Soccer, basketball and football are the future of sports for Generation Alpha, survey finds

Eddie Segura #4 of Los Angeles FC defends against Sergio Santos #17 of Philadelphia Union during the MLS match at the Banc of California Stadium on March 8, 2020 in Los Angeles.

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U.S. professional football and basketball have a future, baseball needs help and global soccer, including Major League Soccer, is quickly rising among a new generation, according to a new survey.

Morning Consult spoke to Generation Alpha parents (those born after 2013) and compared the results with to a Gen Z (ages 13 to 23) survey last year.

“It makes sense,” said Alex Silverman, who analyzes sports studies for Morning Consult. “Soccer has been dubbed as this sport of the future in the U.S. for a while, but it takes time for that to manifest.”

The firm spoke to more than 2,000 parents and focused on youth no older than age 8. For context as to who Alphas are, the firm pointed to Apple’s first iPad, released in 2010, and a device the Alphas should know how to operate.

Morning Consult found that soccer is the No. 1 participation sport and second in fandom for Alphas. And 73% of the parents are encouraging their kids to play sports, while 65% encourage them to be sports fans.

“You’re seeing more interest among young adults in soccer internationally and to a certain extent MLS. As this first generation of U.S.-born soccer fanatics has kids, they may push them in that direction,” Silverman said.

In a 2020 survey, Morning Consult found there was a drop off in Gen Z‘s interest in sports, with the National Basketball Association the only league the age group followed more than the general public. The study found 53% of Gen Z identified as sports fans, down from the previous generation, Millennials, who polled at 69% for that topic.

In the survey, released Monday, the firm wanted to know if Gen Alpha, the kids of Millennials, “will take after their parents more or follow in the footsteps of Gen Z and move away from sports,” said Silverman, suggesting Alphas could emulate Gen Z behavior when it comes to sports fandom.

“I would say I wouldn’t expect to see a drop off, which is good news because there was a drop-off between Millennials and Gen Z,” Silverman said.

The troubling signs come courtesy of Covid-19. Morning Consult said 35% of the parents noted Alphas lost interest in sports during the pandemic. This month marks one year since the NBA led U.S. pro sports in suspending games due to Covid-19.

“That’s something that sports will have to reckon with once fans are fully allowed back in buildings and from a youth sports perspective when kids are allowed back,” said Silverman, adding that 48% of the parents found their kids don’t have the attention span to watch sports on TV, compared to 37% of Gen Z.

Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints dives in the end zone to score a one yard touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 10, 2021 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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NFL experiment with kids is popular 

Morning Consult did poll parents about the NFL’s Nickelodeon game during the playoffs. Parents were shown a one-minute clip of highlights to give them a sense of ViacomCBS‘s kids simulcast.

The New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears attracted roughly 30 million viewers. The NFL’s kids version on Nickelodeon drew approximately 2 million, becoming Nickelodeon’s “most-watched program among total viewers in nearly four years,” the network said in January.

The firm said more than 70% of parents said they would watch a game like that with kids and two-thirds said Alphas would enjoy the broadcast more than the traditional version.

“It scored really well with these Alpha parents,” Silverman said. He added the NFL polled well as a top spectator sport and that 62% of Gen Alpha parents say sports are essential to their family.

Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides in safely past Mike Zunino #10 of the Tampa Bay Rays to score a run on a fielders choice hit by Corey Seager (not pictured) during the sixth inning in Game Six of the 2020 MLB World Series at Globe Life Field on October 27, 2020 in Arlington, Texas.

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Baseball’s concern and professional gaming’s future

But America’s favorite pastime is hurting.

The survey found Major League Baseball continues to poll low with younger generations. Silverman said parents of the past two generations said they grew up watching baseball dropped significantly in the Gen Z survey and remain low among Alpha parents.

“Baseball, out of the three major sports, is seeing the most concerning trend,” said Silverman. “It’s become very strikeout or home run-oriented.”

MLB plans to suppress baseballs in an attempt to cut down on home runs as a record 6,776 were hit during the 2019 season, according to the Associated Press. The thinking is, putting more balls in play could also help MLB with faster gameplay to help with short attention spans from fans.

Morning Consult shared its findings with the MLB and said the league could examine ways to improve connection points with younger kids, including promoting more wiffle ball to attract youth to the sport.

And when it comes to the future sport, esports is lurking.

“You’re seeing a continuation around the enthusiasm around gaming moving forward,” Silverman said, noting esports stars are closer to the age group of Gen Z and Alphas and building fanbases through interacting with gaming audiences.

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