General Manager - Gemba Europe

in Entertainment

May 13, 2024

In the latest of Gemba’s “If…ran sport” series, Claire Kelly collaborated with Jo Redfern to ask what sport could learn from kids.

Jo has two decades’ experience in kids media as a strategy specialist for IP and brands that entertain and educate Gen Z and A across YouTube, Social Gaming (Roblox/Fortnite), TikTok and Broadcast.

In a world where Roblox, YouTube, Disney+, Fortnite, TikTok, and Snap reign supreme, it’s evident that Gen Z and A march to the beat of a different media drum. Their playground is as vast as the digital universe itself, and traditional media alone just doesn’t cut it anymore.

For sports marketers, this poses a challenge: how do you catch the attention of a generation that scoffs at anything less than seamless, frictionless entertainment?
Only by learning the rules of engagement in kids media can sports organisations innovate their approaches and cultivate a new generation of sports fan enthusiasts.

So, what if kids ran sports media?
Kids today live their media lives across a variety of platforms each with its own appeal and function as they go about their day. This still includes linear TV networks (in ever smaller amounts), streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, social media platforms such as TikTok and YouTube, but what takes up an increasing majority of their time are immersive gaming experiences like Roblox and Fortnite.

According to Qustodio’s annual look into how kids and teens use online tools and apps, in 2023 Roblox was the winner in the US, UK and Global rankings being played on average for over 2 hours per day. That’s more than the time they spend on their next two favourite platforms, TikTok at 112 minutes average and YouTube at 70 minutes average time spent per day.
To capture this tricky generation in such a dynamic media landscape, sport needs to align itself with these behaviours. It also challenges the paradigm that Gen Z does not have a long attention span. This behaviour suggests (not surprisingly) that if the content is engaging, you can hold the attention of younger audiences.

Bitesized, quick edits – the visual language of kids
The way the sport is presented in media is a big barrier to kids engaging with it. If kids ran sports media, they would mirror how MrBeast edits his YouTube videos. MrBeast has teams of analysts looking at thumbnail metrics – A/B testing, changing thumbnail design on the fly depending on which are getting the most clickthroughs. Mouth open? Smiling? Grimacing? He also knows exactly when viewers leave his videos and so is constantly refining his style. This is how kids would create sporting content on their favourite video platforms.

For the grown-ups wondering why – on social media platforms you have around 2 seconds to capture a kid’s attention, therefore sports content for younger demos needs to be presented in a different way than at any time before. Slam cuts, SFX and on-screen graphics all need to be used in a new way aligned to how young people engage with popular content.

Immersive and interactive sports storytelling
Kids media consumption is all about immersion and interaction, they are also platform agnostic and highly mobile. So if kids ran sports media, they would look at TikTok and YouTube stars like The Sidemen, Dude Perfect and create engaging narratives around players, teams and games. They would focus more on storytelling, personality, and drama than the game or standard commentaries. They would also augment games with story or character overlays – as with the Nickelodeon Super Bowl ‘alt cast’ or Disney’s Big City Greens Classic.

For the grown-ups wondering why – kids in the phone-first generation prefer more intimate interactions facilitated by their small screens. That is to say that influencers know how to ‘engage directly’ with young people and cultivate a personal relationship that traditional sport media doesn’t. Kids know that by making content personal and interactive, it draws fans closer to the players and the action.

Personalisation & Customisation
Fundamental to self-expression is the ability to personalise their experiences, if kids ran sports media they would create a ‘fandom toolkit’, both physical and digital to allow young people to evidence their fandom whenever, on whatever platform, and however they liked. Sports teams, leagues and organisations would offer customisable jerseys, digital kits, sportswear, and accessories for their avatars.

They would also create personalised game-day experiences, whether in attendance or remote, enhanced and facilitated by tech, to make young fans feel like they’re part of the community.

For the grown-ups wondering why, if kids are to engage with sport it needs to feed into their digital and physical identity, surveys suggest that kids consider their digital identity AS IMPORTANT as their real-life identity. This is key to acknowledge for younger sports fans.

Social Sharing & Community Building
Kids are social creatures and innate creators, if kids ran sports media, they would have real-time social feeds around clubs and games to share their experiences and to see those of players and other members of the community. They would grant even deeper levels of access.

They would create the ability to remix highlights, see curated content from select players and even buy customised products from other fans via social commerce (see above about the ‘fandom toolkit’). Kid-run sports organisations would likely also create a mechanism for real-time feedback, to facilitate clubs and teams hopping onto a trending moment, amplify it and create related content that satisfies the fans’ love for instant gratification. In this way the social media element becomes the most powerful media element of all.

For the grown-ups wondering why – with most teens now saying that they create content for people outside friends and family there is increased importance placed on the ability to share their fandom, game-day moments, engage with trends, humour and to connect with a community. Social content is also the most influential type of content on purchase decisions for young people.

Gamification & Reward
If kids ran sports media there would be hundreds of ways to ‘play with’ a team, club, season or game and to earn rewards for giving their precious attention. Kids would attach gamification elements to attendance, watch time, interactions with players and club on social media, in-game achievements on their chosen gaming platform and offer point systems, badges, leader boards and more to make the fan experience more inclusive, interactive and fun. These would also translate into real-life rewards as a way to promote loyalty.

For the grown-ups, wondering why – whilst ‘lean back’ passive viewing still plays a part in sport, the rise in gaming has unlocked the additional ability to create the ‘lean in’ participatory experiences that younger audiences demand.

Innovating Fan Engagement for a New Generation
If kids ran sports media we would see how the next generation’s habits would change the way sports clubs and organisations create content to engage with young fans.
By embracing the dynamic behaviours of Gen Z and A we would see a new approach that embraces: • Bite-sized, quick edits, and immersive storytelling to capture interest • Personalisation and customisation to improve experiences and fuel fan self-expression • Social sharing and community building to facilitate connection and feedback • Gamification that rewards fans for their loyalty and participation.

In summary, the way that kids consume media is revolutionising the entertainment industry and sport can learn a thing or two from these trends to reimagine the fan experience.

By embracing interactivity, personalisation, social sharing, gamification and real-time feedback, sport can cultivate a new generation of kid fans that are engaged, loyal, and passionate about the game. If kids ran sport media, it would be a whole new ball game.


For other examples of where sport could learn from other industries see:

‘If Taylor Swift ran sport’ 

If Netflix ran sport‘, with ex-Netflix & Disney Erin Ruane

If Tesco ran sport’, most listened Unofficial Partner podcast of 2023, with Finn Bradshaw from the International Cricket Council.