A Game Plan for Winning Over a Generation

A Game Plan For Winning Over A Generation
Michael Cohn

In recent years, athletes have made it a point to foster a relationship with fans on social, taking them behind the scenes on the field, in the locker rooms, and into their homes. As a result, my generation has grown up following our favorite athletes on social media. This is something that has impacted the way Gen Zers consume both sports and the brands associated with sports. The ability to connect with our favorite athlete on a much more personal level creates a deeper connection and a greater sense of trust. As a result of this connection and trust, brands have found novel ways of accessing youth culture through star players.

Capturing the attention of a Gen Zer can be tough, but the athletes that do it the best create content that is entertaining, inspiring, and relatable. Jonah Stillman of consulting firm Gen Z Guru said, “We may not be your core consumers right now, but five or 10 or 15 years down the line, we are going to be your avid spenders, your avid fans, and the time to get on our radar is now.” As a result, brands have shifted their messaging to appeal more to Generation Z, and much of this shift has involved tapping athletes who already create relatable content.


LeBron James, for instance, often posts Instagram Stories of his extremely challenging workouts. Some of the basketball drills and workouts I do were taken from watching LeBron’s Instagram Stories. His videos have had an impact on the way I’ll train for the upcoming basketball season. With Gen Zers always on social media, athletes want to have influence over the next generation and James does an exceptional job of creating that influence.

In addition to being the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), James’ substantial influence is one of the reasons Nike (#client) loves him. As stated in Criteo, a commerce marketing agency, “Gen Zers have strong opinions and care deeply about stories.” Nike has used James’ influence to tap his fans. Sports fans love a good story, but this is especially true for my generation. In LeBron’s case, Nike continues to do a good job of reminding us of his story through their advertisements featuring him, my favorite of which highlights his journey in the NBA. Starting from Draft Day to his most recent championship game, the “I Believe” ad tugs at the heartstrings of fans as they intermix his Draft Day speech with Aretha Franklin’s “People Get Ready” melody. This is a great example of how storytelling can be so powerful. We Gen Zers are more likely to favor the entire journey of an athlete over solely their performance. Brands can tap into this insight interweaving their past, present, and future into their story.

The relationships formed between Gen Zers and our favorite athletes on social has created an organic means of communication. This relationship has also presented a unique opportunity for brands to communicate with this consumer segment in a native way. Gen Z will have a great deal of purchasing power in the coming years. These daily interactions with our favorite athletes are likely to influence our shopping habits. If you want to score with Gen Z, learn from our favorite athletes who breakthrough by bringing us along their journeys with deep, compelling stories.