John Steigerwald: Future of fandom is almost unrecognizable |
U.S./World Sports

John Steigerwald: Future of fandom is almost unrecognizable

A Cincinnati Bengals fan uses a card to shield from the sun as he looks at his phone while the team warms up before playing the Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 30, 2018, at Heinz Field.

Are you a fluid fan?

Probably not, considering this has nothing to do with being in favor of drinking a lot of fluids while attending a game. And probably not if you’re older than 17.

Fluid Fan is a term created by Sports Innovation Lab to describe fans of the future. The ones the Lab says sports teams should have in their plans for the future.

The study is called “A New Age of Sports,” and in it the CEO, Angela Ruggiero, a four-time member of the USA Women’s Olympic hockey team, explains how the sports landscape is changing and what to expect in the future.

There’s lots of advice for sports marketers who don’t want to get left behind.

Some of what she found I’ve seen in my teenaged grandsons, all of whom like sports. They don’t seem to have the allegiance to the local teams that I had when I was their age.

They seem to be more interested in players than teams. It’s all about their fantasy teams.

And they don’t watch TV the way you did.

According to Sports Innovation Lab, 50% of kids 12-17 prefer their phones for “Watching something fun.” Only 23% prefer TV.

For 18-34 year olds it’s 26% phone and 43% TV. Not surprisingly, the older you get, the more likely you are to watch TV for fun. Television is the choice for 66% of people aged 35-54. And if you’re really old (over 55) it’s TV for 73%.

Maybe you can imagine preferring a smart phone over a 65-inch TV for watching an NFL game, but I can’t.

Marketers couldn’t care less about you if you’re over 55.

The point seems to be teams are going to become a lot less important than the players. The Lab says geography will matter less and less as people who were born into the digital age get older, and that could mean that the die hard fan could become extinct.

If you’re old enough to remember when there was no internet and no NFL, MLB or NHL Network and no Premier League soccer to watch at seven o’clock Sunday morning, you know what it’s like to have a limited amount of sports to watch on a given day.

And you remember when your phone was only for making phone calls.

Fans from the 1950s to 2000 are called Global Fans by Sports Innovation Lab. They prioritized winning. How’s that for a concept?

Fluid Fans, 2020 and beyond, follow players. And they don’t have much interest in watching the same event for three or four hours.

Hello, Major League Baseball and hello, NFL.

As Ruggerio points out, attention span is a big consideration when viewers have the ability to watch anything any time, and that’s why there won’t be baseball or softball at the Paris 2024 Olympics but there will be break dancing.

That’s right. Olympic break dancing. Unfortunately, there’s a decent chance I still will be alive for that.

The next big thing is interactive media. It soon will be coming to a stadium near you, and it could include betting — and not just on the game. You will be able to bet on the outcome of individual plays.

What could go wrong there?

Major League Baseball already is streaming one game a week on Facebook. No commercials. The announcers interact with the fans during the game.

If sports fans of the future are lucky, maybe the technology that provides a wide variety of options for each game, including the ability to choose camera angles or select the coach’s view or the player’s view, also will include an option for viewers to, you know, just watch the game.

Probably not.

John Steigerwald is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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