5 Fresh Learnings on Marketing Sports to Gen Z


Did Gen Z even watch the Super Bowl? You’ve got the questions, we’ve got the data


As Gen Zs assume their rightful role as shapers and makers of emerging culture, they drive forces of change for everyone. To better prepare ourselves and our brand partners for this influential wave of consumers, Sid Lee investigated how Gen Z is defining the new era of sports fandom. Using data collected in a quantitative survey by the Angus Reid Group of 1,000 people aged 18 to 25, we get to the heart of the matter.

1. Young fandom is alive and thriving. But did they watch the game?

Many headlines have claimed Gen Z doesn’t care about sports, but our research begs to differ. In fact, 52% of Gen Zs consider themselves to be sports fans.

Of those, 63% agree “that being a sports fan is a big part of who they are.” That said, an eye-opening 79% of the people polled say they don’t watch live games to keep up with what’s going on.


Watching a full, very commercialized, 3-hour game is not necessarily what a young person cares about. Nor do they have the patience to handle it. If there isn’t a “moment” happening that they can talk to their friends about, or that gets them off the seat — in other words, if it feels like just another play in the game, the odds are they might be on TikTok or Instagram, or doing something else altogether.

2. Culture is the Draw

Today, you can now be connected to sports without caring about or wins or losses. Gen Z cares about the cultural conversation around it — be it through music, drama, style, controversy, rumours and so much more. 

Athletes posting content on social media has had a dramatic impact on viewing behaviour. 65% of Gen Zs answered they prefer to watch the game highlights on social media than watch the game.

Over half of them also prefer to follow players on social media versus any professional team, league, or sport media outlets. That’s because players make headlines just as much for what they do on the field, as off it. From thinking the earth is flat to taking a knee during the national anthem, players have plenty to say and offer behind-the-scenes access to a lifestyle that mixes sports with the music, style and culture Gen Zs love.

3. Moments are key

For young consumers, the most important part of live events are the memorable moments that come out of them. A major part of the appeal of viewing for Gen Z is not just what’s happening on screen but participating in the cultural conversation that’s flourishing online.


One stat that should make marketers take notice: We found that young viewers enjoyed the memes about the Super Bowl just as much as the halftime performance itself. When it comes to live events, what happens on social media is as important to young viewers than what happens on TV.


And while a lot of that can’t be planned, it can certainly be tapped into and encouraged. Eminem x Nike proved this with a choreographed sneaker drop. When Eminem appeared on stage, keen eyes were fixed on the rapper’s choice of footwear. During the performance, a pic of his “Air Shady” Jordans were posted on Eminem’s Instagram, capitalizing on the moment — that post has garnered over 1.9 million likes so far, and sent every sneaker head in the world to the SNKRS app, hitting refresh over and over again.

4. Inclusivity is essential

Gen Zs have a long memory when it comes to how brands support causes. They pay attention, and when there’s not a lot of admittance, honesty or transparency, there’s a disconnect for them. Representation and action are what members of Gen Z want. When asked what the one thing is that they would change about sports, 35% answered “more diversity and more equality.”

Google was one of the few brands to tackle representation head-on in its commercial, which showcases the Real Tone capability of its Pixel 6. They tapped individuals and families with diverse skin tones for the spot, which also features an original song from Lizzo.

5. You've got to get weird

Super Bowl ads in 2022 were heavy on the humour, as marketers try to inject some entertainment into real-life fatigue.

This was a departure from the last two years where brands managed their position during the pandemic, racial justice movement and election year. This year, marketers, it seems, didn’t want to go anywhere near politics or issues that could be viewed as controversial.


A generation raised on absurdist humour is eating up entertainment and marketing that isn’t afraid to get weird. To capture their attention these days it seems the more random and bizarre, the better. 77% of Gen Zs said that the ads they tend to talk about with their friends are funny, followed by 59% who react to those that are random and unexpected.


The majority of Gen Z grew up watching shows that featured surrealist humour. These shows celebrated the ridiculous and paid no attention to traditional children’s entertainment norms (think: Family Guy, Rick & Morty, Twitch streaming, etc.). Gen Zs are approaching adult entertainment with these expectations baked in.


These young consumers aren’t just marketing savvy, they’ve seen it all. Right now, surreal, insane, nonsensical content is one category that still takes them by surprise and makes them talk. And we all know the importance of buzz.