School of Education and Human Development faculty members Paul Resnick and Tywan Martin share how sports leagues are looking to online interaction or digital platforms to engage young viewers.
Higher score games. Fewer innings. More social media content. The world of sports is evolving rapidly to continue to attract a worldwide audience.
As younger generations dive into sports fandom, professional leagues are noticing a particularly worrying trend.
Over the past decade, Major League Baseball (MLB) has seen a gradual decline in game attendance and television viewership. Many attribute this decline to the limited capacity at stadiums across the country in recent years due to the pandemic. Still, industry leaders are concerned that the pace of the game is losing long-term interest and attention from young audiences.
“Baseball is a sport that just isn’t conducive to the way we live today,” said Paul Resnick, associate professor and faculty member in sports administration at the University of Miami’s School of Education and Human Development.
Along with the decline in interest in baseball, Resnick noticed a dwindling audience for other slow-moving sports such as NASCAR racing and golf. In contrast, leagues such as the National Football League, National Hockey League and Major League Soccer have seen growing interest over the past decade.
“We lost baseball as ‘America’s pastime’ many years ago when the NFL took over,” Resnick said. “NHL attendance and viewership was also up this year, with faster games and higher scoring games. I think MLB is one of the big sports leagues that we should be concerned about and see how they adapt to attract fans.”
As several professional bodies grapple with a young generation who appear unable or unwilling to endure a full-length sporting event, many are turning to social media to get their attention.
“Digital engagement has continued to grow rapidly,” said Tywan Martin, associate professor of kinesiology and exercise science at the School of Education and Human Development.
Martin noted that social media strategies promoting short user-generated content help connect young fans with sports brands and athletes. For example, ESPN powers its online and streaming platform to provide audiences with snippets of content to capture the shorter attention spans — 30-second video highlights, short score alerts, and post-game player interviews.
“It’s fascinating how traditional media platforms are taking a backseat to this short-form content,” said Martin. “If fans are given truncated information, that seems to be the game today to pique their interest. Enthusiastic fans will always support their teams. It uses social media to attract the casual fan and then converts them into an avid fan. That’s what the teams are trying to do.”
Resnick explained that developing fan interest in the athletes themselves has the potential to reignite interest in attending games.
“If you ask about transcendent stars in sports, you have your big names,” Resnick said. “When you think of the NFL, you think of Tom Brady. When you think of the NBA, maybe Lebron James. Who do you think of when you think of MLB? There’s certainly a divide between the die-hard fans and the casual fans.”
Resnick also noted that audiences go to sporting events to be entertained. The Savannah Bananas, a collegiate summer baseball league based in Savannah, Georgia, is a unique example. With coordinated dances between games and flashy uniforms, the summer league team has amassed nearly 3 million followers on social media. The Savannah Bananas are currently capturing the attention and hearts of fans like no other team.
How are the leagues progressing?
In short – nobody knows, Resnick and Martin agree. The future could be to focus social media strategies on fan revenue generation and athlete star power. Or maybe the future lies in using the growing interest in online gaming competitions to create a new avenue for sporting events.
Many fans debate whether the sport should adapt to the needs of audiences by shortening games or finding ways to allow higher scoring games. And while traditionalists cling to the idea that games shouldn’t be changed, some know change is coming and necessary.