After attempting to kill any and everything from napkins to wine corks to sex, Millennials—the oft-criticized generation born between the early 1980s to 2000—have their sights set on a new target: sports. Once known for being impervious to the drop in TV ratings, sports have seen a decline in viewership and attendance while the median age of fans continues to rise. Sports media behemoths such as ESPN, Fox Sports and Sports Illustrated have all recently dealt with massive layoffs and downsizing due to the changing climate of the market.
According to a Magna Global Study, the median age for NFL and MLB fans are 50 and 57, respectively. And while the action sports crowd has gotten older, their median age is still 47—a decade younger than that of baseball’s crowd. In fact, action sports are the fourth most-watched sport by the prized 18-to-35 demographic.
And the future of sports has never been murkier than it is today, thanks—in part—to those blasted millennials who aren’t watching sports at the same rate as their elders. Millennials might not be the only reason that sports are on the decline, but the Big 4—NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL—can learn a lot from their tendencies, and how action sports cater to the ever-important youths.
Major sports, with the exception of the NBA, have struggled mightily in recent years to foster and promote individuals that could help boost their respective sports’ popularity. This challenge is crystal clear in the NFL, where coaches preach day after day that “it’s all about the team,” and when one guy goes down, the next must step up. Patriots coach Bill Belichick took this a step further by making the “do your job” mantra a theme on his championship teams. Belichick went so far as to have the entire Pats squad introduced as a team before Super Bowl XXXVI, New England’s first Super Bowl-winning team.
This attitude has helped set a precedent that no individual is bigger than the team. While this, in theory, helps 53 men on an NFL roster come together, it hinders any type of individuality that could help propel the popularity of football—and the advertising dollars that come with it. The lack of individuality in the NFL is extremely evident in how the league handled the Colin Kaepernick situation. The former 49ers QB, who is still looking for a job, broke what seems to be the cardinal rule of football: don’t become bigger than the sport. And now he’s paying the price.
Former Philadelphia Flyer Riley Cote noted that he admires action sports for allowing “an individual athlete [to] stand for a personal belief . . . in a unique [way] without having the league penalize” them. In action sports, even those that obstruct an individual’s face with a helmet (such as football), they too are reliant on the individual for the sport to succeed.
Former NFL wide receiver (and Survivor contestant) Grant Mattos identified a “lack of creativity” that is hurting the growth and innovation of major sports. All of the Big 4 suffer, in part, from complacency due their own success. Why change something that’s been working for decades? The fact that sports gambling hasn’t been legalized for any of the major sports is a huge omission in this day and age.
While the NBA is the most innovative of the Big 4, basketball still needs to think outside of the box. Ice Cube exemplified this creativity when he helped create the Big 3—a 3-on-3 basketball league. How did the NBA not do this first? Especially as 3-on-3 will soon become an Olympic sport. There are a billion swimming events at the Olympics—why isn’t there more than one basketball event?
For their part, the NFL might finally be recognizing that they’ve turned their once-almighty sport into the No Fun League. After banning touchdown dances and fining players such as Ezekiel Elliott for acts that will surely go viral and capture the attention of new fans, the NFL is finally reversing course and allowing more fun and flair.
The major sports could learn a thing or two from Monster Jam truck rallies, of all places. The popular action sport is one of the few growing sports in America, garnering over four million people in attendance every year. Monster Jam has multiple events, including freestyle. The sport also offers a “Pit Party” that allows young fans to interact and take pictures with the drivers. Mattos believes that any athlete—major or action—should be able to “express him or herself in any way they want.”
Accessibility, Advertising and Entrepreneurial
Advertising money is still one of the most important aspects of sports. And for those in the Big 4, an advertising deal might come before ever stepping on the court or field as a professional athlete. Action sports athletes aren’t so lucky. Professional surfer Kelia Moniz told Sports Illustrated that finding endorsements in the action sports world is “every man for himself. There’s no promise of another year in this industry. You have to work your butt off. It’s definitely not the NBA.”
The pay gap forces athletes such as Moniz to become more entrepreneurial. By using branded video, social media and other techniques, action sports athletes are building their brand in a unique way that doesn’t follow the typical athletic path to endorsements. It’s something that every athlete should think about when building their #brand. Those savvy methods seem to be paying dividends for the athletes, too.
Aaron Calloway, a Senior Brand Building Manager at Unilever, told Forbes that he believes action sports are popular with both the consumer and the advertiser because of the “participatory nature . . . You can’t go play baseball for an MLB team, but you can go climb a mountain.” This increase in popularity has helped some of the more marketable action stars, sure, but will any of those sports ever surpass the Big 4 in fandom? Unlikely. But that doesn’t seem to bother Moniz.
“Do the other sports have what we have?” Moniz mused to Sports Illustrated. “We’re in pretty much the most beautiful places in the world all year long. We make enough to live on. We’re not struggling one bit.”
The non-profit Athletes for Care is dedicated to bringing awareness to issues that professional athletes face including pain management and alternative medicine. DOPE Magazine sends a bog thanks to AFC for contributing to this article and allowing us to share some of their stories with our readership. Website: athletesforcare.org