Colin O'Brien
Colin O'Brien is a Sports Consumer Insights Analyst at Mintel. Utilizing his lifelong passion and knowledge of the industry, he is responsible for researching and writing reports on the world of sports in the US.

Across the sports world, Gen Z consumers are not following sports to the same degree as their older generational counterparts. Among the sports with the biggest problem attracting younger fans, baseball sits atop the standings. However, MLB and the sport as a whole are making a concerted effort to appeal to younger fans and find new ways to build lasting, memorable connections with consumers. Baseball has a long way back to grow its youth fanbase, but it’s not the bottom of the ninth yet. As long as the sport continues to actively seek to appeal to its youngest fans, the hits will come.

Gen Z fandom poses a problem across the sports world, but baseball also faces the issue of its perception as an older sport. Oftentimes, perception is reality in the minds of consumers. Thus, it is imperative MLB and the sport as a whole continues to make concerted efforts to make baseball appear younger and better appeal to younger audiences. With more relevant content and meeting these fans where they are, baseball can help ditch its “older” stigma and grow its youth movement.

Meet fans where they are – embracing digital coverage of baseball

While live television remains the number one method for fans to follow all sports, including baseball, digital methods are only growing in importance, especially for younger fans. Nowadays, fans rely on streaming, websites, and social media all to better follow the action on the field. With the growing trend of cord-cutters and cord-nevers, more Gen Z fans use social media to follow sports as a whole than live television at home according to Mintel research on sponsorships and sports marketing. To combat this trend, more MLB games are being streamed online and the usage of social media platforms is evolving.

Amazon will broadcast 21 New York Yankees games this season free to Amazon Prime members in the New York regional broadcast area. MLB and YouTube are now in the second year of a partnership where YouTube broadcasts one game per week free to all consumers. In addition to streaming being available through regional sports network apps, new methods from Amazon and YouTube illustrate how baseball is taking a more active approach in making its games more available through digital platforms.

In addition to the broadcasts of the games themselves, baseball is also continuing to embrace social media as a method to connect and engage fans. For Opening Day, MLB created Major Fest, a five-hour event on Twitch aimed to allow fans to explore everything baseball. From the fashion of the ballplayers to the food at the ballpark to video games, and featuring celebrity guests throughout the broadcast, Major Fest sought to highlight the world of baseball, on and off the field. Events like Major Fest will continue to arise through baseball’s concerted efforts to target younger fans and will offer brands across industries new ways to engage baseball fans.

The game has changed – embrace the content

Utilizing the right content mediums is the first step to growing the youth fanbase. The next step is creating more content these younger fans will find interesting and engaging. With no or limited fans in attendance due to precautions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, several sports looked to add new elements to sports broadcasts to help fill the void. Greater usage of “mic’d up” players has been one such application. Mic’d up segments better appeal to Gen Z sports fans than any other generation, with over one-third of Gen Z fans indicating they want to have more access to hear what players are saying during games, according to Mintel research on sports. These segments can let fans get a closer look into the personalities and personal lives of baseball players. These behind-the-scenes types of content, especially during live games, should become the mainstays of baseball broadcasts. They are especially enjoyed by younger fans and can create greater connections between fans and players.

Gaming is another area that has great potential to help grow the younger baseball fanbase. MLB The Show 21 embraces baseball’s goal to grow the youth movement. Promotion of the game includes the tagline “the game has changed” and features one of MLB’s rising and youngest stars, Fernando Tatis Jr., on the cover. Young fans want players to celebrate and play with flair and enthusiasm, much like Tatis Jr. does. His style of play led the San Diego Padres’ shortstop to lead the league in Twitter follower growth last season and thus be a perfect representative to grace the cover of baseball’s video game. Gaming as an industry skews toward younger audiences and among sports fans, Gen Z and Millennial fans are much more likely to be interested in playing a video game version of their favorite sport. It’s clear that MLB is leveraging this interest in gaming to better appeal to Gen Z fans through MLB The Show 21 – an approach that will continue moving forward.

What we think

Gen Z fandom poses a problem across the sports world, but baseball also faces the issue of its perception as an older sport. Oftentimes, perception is reality in the minds of consumers. Thus, it is imperative MLB and the sport as a whole continues to make concerted efforts to make baseball appear younger and better appeal to younger audiences. With more relevant content and meeting these fans where they are, baseball can help ditch its “older” stigma and grow its youth movement.