Most of the 70 million or so members of Gen Z are too young to bet on sports legally in the U.S., but a group of industry panelists said Wednesday that sportsbook operators would be wise to begin focusing on them — if they haven’t already.
The cohort of young people carries wide influence because of their leadership in adopting new technology and other aspects of social culture that are then followed by older groups, noted the webinar speakers in a session co-sponsored by The Innovation Group and SBC.
Gen Z members, generally those born between 1997 and 2012, are a “first mover” group that’s influential on the internet, throughout the media, and in other ways that make them important to reach, said Sarah Crennan, vice president and head of content for Yahoo Sports. She said older demographic groups are more likely to follow Gen Z’s habits than Gen Z is to emulate them.
“I think Gen Z is incredibly influential and kind of sets the tone around media trends,” she said. “If we can get it right for Gen Z, it is very likely to influence those other demographics we care about.”
Crennan and others observed that the young group is diverse and savvy and looks for trustworthy athletes, celebrities, and media figures from whom to obtain content and advice — such as on sports betting, which is something that, as young adults, they are growing up around as a normal part of sports discussion, unlike prior generations.
“I never thought I’d see gambling odds on ESPN,” noted Allen Ambrogio, U.S. director of operations for Tipico, a sportsbook that began in Europe and is now operating in New Jersey and Colorado. “It’s all around us now.”
Others might learn from Barstool
The members of the panel, titled “Beyond Traditional Thinking: Finding the Right Partnerships to Deliver Gen Z,” said a good model for others in the industry to learn from is the partnership involving Barstool Sports personalities and their promotion of Penn National Gaming’s Barstool Sportsbook. Penn National became part-owner of the Barstool Sports digital sports media company in order to acquire the popular, if irreverent, brand.
Panelists noted that Barstool followers have a great deal of confidence and interest in the opinions of high-profile company representatives like Dave Portnoy and Dan “Big Cat” Katz, and that helps drive them to the Barstool Sportsbook to place wagers.
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) August 26, 2021
“They are seamlessly integrated,” Crennan observed, while pointing to a new Yahoo Sports relationship with Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who will be making “Ekeler’s Edge” weekly videos for it this season pertaining to fantasy sports.
Joseph Solosky, managing director of sports betting for NASCAR, said his organization is making use of Todd Fuhrman, a veteran sports betting expert known to FOX Sports viewers, to lead videos designed to attract interest in racing among bettors.
“Todd speaks to the layman bettors,” Solosky said. “He’s got a huge following and a trusted voice.”
And “layman” would be the right way to describe Gen Z bettors, because while they are willing to bet frequently, the wagers aren’t typically as large as those of older gamblers, the panelists said. There is more of a social aspect to their gambling, as opposed to being huge risk-takers expecting to make a big profit.
“It’s something to talk about and have fun with and to do it together,” Ambrogio said.
Still early for eSports, virtual sports
While there was discussion of the roles that eSports and virtual sports can play in helping attract betting interest from Gen Z, there was agreement that those are still too young in regulated adoption to predict their future.
“We’re going to see it grow over time, no doubt in my mind, but the question is when it really starts taking off,” Ambrogio said of eSports.
Whether it be those non-traditional sports or the ones with balls and sticks that Gen Z’s parents and grandparents long bet on under the table, it seems unquestioned that the new cohort will embrace online sports betting. Panelists noted that the group is already accustomed to doing many things by phone, as well as funding their activities digitally through Venmo or other means.
In many cases, the younger adults will be unwilling to focus attention on a game for three hours like their parents, but they may want to place a live bet during the shorter span of attention they devote to a given event. Or if they have a ticket to a game or match, it may become second nature to enhance their interest with a wager.
“With Gen Z now coming of age and hitting adulthood, this will eventually be the norm: that you can bet on the game you’re attending,” Crennan said. “It will be an expectation that there will be a product offering around every event they have an interest in. … It will be a part of the sports experience for this generation.”