Americans Are Getting Sportier

The share of U.S. adults who regularly engage with sports — whether through recreational play or attendance at professional events — has grown substantially over the last 18 months, according to Morning Consult Audience data
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July 02, 2024 at 5:00 am UTC

Key Takeaways

    • Across all generations, the share of U.S. adults who say they exercise or play sports at least once per week has steadily risen since early 2023. The number of Americans making regular trips to professional sporting events grew considerably during the same period, too.
    • Even Gen Z adults, a historically sports-hesitant bunch, are getting in on the action:  The cohort is increasingly engaging with most major sports leagues and media properties.
    • This collective athletic awakening has several likely causes and even more implications for brands operating across all industries — and for American culture at large.

Have you, by chance, joined a run club in recent months? What about a bouldering gym? Or a pickleball league? Maybe an adult ballet class? 

Did you beef up on football knowledge when Taylor Swift started dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce last year? Are you engrossed by the WNBA this season thanks to its all-star draft class? Is binge-watching WAG influencer content your favorite pastime? Has tenniscore become your new aesthetic after seeing Challengers

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not alone. 

According to Morning Consult’s Audience data — which draws on millions of survey interviews about demographics, psychographics and consumption habits collected daily in more than 40 countries — Americans are rather rapidly getting (more) into sports.

Movement is having a moment 

Zeroing in on domestic responses, we found that the share of U.S. adults who say they exercise or play sports at least once weekly grew 11 percentage points between January 2023 and May 2024, from 45% to 56%.

More Americans are getting active

Shares who said they exercise or play or practice sports at least once weekly:
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Morning Consult Intelligence

Even more interesting is that this trend holds true for Americans of every age and gender — a rarity in survey research. The shares of men, women and members of each generation who report engaging in regular physical activity have each grown by at least nine percentage points since the start of 2023. 

The largest jump (+15 percentage points) occurred among Gen Z adults, 62% of whom now say they exercise or play sports on a weekly basis. The young cohort is also more likely than any other demographic to rate their overall health as “excellent” (24%) or “very good” (29%). 

Of course, life stage is certainly a contributing factor here. But external data shows that Gen Zers’ are primarily responsible for recent rises in gym and fitness studio check-ins nationwide, confirming a legitimate commitment to wellness among this group. (The routine virality of health-focused topics on TikTok does this, too).

Youth culture aside, the sweeping nature of the upticks in our data begs the question: What’s going on? 

Like so many other modern trends, the pandemic is a part of the story. Most consider 2023 the “return to normal” year, wherein COVID-19 began taking a back seat to other global issues. Saddled with a desperate need for connection (and, often, more flexible schedules), many Americans turned to physical pursuits to fill the void. Run clubs are the new dating apps. Pickleball has become a source of intergenerational community. Even simply walking is now reason enough to throw an event

However, this growing interest in athletics doesn’t stop at the local rec center; according to additional Morning Consult Audience data, it extends into the professional ranks as well.

Take us out to the ball game 

The share of U.S. adults who report regularly attending professional sporting events has been trending upward for every major consumer group since early 2023, too — albeit at a more muted pace than overall activity levels. 

In January 2023, 9% of U.S. adults said they had gone to two to four professional sporting events in the past 12 months. In May 2024, that figure was 15%. The share of women who said the same nearly doubled — from 6% to 11% — over the period. Today, frequent attendance rates are highest among men (20%), Gen Z adults (19%) and millennials (19%). 

Professional sporting event attendance is on the rise

Shares who said they attended a professional sporting event two to four times in the past year:
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Morning Consult Intelligence

Post-pandemic eagerness is once again undoubtedly driving some of this movement. But when considered in context with other recent Morning Consult research highlighting the growing reach of major leagues from the WNBA to the NFL, a picture of a country on a clear sports kick is painted.

And brands have taken notice. 

Sports as a safe space

While professional sports have always been a sought-after marketing medium, sponsorship deals have been increasing across all corners of the industry’s ecosystem, from leagues and venues to teams and individual athletes. This recent investment uptick is likely due, in part, to a declining appetite for corporate advocacy. 

