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Study suggests breakdown in generational sports fandom

A new research study from the Boston-based Sports Innovation Lab suggests the notion of sports fandom will be far less generational than before and that the sports industry is now under unprecedented pressure from other forms of entertainment.

A New Age Of Sports,” a new study from the group led by former US Olympian Angela Ruggiero, outlines the notion of a “Fluid Fan” that is far more open to changing team, league, and sport allegiances than their predecessors, often prioritizes social values over winning, and often wants to be a content creator instead of just a content consumer.

“We see the current situation in the industry, and this research, as a call to action and a wake-up call to the industry,” Ruggiero told SportBusiness. “The business no longer has the same monopolistic hold on fans that it’s had for decades. We’re competing like never before against things like Netflix and Fortnite, and that requires all of us in this space to lean forward and innovate.”

Despite live sports currently retaining a dominant share of TV viewership, particularly in the US, the study details a sports industry at a heightened level of risk, not only from other forms of entertainment but from youth participation rates that are generally flat or down, and from a supply of new sports content that has often outstripped demand.

“It’s no longer a given that sports will be the be-all, end-all of our culture,” Ruggiero said. “We want sports to be healthy and thrive, and we know the huge benefits that sports can provide. But that means we have to embrace technology and head into it.”

The development of the research, and the coining of the Fluid Fan term, is also designed in part to establish the Sports Innovation Lab, a market intelligence firm formed in 2016 and led by Ruggiero, a four-time Olympian and former IOC Executive Board Member, and Josh Walker, an active entrepreneur and former Forrester executive.

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