Survey: Young Sports Fans Prefer Watching Highlights to Full Games

NFL, NBA and MLB fans aged 18-34 are more likely to say they like watching highlights over full games

Real and Barça fans outside a stadium
Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona fans watch soccer on their phones.
Jorge Sanz/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

According to a new study commissioned by Variety that was released this week, 48% of NFL, 54% of NBA and 58% of MLB fans between the ages of 18 and 34 say they prefer watching highlights of their favorite sports over full games.

While only 20% of NFL fans aged 35-49 feel the same way, almost half of NBA and MLB supporters in the same age demographic agree with their younger peers.

What this finding ultimately means remains to be seen, but it could have big implications for the future of television networks negotiating media rights deals with major sports leagues. After all, why pay to broadcast full games when a huge chunk of the audience only wants to watch snippets of in-game action?

“This change in viewership behavior has been well-documented among millennial and Gen Z fans, many of whom have cut the cord and rely largely on social media for their sports coverage,” according to Axios. “The sports ecosystem is built on live sports rights. If fans aren’t regularly tuning into games, it could threaten the entire model.”

To help deal with this threat, leagues will need to figure out how to get younger viewers to tune in to full games in order to satisfy advertisers as well as find a way to monetize highlights without making them so expensive that fans become frustrated and give up watching altogether.

“The new face of fandom that’s emerging is one that values full games less but still wants to keep up via highlights. It looks for new ways to engage with leagues on new generational terms,” according to Variety. “This has the potential to upset the gravy train that traditional TV rights have been for both leagues and network partners, as the audience splinters and is less easy to reach. This doesn’t mean fandom is dissipating, just shifting. Smart leagues will adapt with the times, realizing that a fluid form of fan is here to stay. Live games will remain important, but they will no longer be the only mass way fans interact with leagues and teams.”

The survey results are somewhat in opposition to the findings of a new Morning Consult poll that found 50% of millennials are excited about attending a post-pandemic sporting event in person. That is despite millennials being the most likely to report that the pandemic is having a “major” impact on their finances, per a Morning Consult analysis from September.

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