Thanksgiving comes with its own sporting heritage. In fact, watching the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys is as much a part of the celebration as turkey, eggnog and pumpkin pie. The tradition dates back all the way to the 19th century with the first reported Turkey Day game in 1876, just 14 years after Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday.
But times are changing and viewing habits are evolving. Last year, the three Thanksgiving games drew in a combined 78.7 million viewers and similar figures are expected this season but after years of growth cable numbers are levelling out, and the way fans are consuming football is changing.
“Fandom is no longer about just watching the game,” says Ryan Rolf, CRO Americas at Imagen, “Committing to watching 3-4 hours in one sitting, adverts and all is now less attractive when there is such a diversity of content available, from highlights packages, to Instagram stories”
Changing viewer habits
Traditionally fans would need to subscribe to multiple cable networks to get their fill of Thanksgiving action, and this year is no exception with live game coverage split across FOX, CBS and NBC. Increasingly however, younger generations are watching a much higher proportion of non-live content, following their favourite clubs and players on Instagram and watching packaged match clips, behind-the-scenes interviews and expert analysis online.
The NFL YouTube channel for example, is an enticing mix of game highlights, 'Can't Miss Plays', reaction videos and mini-features such as 'Top Catches' and player analysis. Whilst independent channel ThatsGoodSports covers the NFL with a uniquely modern mix of sports news blended with humour.
While traditional TV channels still dominate, how people watch sports is changing. The big question is how? In our exclusive report, Switched On Superfans, we surveyed 1,866 American and Canadian sports fans across the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and MLS leagues. The results make for a surprising read and they teach us three things about the changing nature of sports viewership.
1. You rarely have a fan’s full attention
Even when younger fans are watching live, it’s likely that a game won’t hold their full focus. The data from our report suggests that the majority of fans are 'dual-screening' while watching a game, often seeking out stats and information to complement their experience.
2. Fans want a deeper connection
A live game only fulfils a part of the overall sporting experience. Fans and superfans are likely to seek out extra content to enhance their enjoyment or satisfy their desire to get closer to their favourite teams and players. This includes: access to old matches, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, with opportunities for documentaries, expert analysis and bloopers.
Younger generations appetite for content is so great that even with the multitude of options available, many still feel underserved. This offers untapped potential for rights holders to utilise their extensive archives to meet this demand for material in a fast, cost-effective manner.
3. The majority of fans don’t want to pay for content
Even though fans may complain about advertising attached to the content they watch, it’s often preferable to paying a subscription. Of the fans we surveyed, only 8% said that they ‘would definitely be willing to pay’ for exclusive content, while almost half (44%) were ‘not at all willing to pay’. All told, 69% of respondents would prefer not to pay for content.
What it means to be a fan in 2019
Come this Thanksgiving, when the Detroit Lions take on the Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys host the Buffalo Bills, millions will make time to watch the games live on TV. But millions more will choose to catch up later, following their teams on smartphones and laptops wherever and whenever they want to.
They will also dig deeper than traditional broadcasts allow them to, watching passionate social media influencers rather than stiff primetime pundits, seeking out the latest stats on smartphone apps, replays on YouTube, and reactions from other fans on Facebook. With wide and unlimited access to digital media, there are hundreds of ways for fans to interact with the sports they love. And there’s no end to their desire for more content.
“Mirroring wider trends, sports fans, particularly Millennials and Gen Z, are craving a more personalised experience,” observes Imagen’s Ryan Rolf. “It’s up to the leagues, teams and players to keep up with this content consumption shift. Using the right video management and delivery platform provides sports organisations with the opportunity to push out authentic and relevant content to meet fan’s expectations and in this instance give them an extra Happy Thanksgiving!
Discover how viewing habits are changing.
Download our exclusive Switched On Superfans report to see how, why and what happens next.