They say you don’t realize how much something means to you till it’s gone. Today’s sports lovers are most definitely feeling this phrase to their core. Among the numerous things the COVID-19 outbreak has paused or stopped completely, the sidelining of sports has revealed not only how important they are to many Americans, but how Gen Z and Millennials are still enamored with some good, old-fashioned athleticism.
Plenty of publications and studies would disagree with this statement. Interest in attending traditional sports events—particularly football—has supposedly been dropping for quite some time. USA Today went into detail about how major sports leagues are seeing a decrease in fan attendance due to factors such as exorbitant ticket prices, while an article published by New York Magazine proclaims teams themselves don’t even really care whether fans show up at all.
This demise is also spurred on by discussions surrounding the health repercussions contact sports have on athletes. Critics such as acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell have long stressed the negative side effects of football, having once called the sport a “moral abomination.” For him and others, the data linking football to severe health consequences alone is enough to eradicate the sport’s future entirely, along with any other contact sport that puts players’ health at risk. All this has supposedly led to a mutual uncoupling between sports and upcoming generations, who much prefer esports with high-profile gaming competitions such as the Fortnite World Cup. Trend-spotters saw it coming from miles away.
But then COVID-19 hit, forcing hockey fans to be denied the rest of their regular season and college basketball fans to lose their beloved March Madness tournaments—just a few among many cancellations. Those hungry for their usual TV sports-watching tried whetting their appetite with reruns of old games to no avail. And this hunger isn’t just felt in the bellies of Boomers and beyond, but also younger demographics who still avidly back the traditional teams they know and love.
The Tylt’s senior branded content editor, Jason Henninger, had initially observed how interest for sports remains strong for those greener in age when he explored Gen Z and Millennial enthusiasm for sports-related topics. It turns out that the majority of them still watch the Super Bowl for the game, not the commercials, and believe college athletes should be salaried just the same as their pro-league counterparts. An article by McKinsey’s Dan Singer agrees, citing how the number of Millennials watching sports has actually increased; the ratings are skewed by shorter viewing sessions brought on by shrinking attention spans and streaming platforms.
This conclusion is reaffirmed by The Tylt’s own simulated NCAA tournament bracket, which attracted voters by the droves. Since the in-person tournament was cancelled due to the pandemic, many fans sought to fill the resulting basketball-shaped hole in their hearts by flocking to the site and casting their vote for their favorite teams. One of the site’s most successful brackets, the first round alone garnered more than 40,000 votes within the span of a week, attracting generations from Gen Z to Boomers alike. In the end, fans of the Rutgers’ Scarlet Knights rejoiced, claiming the virtual tournament crown.
Speaking of virtual environments, while many would argue that the young crowds drawn by esports further indicates the slow death of traditional sports, Gen Z and Millennials would beg to differ. In fact, many of them maintain that there’s little difference between a sport played on a console and that on a field, as other skills and types of physical concentration are needed for these games.
When directly asked whether esports competitors can be considered athletes, 59.5 percent of Tylt voters agreed that #GamersAreAthletes, as opposed to #NerdsNotAthletes. And these yea-sayers aren’t just “nerds” attempting to justify their pastimes; five percent of them are sports fans and fitness enthusiasts while four percent are outdoor lovers (and some, interestingly enough, heavily enjoy luxury shopping). For this wide variety of folks, esports and traditional sports can coexist; one does not have to fail for the other to survive.
Even the health concerns are not able to subdue the youth’s passion for traditional sports. One would think that younger generations who are starting (or already have) families would keep their children from playing contacts sports, given the available information. Yet the Gen Z and Millennials of The Tylt have painted quite a different picture, one whose colors reflect a strong desire for children to participate in sports despite the health concerns. When asked whether kids should be allowed to play football, an overwhelming 96.3 percent voted #LetKidsPlayFootball. Of that number, 66.2 percent of voters were aged 18 to 34, making the majority demographics of those in favor Gen Z and Millennials. Whether parents now or in the future, they want their children to enjoy these pastimes as much as they have, realizing the camaraderie a game can bring for players and fans alike.
Sports are a timeless form of entertainment, which unifies all demographics, including Gen Z and Millennials. This testament is proven by the fact that these voters sought to support their teams and sports-related beliefs online when the actual shows could not go on. The future of how in-person sports will be configured is still unclear, but one thing is certain—bring back traditional sports, and fans will come.