Can professional sport leagues reverse the trend of declining younger viewership? – The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Sports leagues, especially Major League Baseball, are seeing declines in younger viewership.
The change comes as people turn away from traditional TV viewing and toward social media, video games and streaming TV, a trend that has only grown during the Covid-19 pandemic, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The New York Mets’ new owner is attempting to reverse the trend by doing a marketing overhaul with ideas that include updating technology at the ballpark, creating sponsorships that grow its brand on social media and building its “cool factor.”
Other leagues are trying things, too. The NFL will air a playoff game this postseason on Nickelodeon and has a new weekly show called “NFL Slimetime.”
Q: Can professional sports leagues reverse the trend of declining younger viewership?
Jamie Moraga, IntelliSolutions
YES: If anyone has the means to reverse the trend, it’s professional sports leagues. They have the motivation, the capital, and can hire the talent to target younger viewers. Fans are seeking highlights, quick snippets of information, or close game notifications through apps or paid subscriptions. By getting more creative and interactive and utilizing technology, social media, branding, and live experiences, professional leagues may be able to re-engage younger generations of fans.
David Ely, San Diego State University
YES: The leagues are unlikely to return to the viewership levels they enjoyed when broadcast and cable television were dominant in the entertainment industry. However, with their significant marketing and branding resources, they should be able to stop the decline and regain some fans. Recognizing the shift in how entertainment is consumed, the leagues can pursue streaming forms of distribution and various ways to use social media to engage new viewers.
Ray Major, SANDAG
Not participating this week.
Lynn Reaser, Point Loma Nazarene University
YES: It will be a steep mountain to climb, however. Connections will have to be forged between players and younger individuals to build the case for viewership. Personal interviews with players could help build those affinities. Sports leagues may have to invest more in children’s sports activities to engage the youngest viewers and interest of their parents. Technology and delivery can help, but younger viewers need a compelling reason to become engaged.
Reginald Jones, Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation
NO: The essence of sports is the live experience, not mainstream broadcast. Younger people are more engaged with sports video games. Economics is the real problem to audience growth. Many potential audience members cannot afford to attend games. Particularly urban, low- and moderate-income families. Ironic, since many inner-city youth who grow up playing on neighborhood courts and empty lots become moneymakers for the league. This very demographic is largely priced out of the arena.
Kelly Cunningham, San Diego Institute for Economic Research
YES: Rather than gimmicks to attract viewers, the best way to get young people interested in professional teams is to participate in the sport themselves while growing up. Taking part in organized sports is a meaningful rite-of-passage for young people and that can become a life-long passion. The best benefit is they are physically active, instead of sitting inert for hours playing virtual computer games. Sponsoring little league and amateur competitions are effective ways for major leagues to foster involvement.
Phil Blair, Manpower
YES: With changes. I am a big fan of tradition until that tradition is dragging the sport down. Sports games need to move along faster, no televised long walks from the bullpen, the game should be shorter, shorter half times, and the players need to be more relatable and personable. It’s OK to take the caps and helmets off and see their actual faces every once in a while. For baseball it may be helpful to cut down on the number of games. Use of more technology to follow hits, kicked balls and catches. With the new technology we have there should not be any “What just happened?” moments. We know everyone’s attention spans are much shorter for everything, not just sports.
Gary London, London Moeder Advisors
NO: If you don’t play when you are young, you are less likely to understand or follow the game when you are older. The real culprit is non-participation in youth sports, principally owed to injury concerns. Also, there are now more distractions. Viewership can be somewhat persuaded through marketing techniques, but these fundamentals have to be addressed to save football, in particular, as well as other team sports.
Alan Gin, University of San Diego
NO: This is a generalization, but younger people these days tend to have shorter attention spans and want quicker gratification (and they won’t stay off my lawn!). It is more difficult for them to sit through two-to-four hour sporting events and savor the strategic intricacies found in games like baseball and football. The availability of alternatives online and in streaming format, such as E-sports and even things such as fast chess, has provided serious competition for the traditional sports and will only expand in the future.
Bob Rauch, R.A. Rauch & Associates
YES: Each sport has its challenges. Baseball is too slow, allowing pitchers and batters to dictate pace by taking their time and relying on home runs for excitement. Base stealing is a lost art. Basketball allows political statements rather than focusing solely on the game. Football seems to continue to attract a broad spectrum of fans — is it gaming interest?. New sponsors, social media, and marketing can have a big role here. Let’s encourage a youth movement.
Austin Neudecker, Weave Growth
NO: On the field, fewer children are engaged in sports. Relevant to viewership, trends toward short-form content, mobile and gaming continue to move eyeballs away from broadcast sports towards streaming services, social media platforms, and eSports. Traditional sports must innovate and adapt. A slow decline in viewership may be countered by new form factors and business models that account for younger viewers’ preferences, but professional franchises are fighting an uphill battle to stay relevant.
James Hamilton, UC San Diego
NO: The trend was clear before COVID and won’t be reversed as other aspects of life get back to normal. When the conflicts and divisions in America spill into sports, the events no longer offer an escape from our worries or a way to come together. When teams like the Chargers move away whenever they want, how can fans feel the team represents them? And as the injuries in professional sports grow in severity, they’re less fun to watch.
Chris Van Gorder, Scripps Health
NO: At least not as it pertains to baseball. Unlike basketball and football, baseball is a relatively slow-paced sport with nuanced strategy and tactics and brief moments of excitement. It’s the same reason that golf fails to attract young audiences. Other fast-paced sports will have less of a problem, but youth interest will wane over time in this era of immediate gratification. The Mets and others would be better served to target a demographic that wants to watch a baseball game.
Norm Miller, University of San Diego
NO: The U.S. has had a culture of thinking about only football, baseball and basketball as the major food groups for “sports” along with some golf, ice hockey, car racing, tennis and soccer and the occasional Olympics. But now we have extreme skateboarding, snowboarding, skiing, MMA fighting, poker, lumberjacking, ax throwing, bean bag toss, bowling, darts, and on and on. My bet is that viewership is not down at all for “sports” but rather down for the traditional big three sports, and up if measured more holistically.
Have an idea for an EconoMeter question? Email me at [email protected]
Follow me on Twitter: @PhillipMolnar

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