Global socially-led creative agency We Are Social has released Think Forward: Sports Edition, a report covering emergent trends in digital sports culture.
The agency has delved into the trends shaping sports marketing right now, helping sports brands, sponsors and rights holders address arguably the biggest crisis facing sport – why the next generations are switching off from sport.
By taking a closer look at the evolving trends within gen z culture, Think Forward: Sports Edition decodes and translates cultural advancements that can inform and inspire brands’ marketing strategies.
The trends covered in Think Forward: Sports Edition are:
Trend 1. Textured Discovery: The way people explore the internet and discover sports content is evolving. Throughout time, sport has been something that is inherited through family or picked up through participation, but social is creating new avenues into sport through exploratory discovery. As the internet becomes ever more saturated, content curation is being prioritised over simple information-gathering.
Trend 2. Collapsing Narratives: Storytelling is no longer linear or following established structures. Instead, to survive the modern attention economy, storytelling on social media is mutating. Stories are no longer progressing through a traditional beginning, middle, end narrative arc. And they no longer play out start-to-finish in one place. Instead, they’re collapsing and starting mid-narrative, or expanding and becoming scattered across platforms.
The celebration that Grealish did against Iran at the World Cup came from a YouTube video where Grealish met Finlay, a Manchester City fan, who asked him to perform a special celebration for him. Many people only found out about this story midway through, when Grealish performed the celebration at the World Cup.
Trend 3: Margin Chasers: In sport, niche behaviour is seen as more authentic, gaining traction and cutting through. For gen z, the middle ground is the scorched earth. It’s why in 2023 there’s no worse insult on TikTok than calling someone ‘mid’ (meaning: middling). Coinciding with this is the rise of ‘Goblin Mode’, Oxford’s 2022 word of the year. When it comes to goblin mode, the more wild or subversive your energy, the more attractive it is. The extremely niche and the chaotic are winning out among sports fans.
Trend 4: New Cooperatives: Identity curation, self-presentation, hierarchy and status-seeking are being set aside to make space for community-building, and less focus on the individual. In sports culture, this is being driven by online toxicity, for example – in a survey conducted at the European Championships, 1 in 4 ethnic minority football fans reported that they’ve been the subject of racist abuse on social media.
Trend 5: Expanding Identities: Sports fans and athletes are venturing beyond their expected boundaries. On top of the rise of new co-operatives, the ego-centric nature of gen z is also being eroded by their experimentation with fluidity when it comes to their online identity. If managing one ego is hard, imagine trying to manage multiple at the same time. Against this backdrop, brands and creators alike are finding new ways to engage the next generation through unprecedented partnerships and identity plays.
Joe Weston, head of sport at We Are Social commented: “We’ve repeatedly seen sports bodies attempting to change the nature of sport itself to draw in the next generation of sports fans. While we as an agency do believe that sport can – and often should – look for ways to enhance the product, changing the fundamentals of the sport itself should always be a last resort.
We’ve been taking a closer look at the evolving trends within gen z culture so that we can start to decipher, translate and understand what’s really going on. And we’ve found that when you dig a little deeper, you uncover some really interesting cultural advancements which are genuinely inspiring and provide amazing creative opportunities for brands, sponsors and rights holders to totally change how they approach marketing.”
For more on all these trends and others, please see the full report here.