Tommy Walters, Research and Insights Manager at Team Whistle, discusses why teams should use TikTok to reach and engage with young sports fans.
As I approach my 25th birthday, I sit right on the cusp between Gen Z and Millennials. Known for their preference for digital video and love of TikTok, I associate with the younger generation in many ways, but when it comes to sports, I tend to more closely align with Millennials. I remember running home from the bus stop in lower school in order to finish my homework as quickly as possible so that I could catch the first pitch of the Cardinals game, and I am more than willing to wake up at any hour of the day to watch my beloved Liverpool FC play across the Atlantic.
But as time passes I am skipping more live games and spending more time looking to social media, TikTok especially, for highlights and sports content, even before COVID-19 hit. According to Whistle Wise, the insights arm of Team Whistle, over half of Gen Z would rather look at sports memes and social media accounts than watch a full sports game live. With TikTok use and adoption on the rise by Gen Z, sports marketers have unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on these trends, and engage and win with these young viewers.
It’s been widely discussed that Gen Z is spending more time on TikTok than ever, often at the expense of Twitter and Facebook, and the key reasons they flock to the platform present an opportunity for sports marketers, teams and athletes to level up their content and engage more effectively with audiences. TikTok is Gen Z’s favorite social media platform, except for YouTube, according to Whistle Wise, and is quickly growing with Gen Z in daily time spent and downloads.
On the other hand, 17% of Gen Z used Twitter in the past but have given up the platform entirely, trailed closely by Facebook (16%) as the most abandoned social media platforms by Gen Z. These trends are driven by a desire for positivity, as 79% of Gen Z agree that these days they look for content that is comfortable and will give them a break from the news. Looking on a platform level, 53% of Gen Z think that the content on TikTok is positive, significantly higher than Facebook (40%) and Twitter (39%).
TikTok also reflects the nature of how Gen Z is using their phones. While older generations may use their phones to scroll through Facebook for half an hour or play a game to kill time while waiting for an extended period of time, Gen Z checks their phone 23 times an hour (or 276 times in an average 12 hour day). This aligns with TikTok’s short form engaging content, as Gen Z can quickly check in for 15 seconds of fun and engaging entertainment.
Sports content, particularly highlights, is a natural fit with TikTok. 67% of Gen Z TikTok users wish social media platform algorithms pushed cleaner content viral, according to Whistle Wise. Sports on TikTok gives Gen Z exactly what they need, and fits into the positive content they crave online. No longer does Gen Z need to tune in live for a game, read a whole Twitter thread, or watch a 15 minute postgame interview with a coach.
They also can avoid watching the opposing team score, as TikTok is only giving them the most positive, satisfying and fun moments in sports that they want to watch. The best moments of the game, quick commentary, and buzzworthy interview cuts are all quickly and easily provided to them through TikTok. And, TikTok will determine for Gen Z if the sports content is worth seeing! The need to search Twitter for a video of a specific play or highlight is gone, as TikTok’s algorithm will serve only the content Gen Z needs to see.
Sports brands, teams, and leagues are being forced to adjust their mindset to please Gen Z on TikTok. Traditionally, using social media for sports content was an informational transaction for the creator and consumer. If you can’t watch the game, you follow along on Twitter in order to get the information of how the game is going. For Gen Z, TikTok is a source of pure entertainment, not information. 58% of Gen Z primarily use TikTok for humor, the highest of any social media platform.
Teams and leagues have the challenge of changing their thinking online from “how can I best inform my fans,” to “how can I best entertain my fans.” Additionally, we’re finding Gen Z increasingly values relatability and a well-rounded view of the athletes they like. 45% of Gen Z strongly agree they would rather support an athlete that gives to charity rather than is the best on the field or lands the biggest acting roles, 41% more than Millennials. For sports marketers, especially while live events are on pause, this gives an opportunity for young fans to better engage with the sports stars they love, while opening up new avenues of content creation to maximize fandoms.
This new reality provides opportunities to sports brands, teams, and leagues to expand their audience and content narratives, in particular, they can expect more willingness from people to experience different sports content. While I have no interest in watching a whole Pittsburgh Penguins regular season hockey game, or even their game highlights on YouTube, I do want to see the top two highlights from their game if it only takes 30 seconds from my day.
Moving forward, teams and leagues can expect to expand their audience to a younger, broader, less regional group, all seeking fun, positive and relatable content on TikTok.
To download the full results from Team Whistle’s recent TikTok study, “The Spectacular Rise of TikTok”, click here.
Tommy Walters leads consumer research at Team Whistle, focusing on better understanding Gen Z, digital media, and content consumption. Tommy is a passionate sports fan and currently lives in Hoboken, NJ.
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