The Future of How We Watch Sports

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Take me out to the ballgame? Well, maybe not so much. The way we watch sports is changing, and stadium attendance has been dropping for years. Is this another case of Millennials ruining everything?

Millennial sports fans mostly watch games on their phones, and that’s changing the game for everyone.

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Empty Stadiums

In 2018, Major League Baseball teams reported a 10 percent drop in attendance figures from the same period last year. And last year’s numbers weren’t great. In fact, MLB attendance has been dropping steadily for over half a decade, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

The same is true for other sports, both big league and small. Even college ball attendance is declining. But why aren’t fans showing up?

Moneyball

As with so many things in life, the reason the stadiums have so many empty seats comes down to money. And not just because ticket prices are on the rise. Before cable TV, ticket sales were the main way a sports franchise made money.

In fact, it’s the main reason why the Dodgers abandoned Brooklyn for LA and the Giants relocated from Manhattan to San Francisco. The crowds were thin in New York, but California boosted attendance and helped the flagging franchises flourish.

But now, cable TV packages count for more income per game than the teams could hope to make from in-person ticket sales. For now, at least, they seem content to let attendance slide…but there’s reason to think that the era of premium cable sports is nearing its end, too.

Short Attention Spans

It’s no surprise that more people—not just Millennials—are watching games on TV and the internet. What’s interesting, though, is that the sheer number of choices available means that more people are bailing on boring, low-stakes, or blowout games.

People are not only watching fewer games in total, but they’re also quitting them earlier—which is bad news for the franchises, the networks, and the advertisers. And, ultimately, the fans.

Social Viewing

Snapchat has inked deals with both the NFL and NBC, which means more sports videos for your phone. 52 million people watched the NFL’s Snapchat material, which includes a Sunday Story with all the football highlights from the previous week.

Millennials are more likely to watch sports highlights and get game updates from Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram than older fans. Although Facebook still leads the pack in news and updates, YouTube is the clear winner when it comes to highlights. The streaming platform is even more popular than ESPN.com, which could indicate a shift not only in how people view sports but also where.

Fear of Missing Out?

For a generation that’s obsessed with missing out (#FOMO), Millennials are surprisingly laidback about skipping real-life experiences in favor of viewing the world through a screen. Sports fans are forged in the crucible of the stadium, where the sights, sounds, and even smells combine to form lifelong memories.

Millennial sports fans exist, but they’re very different from the generations that came before.