unnoticed, and companies are jumping on the, ahem, brandwagon, with big names like Cabela’s and Cutter’s Insect Repellant sponsoring summer camps for Millennials – where they can get into sports and fitness as an escape from reality.

Camp Grounded, the article notes, focuses on "digital detox," letting Millennials put away their devices for four days and engage in activities like tai chi and yoga. "The camp's popularity has grown because people want to unplug, and they want that analog, nostalgic experience," said Levi Felix, founder of Camp Grounded. Other camps offer surfing, fly fishing, baseball, whitewater rafting, hiking and more.

So what can event owners and rights holders take away from this? A few things:

Make an event fun and Millennials will use it as an escape hatch. USA Triathlon, for example, has been offering a highly successful Retro Tri Series, a triathlon that offers the opportunity to dress in 1970s and 80s fashion, hear fun music and to compete (either on a timed or untimed basis) in a multisport event.

According to Brian D’Amico, National Events Manager, the Retro Tri Series is “an event that appeals to people who want to try multisport because of its bucket list appeal; we find that with this series it is not uncommon to have one person recruit four or five of their friends to give it a try. For them, it is more appealing based on the retro theme and being able to dress the part while still having a safe, well-executed race. At the same time, though, it’s an event that draws experienced triathletes. They see it as a fun, exciting race series where they can really let loose.”

Training for an event is part of the experience, and provides another tension reliever. Count on health clubs and sporting goods stores to get an ancillary benefit from this type of involvement.

The ability to look forward to a fun event on the weekend also serves as an anchor for Millennials who feel pressured by adulthood. Plenty of other themed events, often untimed 5Ks including the Color Run, Ugly Sweater Run and so on, have tapped into the vein, attracting those who want to enjoy a silly experience – but at the same time, to be able to enjoy at least some level of fitness benefit. The Garmin Marathon in Olathe, Kansas, offers an Oz-themed run, with participants dressed as witches, Dorothy and more.

Offer the opportunity to get out of town and they have yet another reason: Once they have paid their rent/mortgage and utilities, Millennials want to enjoy themselves. According to this infographic, almost an equal division of them will spend their extra money on eating out, or on travel. A fun sports event in an attractive destination will create opportunities for both.

They believe in causes and they want to benefit them while they’re having fun: A total of 66 percent of Millennials will be involved in a charity or social cause. The aforementioned fun sports events that tie into a greater good will attract them like no other. 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. Getting away (without guilt) works nicely with the Millennial wish to escape #adulting.

They love sports but they’re okay with not being great at them: Sports are, again, an escape from reality. The more an event owner does to embrace this, the better the Millennial return. If the uptick in untimed races didn’t convince you of that, this might: Golfsmith’s newest TV ad campaign is seeking out the casual golfer market by making sure everyone sees (and celebrates) a wide array of truly terrible shots – not just the perfect drives seen at the Masters. (As an example, in one commercial, after a bad shot, a golfer says, "Freaking wind," and the voiceover says, "Yeah, you tell that wind.") In other words, the brand is seeking the loyalty of Millennials by showing relatable moments and letting them know that the journey through the course is enjoyable, no matter what level of play they bring to it. And the fact that as they age and make more money, they are expected to play even more golf, makes Millennials the target demographic for golf.

While it can be argued that just about every generation has wanted to escape back to the playground, Millennials seem to be the ones who are the most vocal about it, buying up coloring books for adults and attending wine and painting nights. The sports event owner who learns to capitalize on their wish to regress has the best chance of success.

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