Deloitte’s inaugural study, 2023 Sports Fan Insights: The Beginning Of The Immersive Sports Era, found that despite concerns over past pandemic-driven closures of live sporting events, today’s sports fans remain strong, with younger fans craving spectator sports experiences.

Key Takeaways From The Deloitte Study include: 

  • Younger fans are shifting what the ideal sports viewing experience at home means. While 71 percent of fans said their favorite sports content is live events, the percentage drops to 58 for Gen Z and Millennials.
  • While watching sports at home, 77 percent of fans said they participated in at least one sports-related activity concurrently, whether looking up player statistics, using social media, playing fantasy sports, betting on the game, or watching other games on a separate device.
  • More than 90 percent of Gen Z fans use social media to consume sports content, including game clips and highlights, live events, athlete interviews, and posts from athletes.
  • Sports fans have increasingly integrated betting as part of their behavior, with approximately 50 percent of Gen Z and Millennials over the age of 21 opting to bet on different aspects of a game in real-time on their mobile device while attending live sporting events.

“The rise of streaming services, coupled with changing generational behaviors, necessitates a change in how the industry views engagement,” said Jana Arbanas, vice chair, Deloitte LLP, and U.S. telecom, media and entertainment sector leader. “Gen-Z, in particular, seeks immersive, social experiences both at home and at live events, with a noticeable trend towards multiple devices and platforms. Simultaneously, the integration of sports betting and digital assets like NFTs challenges us to redefine fan engagement. The future of sports will increasingly rely on weaving a seamless tapestry of live, digital, and interactive experiences that resonate across all generations.”

Sports Fandom Remains Strong
The survey of 3,004 U.S. sports fans, ages 14 and older, taken in March 2023 by an independent research firm, found that today’s sports fans remain passionate about following their favorite sports, teams and players. Over three-quarters of surveyed respondents rated their sports fandom at seven or higher (on a scale of one to ten), with nearly 90 percent responding that their fandom had grown (37 percent) or stayed relatively the same (52 percent) over the past years. Deloitte noted in the study, “Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, where sports suffered significantly, this is an improvement.”

Asked why they’re sports fans, the survey found that almost 70 percent of fans say it’s because sports are entertaining. Sixty-eight percent said their fandom comes because they currently participate in sports or have in the past. When asked to pick a single reason for the genesis of their fandom, around a third of fans attribute it to their participation in youth sports, the top overall reason.

In the study, Deloitte wrote, “With concerns over the state of youth sports and participation rates, this could signal trouble for the fan base of the future. Add to that the myriad of entertainment options available to younger people today – including video games, social media, user-generated content, and streaming services – and it could become easy to worry that sports won’t be able to maintain the same historical level of interest.”

For now, fandom remains strong among younger generations. According to Deloitte’s survey, current sports fans age 40 and under are just as engaged as those over 40. Seventy-two percent of Gen Z fans and 82 percent of Millennial fans rate their fandom at a seven or higher (on a scale of one to ten). Among Gen Z respondents, 60 percent said they were more of a fan today than three years ago.

The report’s core explores how emerging technologies and new ways to consume entertainment build a more “immersive” experience for fans engaging in spectator sports. Deloitte wrote, “In this era, fans could expect to be able to craft their own unique, personalized digital sports reality. Every fan won’t have the same experience, even if they’re watching the same live sporting event.”

Six Insights Into Fandom’s Immersive Evolution
Deloitte’s report highlights six insights into how the evolution of fandom amid sports’ increasingly immersive reach:

