The NFL’s Gen Z Fan Base Is Slowly Growing

NBA and college football round out the top three most popular sports properties and leagues among Americans ages 13 to 25, according to Morning Consult data
December 13, 2022 at 5:00 am UTC

Gen Zers are no longer a mere fascination: They now wield serious purchasing power and cultural capital as they put their imprints on the global economy. Morning Consult surveyed Americans between the ages of 13 and 25 about their media tastes and habits, relationships with brands and interest in sports in order to better understand where, exactly, the youngest adult generation is now taking us.

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The NFL was Gen Z’s favorite professional sports league two years ago. Today, it’s still the cohort’s preferred league — by an even wider margin.

New Morning Consult data shows that more than half of Gen Zers (53%) said they are either “avid” or “casual” fans of the NFL. That’s up 4 percentage points from a 2020 Morning Consult survey. Gen Z’s NBA fandom, meanwhile, stayed flat at 47%.

The growth in Gen Z’s NFL fandom still lagged that of the general population, which jumped 10 points from 59% in 2020 to 69% in the recent survey. Gen Zers were also least likely to identify as NFL fans in the latest survey compared with other demographic cohorts. Seventy-three percent of millennials, 68% of Gen Xers and 69% of baby boomers said they were at least “casual” fans of the league. 

NFL Is Still Tops Among Gen Z, General U.S. Population

The shares of respondents who identified as either “avid” or “casual” fans of each league or sport
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Less than 20% of Gen Z respondents identified as fans of the following sports properties: NWSL, MLS, WNBA, EPL, PGA Tour, Premier Hockey Federation, La Liga, MotoGP, Ligue 1, IndyCar, Bundesliga, Serie A, NLL, PLL, LPGA Tour, ATP Tour, NHRA and WTA Tour.
Survey conducted Nov. 2-8, 2022, among a representative sample of 1,000 Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. A separate survey was conducted Nov. 2-4, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points.

Gen Z’s favorite pro leagues, sports  

  • Nearly 3 in 5 male Gen Zers (57%) identified as “avid” or “casual” fans of the NFL, followed by the NBA (54%) and esports (46%).
  • Less than 1 in 5 Gen Zers (16%) said they are at least “casual” fans of MLS, making it the least popular U.S. sports league of the “Big Five,” though there are still signs interest in soccer is growing
  • One in 4 female Gen Zers said they are fans of the NWSL, compared with 1 in 5 (21%) who said they are fans of the WNBA, making them the top two most popular sports leagues among the group.
  • In spite of the buzz around Formula 1’s Netflix series “Drive to Survive,” Gen Z is still more likely to be fans of NASCAR. About 1 in 3 of the cohort (32%) said they are fans of the latter racing circuit, compared with 20% who said they are supporters of Formula 1. Still, Formula 1 fandom grew 5 points from 2020, surely at least in part because of the Netflix show.
  • When Gen Zers were asked to select up to three of their favorite sports leagues or competitions, 1 in 3 (34%) said they don’t like any college or professional sports.
  • MLB’s Gen Z fan base grew 3 points from 2020 to 35%, while NBA and NHL stayed flat at 47% and 25%, respectively. College football increased 4 points in that time to 41%, while college basketball ticked up 1 point to 34%. 

NFL’s Gen Z connection

The NFL’s digital marketing and influencer strategy includes a concerted effort to leverage platforms like TikTok to reach a younger, more diverse audience. In recent years, the league has also leaned into alternative broadcasts with multiple media partners, including “Thursday Night Football” games on Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video, which has featured trick-shot group and youth-centric sports and entertainment brand Dude Perfect as special commentators. 

The broader tie-up between the NFL and Amazon, whose main broadcast includes play-by-play caller Al Michaels and analyst Kirk Herbstreit, has thus far proven to be a fountain of youth for both parties. 

The Nov. 2-8, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 1,000 U.S. Gen Zers between the ages of 13 and 25, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. A separate Nov. 2-4, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. 

A headshot photograph of Mark J. Burns
Mark J. Burns
Sports Analyst

Mark J. Burns previously worked at Morning Consult as a sports analyst.

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