What can sports entities do to engage the GenZ fans?

On 4 May the recent Football Business Meetup took place in Budapest, presented by NewC and hosted by Ferencváros Football Club, a member of the FBIN Football Network. More than 70 attendees from over 10 countries joined the meetup.

An article by Máté Farkas

The event gave place to talks around the current state and the future of football, sports technology solutions, and how they can be used to re-awaken people’s love for the sport. During a panel discussion focusing on Gen Z, four speakers who are all involved in the world of football: Daniell Askholm Head of Fan Engagement at FC Copenhagen; Minas Lysandrou, Vice President & CEO at OFI Crete FC; Igor Schlesinger Marketing & Sales Manager at AS Trencin FC; and Bálint Máté, Head of the International Department at Ferencváros discussed the challenges of addressing this generation and the best strategies to engage them in the long run. The panel discussion was led by Ildikó Tóth, Account Manager at The Path Sports Management.

Respecting cultural heritage and regional perspectives

The panel discussion was a great way to showcase opinions from different cultures and perspectives. Igor Schlesinger emphasized the importance of respecting the cultural heritage of the region. He believes that focusing on the young generation is very important, which is why it’s crucial to be familiar with the region’s schools and infrastructure. Having a strong relationship with the schools the children attend helps sports clubs create programs and activities for kids and introduce them to sports at an early age.

Bálint Máté agreed that keeping the local conditions in mind is one of the most important things. On top of that, one has to consider the history of a region, as well as the demographic circumstances. For example, the population of the second largest city of Hungary is approximately one tenth of the capital’s. This means that we’re looking at completely different markets in terms of size and purchasing value, which, naturally, have to be approached differently. He explained that engaging members of the young generation in Budapest is considerably harder than in the countryside. It’s much easier in regional areas, however, it still requires a lot of time, effort, and energy, but as he said, it’s ultimately worth the investment.


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Members of GenZ lack interest in sports compared to earlier generations

The moderator brought up an interesting point about the preferences of the young generations. According to an industrial research, only 23% of Gen Z consider themselves sports fans. This is a serious decline compared to the generation above, the Millennials, from which 42% said they were really into sports. What’s even more alarming is that over a quarter of Gen Z  (27%) said that they disliked sports altogether. These tendencies show how challenging it can become for sports clubs and companies to engage younger people in the future.

Igor Schlesinger said that this trend is also felt in Slovakia and around Europe too. The young generations are more into technology and increasingly focus on different types of activities. Last year, they opened a loyalty program in collaboration with many brands and since the program is linked to their other services, they are able to access analytics insights about their audience, which allows them to understand them better and think about what their next steps should be.

For example, as he said, the ratio of young teenages in their user base is quite low and only 5% of them are girls, so they are trying to find ways to bring these numbers up. There are many kids who are already members of their club so they are obviously their main focus. But they must also pay attention to kids who are sponsored or doing sports internships in the region, as well as to the children who are in their social network, attending schools in the area where we are already established and settled. Since they are easy to reach, it’s up to the club to attract and engage them now.

The impact of social media on fan engagement

Daniell Askholm described the impact on social media on young generations. Especially during the pandemic, the popularity of Instagram and TikTok skyrocketed, which also affected fan engagement trends. Engagement has to start with the younger generations through digital platforms, because these are the platforms of the future. But, as he emphasized, the most important thing for them at FC Copenhagen remains the respect they have towards the fans. Having strong values and showing it to fans is part of their core philosophy. It’s important that kids have role models they can look up to. They try to build out different environments to welcome fans from different demographics and they had great success with this approach in the past few years.

Adapting to the changing habits of the younger generation is crucial in order to attract them. As Bálint Máté explained, the attention span of members of Gen Z is shorter than that of previous generations, so they need to be approached differently. For example, short clips and highlights of a match on social media apps grabs and keeps their attention better than watching an entire match.

Making sports accessible for everyone

As Minas Lysandrou explained, they see similar tendencies in Greece.They are trying to make the experience accessible and give opportunities to everyone. In Crete, however, they face another very specific challenge: young people between 18-22 tend to leave for the mainland, so they are losing a lot of potential talent. To engage them in the long run, they create campaigns, but mostly offline ones, focusing on the personal connection and bringing people to the stadium. He mentioned that there is a lot of unexplored potential in digital solutions and they will leverage them and support the digital transformation of the organisation in the future. They are in an exciting period of transition, but ultimately, the best way to impress fans is by showing values and commitment.

Ways to better engage young fans

During the last section of the talk, Ildikó Tóth brought up another important point, “if you don’t manage to grab the attention of a fan before the age of 18 you most likely will never reach them” and asked the participants to share their experience in engaging kids.

In Máté Bálint’s perspective, it’s all about customization: “once we know who to attract, we know who they are, we target our communication towards them”. Also, when you have free capacity, you can offer seats for young people and new talent you’d like to attract. Meeting in person is very important. You can engage people digitally, but personal connection is still crucial. This strategy, along with investing in programs in the countryside has proven to be successful: in the past few years, the club’s popularity increased a lot and they entered multiple partnerships and collaborations with EU organisations. As he explained, these projects are an important extension of their ongoing programs and are great ways to engage and connect with young people.

According to Daniell Askholm, one of the key factors is providing great matchday experiences: “it’s all about football and watching football live.” And last but not least, Minas Lysandrou also emphasized the importance of providing a great experience and building a connection with fans. “We have to provide fans an experience that affects them from the first moment, so they can grow together with the team, feel identified with the mission, and feel the excitement when preparing for a match.”


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