Sports and TV Ratings are Dropping – ESPN is worried, should you be?

By Steve Paddon

Young people are as compelled by YouTube celebrities as they are by anyone on traditional television. For sports content, they are more used to seeking out videos from these influencers on YouTube and Facebook than from ESPN. – “Why This Study on Millennial Sports Video Habits Should Worry ESPN,” Daniel Roberts, Fortune

Whistle Sports, a digital video network, produces a range of videos for a range of platforms. Many of those videos fall into the humor and sports categories. Over the startup’s three year rise, the company has collected a treasure trove of user data from which they’ve mined some surprising insights. Their study of millennial viewing habits of sports video in the summer of 2015 has been taken by many as an indicator of future trends. Trends that are promising for online entrepreneurs – and bad news for ESPN.

Millennials are the driving force towards online sports consumption

Older millennials between the ages of 25-34 were almost equally as likely to consume sports videos through ESPN as Facebook. But the younger half of this sprawling demographic, the 13-24-year-olds, listed YouTube (64%) and Facebook (53%) above ESPN (42%).

Another surprising trend the study uncovered was the proclivity to seek out niche sports stars, like the world’s most famous ultimate-frisbee player, Brodie Smith, or the Bryan brothers – golfers who specialize in trick shots and have an enthusiastic Instagram following.

The new sports consumption is largely driven by these niche personalities who combine incredible talent with humor and social media savvy.

Socially savvy

Bryan Elliott of the Huffington Post calls this an “unprecedented growth of non-traditional sports that are being watched online with views into the billions.”

Many of these niche sports players, like the Bryan brothers and Brodie Smith, are content producers themselves, using social media to gain reach only NFL quarterbacks could have expected just a decade ago. For them, creating their own content and building a following is an attractive alternative to signing on with traditional advertisers – as well as a way to attract their sponsorship.

Even the most traditional sports venues – stadiums – are noticing the changing tides. At college games, the fans who come often leave at halftime if they can’t connect to WiFi to upload pictures to social media. Pro teams have taken note of this emerging trend by updating their stadiums with WiFi and building apps that do everything from instant replays to ordering beer to your seat to showing you the nearest bathroom.

In short, even physically going to a game is an experience mediated through the lens of social channels.

Is social media taking over sports?

It already has. And sports leagues and brands need to adapt to what this means, or lose their audiences. And by adapt, this means a radical change from being a producer of game action to  a brands that enables their fans to believe they are an integral, contributing member of the brand.


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