  1. Among Gen Z respondents, 61 percent watch live sporting events from home with others, with 38 percent indicating that having friends to watch sports with at home would make them more likely to do so. Regarding attending live events in person, 25 percent of Gen Z fans cited experiencing events with friends or family as the most enjoyable aspect. Regarding social media usage, over 90 percent of Gen Z sports fans use social media to consume sports content, with their favorite content being game clips and highlights, live events, behind-the-scenes interviews and videos, and athletes’ posts. Most Gen Z fans follow an athlete online, with 46 percent of Gen Z fans watching a live sporting event from home due to following that athlete online, and another 33 percent attending a live sporting event in person for the same reason. When attending a live sporting event in person, 43 percent of Gen Z fans use their mobile device to post to social media during the game.
  2. Deloitte’s survey found that while 71 percent of fans preferred live sporting events, a smaller share (58 percent) of Gen Z and millennial fans shared the same preference, indicating live events increasingly competing for attention against social media videos. While 74 percent of the time, fans who watch sporting events from home rely on TVs to watch sports, this share drops to around 60 percent for Gen Z and Millennial fans, indicating that younger fans are watching on various devices. Many fans multitask while watching live sports at home, with 77 percent doing a sports-related activity such as looking up player or team stats, using social media, playing fantasy sports, betting on the game, or watching other games on a separate device. Forty-six percent indicated they’re more likely to watch a live sporting event from home if they’re a big fan of an athlete or the team participating, and 45 percent said they’re more likely to watch from home if the event is important or meaningful.
  3.  Deloitte’s survey found that when watching sports, 22 percent of the time, fans watch on a streaming video service, compared to around 60 percent of the time when their sports viewing occurs on cable or broadcast television. Streaming services have the potential to surpass the experience of watching sports on cable or broadcast TV, with 64 percent of Gen Z, 71 percent of Millennials, and 52 percent of Gen X fans said that they have a better viewing experience when watching a specific sporting event on a particular streaming provider than on cable or broadcast television. Some fans want new features from their SVOD services, such as real-time statistics and analytics, different camera angles, or watching the game from an athlete’s POV (point of view).
  4. In general, sports bettors tend to be more active fans. Among those surveyed, bettors are likelier to have attended a game in person, bought sports merchandise, paid for a streaming video service to watch sports, bought season tickets, or participated in a fantasy sports league over the past 12 months. Among all sports fans (over the age of 21), 22 percent reported betting on professional sporting events in the last 12 months, increasing to 30 percent for Gen Z and Millennials. Of all bettors, 35 percent place bets at least weekly. Sixty-one percent of bettors have attended a live sporting event in person in the past 12 months, compared to 44 percent of non-bettors. Thirty-eight percent (38 percent) of non-bettors versus 80 percent of bettors believe sports betting increases the entertainment value of sports. Fifty-nine percent of non-bettors versus 42 percent of bettors worry about the long-term impacts of sports betting on professional sports.
  5. Only 7 percent of Gen Z and Millennial sports fans purchased or received a team fan token, and 8 percent have purchased or received a sports or athlete-related NFT (non-fungible token), in the past 12 months. Fans are unclear about the purpose of digital assets, like sports-related NFTs: 30 percent of Millennial fans who are familiar with NFTs in sports said they are a fad, 36 percent said they’re an investment, 25 percent said they are something fun to express fandom. Yet, if accompanied by the right benefits, more fans would be willing to purchase fan tokens. Around 60 percent of fans would be willing to buy a fan token if it offered them a chance at free premium seats at a live sporting event or free exclusive merchandise.
  6. Only 5 percent of sports fans surveyed said they had used VR (virtual reality) to consume some sports content in the last 12 months (for Gen Z, it is 9 percent, for Millennials, 7 percent.) However, there is interest. When given a list of six sports-related VR experiences, roughly 70 percent of Gen Z and Millennial fans were interested in at least one. The top activities of interest for Gen-Z and millennials included playing sports-related VR games, watching live sporting events from an athlete’s POV, remotely attending a live sporting event, and co-watching an event with friends and family. When asked if they would pay for a VR sports experience (assuming they already had the right equipment), 62 percent of Gen Z and 66 percent of Millennials sports fans said they would pay to watch a sporting event in real-time from an athlete’s POV in VR. In addition, 59 percent of Gen-Z and 6 percent of Millennial sports fans said they would pay to watch a sporting event in VR from the seat of their choice at a venue.

“Whether a fan is watching at home, in person, or on the go, the actual sporting event is going to be mediated, personalized, and shared through a variety of digital channels for a customized experience that meets the needs of each individual fan,” said Pete Giorgio, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP, global and U.S. sports practice leader. “That’s immersive sports. Two or three different fans could be watching the same sporting event, but they will have their own personalized sports reality. One might be more interested in stats and analytics. Another might prefer to bet on sports, so they can do it from their laptop or mobile device while they watch the game on another screen. A third person might be co-watching the game with friends from all over the world and playing a prediction game with them.”

To read the full report, go here.

Photo courtesy CNET