in Sport

July 21, 2016


Getting teens active is not a new challenge. It’s one that has stumped sporting organisations since year dot. The prevailing wisdom, begrudgingly accepted, is that teenagers attrite from organised sport – it’s just what they do. Participation peaks with the kids and it’s all downhill from there. Typically, the outcome is physical inactivity or a random migration to less organised, fitness based activities – the vanity pursuits, as I like to refer to them.

You might argue that sport has given up on teens; ‘Their preferences change too quickly… They’re more interested in music, gaming, girls/boys, school… Puberty, puberty, puberty…’
Yet the release of a simple, offbeat electronic game, combining animation with real life environments, is evidence that gamification can be a guiding light to getting teens off the couch and more active. And those responsible for organised sport should be taking notice.

Beware the dude striding purposefully, yet zombie-like down a street near you.

Even more importantly for said dude, beware cars, cliffs and fellow disengaged-in-surrounds dudes. For clarification, this dude is ubiquitous… Gender, age, intellect and fitness level are seemingly irrelevant. All dude needs is a smart phone and the app of the moment.

It’s Pokemon Go and in July 2016 it’s a worldwide phenomenon. In the US alone it’s reported that there’s 25 million active users per day, playing for over 30 minutes and generating revenue of over USD$6 million per day. As of 19 July, Nintendo’s market cap had reportedly doubled to nearly USD$42 billion (in only seven trading sessions!). And at the time of writing it hadn’t even launched in Asia yet!

I don’t need to provide any commentary to the Pokemon Go era. Social media is awash. It’s so big that it might even be here next week.

The ‘wow’ for me came from a chat I had with a mother of three young boys – seven through 12. She explained to me that that day, at noon, her eldest had organised to spend some time with his mates to play a new game. A group of lads, together, ‘socialising’ as Millennials do, over the smartphone campfire.

That’s probably not all that amazing. What amazed this mum of 12 year old Pokemoning dude was that he agreed to meet mum three hours later at the local basketball centre… and he was going to walk. He didn’t want a lift in her car. The 12 year old was happy to venture outdoors for a number of hours, and, unbeknownst to him, exercise by chasing wee cartoon characters around a really small TV (that’s me trying to contextualise this, taking myself back to his age in 1986).

Yes. Exercise. Walking. Running around outside. With friends. Maybe evening puffing. Ring a bell for those brought up in an earlier time when the outdoors and being active was an everyday occurrence?

Why should sport be interested in this? While the market has a range of superb sporting programs for kids, what truly tailored sporting programs exist for teens? Traditionally, this group has been treated as an extension of their younger selves or a prequel to adulthood. Either way, most would agree existing participation products are not working across the board. Early teenage years represent the beginning of the decline for organised sport, and it never recovers. The numbers back it up worldwide. This is more and more prominent today where the variety and range of entertainment options result in indoor activities, or recreational pursuits that are less organised.

Gemba’s research is clear. The teen segment is unique, and funnily enough, their attitudes haven’t changed all that much over time. Teenagers are, and have always been:

• Curious
• Establishing their identity, and often, identities
• Early adopters
• Discerning
• Part of a collective, looking to share experiences
• Connectors and incredibly social (albeit not necessarily always in person)

And teens play GAMES.

The first thing we should all be doing is truly understanding what makes teens tick, and why games like Pokemon Go float their collective boat. For those scoffing at Pokemon Go, let’s consider the elements that attract teens (and others) to it. After all, it is driving the young and not so young outside and that’s a great start. It should be enough for us to all challenge how we present and deliver sport to the consumers.

The time is now to develop sporting products that meet the specific needs of the teen segment. Gamification principles will be critical to engage these young people in more organised recreational activity. If any sport needs encouragement, remember, retaining teenagers in your sport inflates the probability of them becoming lifelong consumers, if not participants. That’s great for revenue streams such as broadcast rights, sponsorship, ticketing and merchandise. Wise investment.