Z’s are Changing the Game

Photo: Courtesy of Impact Hub

Defending college football champion Clemson Tigers have a problem – students are not going to football games and the ones who do either come late or leave early. “We need our students to be there the whole game. And we need our fans to be there in the third quarter,” said Dabo Swinney last week. “We need to show up, and let’s have the same great atmosphere as we have every single week”.

Maybe Swinney and others just don’t understand what today’s students are all about. Today’s college students are part of Generation Z, (born mid-1990s to mid-2000s) and they do not want exactly what Boomers, Millennials, and their Gen X parents wanted in the past.  As the first generation of ‘digital natives’, Generation Z take in information instantaneously and loses interest just as fast.

Old ways of working are just going to fail with this group. According to Campaign Live, a Sports Marketing study, there are rapid changes in how sports will be consumed now and in the future. And how will today’s current 2+ hour athletic contests align with new student demographics?

For Generation Z, ‘authenticity’ is the number one demand. Flat, non-engaging spectator events or experiences will not match their preferred  environments.” They want targeted communication and direct engagement with their sports, oftentimes on smaller social media platforms like Facebook live, Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram and Twitch that target their personal interests and fit nicely into their social networks. And, they like celebrity.

A traditional approach at DU or any other university that solely features venues or athletic success is important. But, direct involvement and engagement are what students crave.

What do they like? E-sports. And, E-sports are being considered as an event for the 2024 Olympics in France. Believe it or not, around 36,000,000 unique viewers, mostly Z’s, tuned in to watch online battle video game League of Legends in 2015.

And, they also unabashedly claim to be addicted to social media.

Boomers loved group involvement and watching team excellence. Millenials started the big transition to social media and valued individual superstars. And today,  the Z’s are deeply social and participative by nature, as well as influenced by celebrity culture.

So what might be some various ways to capture this group?

It sounds crazy but the focus must be on them at events. Create immediacy, engagement, and involvement with Z’s. Use social media as the primary tool. The first step is making sure that wireless signal works at all the venues – unlike Denver’s Pepsi Center where wireless service is a disaster for paying customers. And put high-speed charger stations at the back of all venues.

And below are examples of tactics which might work with Generation Z at DU:

Create and/or identify social clusters and target groups tailored for each sport. Target student groups online and allow them to select which home warm-ups or uniforms the team(s) will wear for an upcoming game. Allow on-line stakeholders to select a new food that would be offered at the food concession for that game and give the online survey participants free samples for their help making the selection. Let involved social media stakeholders, social clusters or individuals make decisions that they can see, hear, and feel.

During games and matches, give students access, as members of an exclusive team social network, to assistant coaches comments on what was said during breaks and halftime. At halftime, play music directly off a selected winning student’s iPhone playlist. Snapchat and tweet student pictures from the student section during games and make the students as big a part of the action as the game itself.

After games, conduct Facebook-Live or Periscope events where players take direct questions from fans and players with no middleman. In addition, feature top performers (stars) and have them directly engage social media stakeholders for feedback before, during and after game experience. Just like setting aside time for practices, players and coaches need to create social networks and dedicate time to social media – and not just one social platform but many.

And DU team’s should each have social media advisors. Not high priced consultants but media savy Z’s who would receive school credit and work with DU’s media team to build and deliver on a social media platform targeting students. And, there would be no shortage of volunteers – Z’s like to be involved.

Successful student participation in spectator sports will require DU to make constant changes to how today’s students are engaged and involved in the athletic experience by adapting to changing social media platforms and meeting the changing tastes of students.

It won’t be easy – just ask Dabo.