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Reproduced from Morning Consult; Note: Gen Z survey margin of error ±3%, adults and millennials ±2%; Chart: Axios Visuals

Endless articles have examined how young sports fans consume content. But here's the real question we ought to be asking: What content do they consume?

Driving the news: Young sports fans don't follow sports the way their parents did. And that change in fandom gets more extreme with each generation.

Background: The sports media model is built on live sports rights. Networks pay billions of dollars to broadcast games, and everything flows from that.

The state of play: Gen Zers are about half as likely as millennials to watch sports often, and twice as likely to never watch, per a recent Morning Consult survey.

  • This is largely because 47% of them don't consider themselves fans. But even those who do follow sports are doing so in entirely new ways.
  • They watch highlights, not games; they follow athletes, not teams; they're just as interested in an Instagram story as they are in last night's box score.
Girls basketball players at Overtime's "The Takeover" event. Photo: Overtime

What they're saying: "Sports fandom is so much more broad and malleable now," says Dan Porter, CEO of Overtime, which made a name for itself through viral high school clips and has since become a "Gen Z sports oasis," per WSJ.

  • What was once viewed as "shoulder content" to support primetime programming (i.e., a behind-the-scenes look at an athlete's life) is now the content that young sports fans engage with the most.
  • And since it's still so undervalued, companies like Overtime, which has 45 million followers across its social channels and produces a variety of sports and sports-adjacent content, have been able to leverage it.

The big picture: Legacy media companies have tried to model Overtime's approach to reach young fans. But Porter says they often misunderstand what Overtime, and social media more broadly, is about: two-way engagement.

  • "These companies are like, 'Oh, Overtime is high school basketball, so let's put some high school basketball shows on TV.' What they miss is that we respond to over 250,000 direct Instagram messages a year."
  • "We have five people who do nothing but go into the comment sections and engage with our followers," says Porter, a former WME executive.
Overtime host, Overtime Larry, takes a video with fans. Photo: Overtime

The bottom line: 30 years ago, a kid growing up in Dallas was a Mavericks fan and watched SportsCenter to catch up on the latest news and highlights. When NFL Sunday arrived, he watched the Cowboys on the living room TV.

  • Nowadays, a kid growing up in Dallas is still a Mavericks fan, but he's likely an even bigger fan of Luka Dončić, who he follows on Instagram (and who has almost 3x as many followers as the Mavs).
  • He gets his news from social media, so there's no need for SportsCenter. When NFL Sunday arrives, he streams NFL RedZone, while watching his favorite player's latest YouTube vlog on his phone.

Go deeper: The Brooklyn startup helping high school athletes go viral (New Yorker)

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