Morning Consult’s latest report on brand engagement found that fewer consumers now want to hear from companies on political and social matters than in previous years. In this environment, sports properties become even more attractive for their ability to offer brands a largely neutral promotional space. That said, one particular kind of sport has been especially popular as of late: women’s.

Earlier this year, Charlotte Tilbury inked a first-of-its-kind sponsorship with F1 Academy, the women-only racing championship league founded by Formula One. Competitor e.l.f. Cosmetics quickly followed suit with a history-making motorsports deal of its own, becoming the first beauty brand to serve as a primary sponsor of an entrant in the Indianapolis 500 (female driver Katherine Legge). E.l.f. also had a massive physical presence on race day, hosting a “Lip Oil Change” zone and putting on a drone show, among several other activations. 

Elsewhere, Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS continues to produce compelling campaigns as the official underwear partner of the NBA and WNBA, the latter of which yielded record-breaking viewership and in-person attendance figures during the first month of its 2024 season. Women-centric brands bought up significant ad space in this year’s Super Bowl, and even fictional female athletes are inspiring all sorts of trends.  

Ultimately, it feels like sports are more closely intertwined with fashion, beauty and entertainment than ever before. And this confluence is piquing the interest of a particularly lucrative crop of noted pop culture lovers. 

Game on, Gen Z 

Morning Consult Audience data shows that the number of Gen Z adults who routinely engage with major sports leagues and media properties has been growing since early last year. 

Approximately half of Gen Z adults said they interacted with the NFL (50%) and NBA (48%) in May 2024, up eight and 12 percentage points, respectively, from January 2023. The MLB and NHL each saw double-digit increases over the period, too. 

Though these engagement figures still lag behind that of all U.S. adults, sports executives should feel assured that meaningful headway is, in fact, being made with Gen Zers’, who have long been viewed as the industry’s problem children

Gen Z adults’ engagement with sports media properties is trending upward

Share of Gen Z adults who said they engage with the following brands at least once monthly:
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Morning Consult Intelligence

While the professional sports calendar is a reliable source of compelling entertainment in and of itself, an extended cast of off-the-court characters is also capturing Gen Z’s attention — evidenced by the popularity of things like WAG (an acronym for “wives and girlfriends” of professionals athletes) “get-ready-with-me” TikToks or explainer videos from amateur analysts.

This content’s virality makes one thing clear: young people are eager to learn about the wide world of sports through their peers, not just consume highlights or stat lines from traditional talking heads. And the teams, leagues and media brands prioritizing innovative creator partnerships are already finding success.

The MLB is seeing lots of brand growth thanks to significant investments in its influencer program. ESPN is reaching more young women through the all-female creator team it recently assembled to produce first-person social content around marquee events. Podcaster Alex Cooper even turned a weekday baseball game at Fenway Park into a splashy, well-attended activation for her new Gen Z media company, Unwell.  

If these kinds of positive outcomes continue, content creators may very well become an integral part of the professional sports broadcast experience, rather than just a novelty. 

Is sportiness sustainable?  

With key metrics trending upward among so many audiences, America’s sporty sensibility appears here to stay, especially with a summer Olympics on the immediate horizon.

Professional sports’ recent ascent is a rare instance of a traditional institution becoming more relevant in the digital age, and those in the industry should take some time to celebrate a future-proofing win. 

As for everyone else — use this prevailing mood to inform resonant styles, products and content.

This memo utilizes data from Morning Consult Audience, our new product that makes it easy to explore and build thousands of custom audience profiles to better understand your target customers. To learn more about Morning Consult Audience, request a demo here.

A headshot photograph of Ellyn Briggs
Ellyn Briggs
Brands Analyst

Ellyn Briggs is a brands analyst on the Industry Intelligence team, where she conducts research, authors analyst notes and advises brand and marketing leaders on how to apply insights to make better business decisions. Prior to joining Morning Consult, Ellyn worked as a market researcher and brand strategist in both agency and in-house settings. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in finance. For speaking opportunities and booking requests, please email [email protected].

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