Aging Sports Television Viewers
Here’s the good news: It only seems that you’re growing older waiting for local teams to win titles.
The reality is, you really are aging if you’ve been watching their games on television.
That’s the finding of a study produced this month for Sports Business Daily which shows that television viewership for major sports in the United States is growing older.
The study, conducted exclusively for SBD by Magna Global, a New York-based marketing research firm, may have interesting implications for what we watch and, just as importantly, how we may take in sports.
Magna Global’s study – which examined live, regular season game coverage of major sports that aired on broadcast and cable television during the years 2000, 2006 and 2016 – showed that the median age of viewers of all but one of 25 sports has increased over the last 10 years.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Indeed, all 25 sports showed an age above the median age of the general American population, which was 37.7 in 2016.
All of the traditional Big Four sports (baseball, professional football, professional basketball and hockey) showed a rise in median age over the last decade.
Major League Baseball skews the oldest of the four, with a median age of 57, followed by the NFL (50), the NHL (49) and the NBA (42). The NHL’s median age rose seven years over the past decade, while the NBA’s rise was only two years.
The lone sport to show a decline in its viewership’s median age, according to the study, is the Women’s Tennis Association, which saw that number fall from 63 in 2006 to 55 in 2016.
By contrast, professional wrestling showed the largest rise in median age. Wrestling’s age rose to 54 years old, a jump of 21 years since 2016 and 26 years since 2000.
Golf is the oldest sport, according to the survey, with a median age of 64 for the PGA Tour and the Champions Tour, and an age of 63 for the LPGA.
The youngest sport is soccer, as the median age of MLS viewers is 40, followed by viewers of international matches and of Liga MX matches from Mexico, who had a median age of 39.
So, what does this all mean? You can bet that some things won’t change. The networks will continue to pursue live sports, since they remain the most reliable means to reach men in the 25-54 year-old demographic, the Holy Grail of American viewers.
They will also try to figure some ways to tweak the telecasts to bring in younger viewers, who are increasingly abandoning the traditional method of watching sports, the household TV set, to take them in on smartphones and tablets and through gaming units.
And the sports themselves may change. Of the sports telecasts most frequently watched by youth aged 2-17 – you know, that future that George Benson and Whitney Houston sang about – only the NBA ranks in the top 10, among the Big Four, though the NFL is in a six-way tie for 10th.
That’s not by accident. Relatively youthful NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed the league to move aggressively in social media. NBA highlights are relentlessly pushed through the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts of the league and its players.
Silver noted with glee during the recently concluded league championship series that one of every seven people on Earth would contact the Finals through either television or a social media platform.
The NFL and MLB are trying to make up social media ground, with live streaming of games available through platforms or companies like Amazon.
But they may already be behind the pack for the future. Four different soccer leagues rank higher in percentage of viewership among the young than such staples as the NFL, the NHL, MLB and college football and basketball.
Locally, there is one piece of good news. The Magna survey identified Baltimore as one of five markets, along with Orlando, Seattle, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, with the slowest rise in median age over the last 16 years.
That, alas, does not reflect the aging inflicted upon Orioles viewers over the last month.