The Minority-Majority Shift. Two Decades That Will Change America. For Sports Marketing, It’s Game On.

The sports perspective (Punjabi enthusiasm for hockey appears to the the exception – Indian Immigrants Are Saving Canadian Hockey):

For this analysis, I used data from Simmons, looking at the sports preferences of consumers under 25 years old, broken down by ethnicity (non-Hispanic White, Hispanics, African Americans, and Asian American respondents).

One of the reasons why I decided to start this series of articles with sports is because of the importance that sports marketing has as a brand/business-building tool for brands to connect with consumers, as well as the fact that sports have significant power to shape a society’s culture.

When it comes to the relationship between sports preference and demographics in America, the picture is mixed. While there are some noticeable differences in preferences by different ethnic groups, there are also commonalities. These differences and commonalities will be felt in the next decades, since the impact of the choices demonstrated by minority consumers will increase exponentially, mainly from Hispanic and Asian-American consumers, given their fast population growth. In contrast, the influence of non-Hispanic White consumers may be reduced over time.

It’s a Soccer World

Soccer has significant growth potential in the years ahead. Already the favorite among Hispanic-Americans, soccer has a robust preference among Asian-American fans as well, and it has been growing amongst non-Hispanic White fans too.

One challenge facing soccer is that differently from the major sports leagues in America, their fans are spread among different franchises, including MLS, Mexican Futbol League and, growing in popularity, the European National leagues (mainly the ones from England, Spain, Italy, and Germany) as well as Europe’s Champions League, making it harder to reach the whole spectrum of soccer fans with one sponsorship program, but also offers a diverse set of options for marketers to align with.

I spoke with one of the authorities when it comes to sports marketing, Ricardo Fort, Coke’s Head of Global Sponsorships, who is directly involved with the trends and opportunities when it comes to sports marketing. Below is his take on the growth of soccer in America:

“As the profile of an American fan becomes more international, particularly Hispanic, soccer is likely to be the biggest winner. Thanks to the growth of the MLS, the increasing availability of international soccer content in open TV and, mostly, the incredible global success of the women’s national team, new generations of fans will be as familiar with the Mbapes, and Alex Morgans as their grandparents were with the Joe Montanas and their parents are with the Tom Bradys.”

The Three Major Leagues

America’s favorite sports leagues: NFL, NBA, and MLB face a mixed set of challenges from a demographic standpoint for the decades to come.

  • NFL, America’s favorite sport has an excellent position with African American and Asian American sports fans, and a substantial appeal to Hispanic fans, which explains why we see more outreach efforts from the league like games in Mexico City and increased availability of games broadcast in Spanish.
  • Similarly, the NBA has also been investing in becoming more international, including efforts to connect with Latin American and Asian markets. These efforts, combined with their stronghold among African American sports fans, make the league another strong contender to benefit from the shifts in demographics in the years to come.
  • For MLB, the challenge for the next decades is less about connecting with multicultural fans, but more about how to make a game considered too long by many, played during too long of a season to interest a generation of consumers used to “everything now.”

Weak Spots

On the other side of the spectrum are Nascar and NHL, who significantly under-index in preference among sports fans from minority ethnic backgrounds, with less than a third of the responses when compared to their non-Hispanic White preference levels. If these leagues don’t become more relevant to minority fans, they risk experiencing declines in attendance at their events, in viewership, in broadcasting fees from media partners, and ultimately sponsorship dollars from corporations.

The Idol Factor

Idols are extremely important for building leagues, franchises, and brands, and having icons from the multicultural segment is a great step toward the path of making your brand more relevant with multicultural fans. Still, you don’t need to be from a minority background to connect with minority consumers, as pointed out by Freddy Rolón, ESPN Deportes Vice President and General Manager, based on the Sports Poll data, a study about sports interest in America: “Kobe Bryant was a great example of an athlete that connected with multicultural consumers. He speaks Spanish, has publicly demonstrated his passion for soccer, which is a departure from a U.S. centric type of sports idol we are used to seeing”.

What Won’t Change

In spite of the fast changes we will face during the next decades, according to Rolón, a few things won’t change: “Despite all the future demographic changes, one thing that will stay the same is that there will be very few opportunities for brands to connect with a massive audience of fans like they do during a live sports event. Live sports bring scale because people want to watch sports live. Given the current (and future) media fragmentation environment we live in, expect live sports and news to break through the clutter and that’s key in reaching a wider audience. However, brands should go beyond the game itself; marketers should also focus on the stories behind the game, the players, the stadiums, the eco-system surrounding the games.”

Watch Outs

  1. Almost every sports franchise, either at the league level or individual team level, will need a multicultural strategy for the next decades.
  2. Similar to what we observe from best practices in multicultural advertising, sports franchises should focus on being relevant through authentic culture strategies, rather than depending on language or stereotypical approaches.
  3. Sports franchises need to build a fan base with an approach that starts from grassroots, youth connection, growing vertically towards professional levels, passing through the so crucial high school and college steps.
  4. Either from a video streaming consumption or by the growing relevancy of eSports, multicultural consumers are leading the pack when it comes to the fusion of technology and sports.

One thing is for sure. The impact of multicultural consumers as they relate to the sports scene in the U.S. is bound to make it “a whole different ballgame”. Get ready!

Source: The Minority-Majority Shift. Two Decades That Will Change America. For Sports Marketing, It’s Game On.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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