Sports Viewers Are Going Grayer, Says Magna Global Study

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The generation that thrilled to Hulk Hogan and Rowdy Roddy Piper body slamming opponents on television is still watching professional wrestling, and that concerns marketers of the sport. That’s because the average age of a television viewer of professional wrestling has climbed by 21 years to the age of 54 since 2006, the most of any major sport viewed on television, according to the findings of a study conducted exclusively for SportsBusiness Journal by Magna Global.

Professional wrestling is not unique. The study of Nielsen television viewership of data for 25 sports showed that all but one have seen the median age of their viewers increase during the past decade, as younger consumers of sports content gravitate toward digital platforms to follow their teams.

The report found that the median age of viewers of most sports, except professional tennis, basketball and soccer, is aging faster than the overall U.S. population. The median age for an American is 37.9 years, according to the CIA Factbook. The findings raise concerns among marketers and the professional sports teams and leagues, who are trying to reach younger viewers who have moved to other venues other than television to consume sports.

Ultimate Fighting Championship, which didn’t exist when the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) was founded in 1979 by Vince and Linda McMahon, saw the median age of its television viewer climb 15 years to 49. Television viewers of the action sports category rose in age by 14 years to 47.

TV viewers of professional golf and ice skating skewed the oldest of the sports, with an average age of 64, each with an increase of five years since 2006. The age of those who follow horse racing, which historically has had the oldest viewership of any sport — in person and on television — rose seven years to 63. Other sports with television viewers over 60 were the professional women’s golf tour (63 years old, up four years) and the pro men’s tennis tour (61, an increase of five years),

Soccer draws the youngest group on television, with a median age of 40 for Major League Soccer viewers in 2016, up from 39 in 2006. Fifteen percent of its fan base is under the age of 18, the highest such rate of the U.S.-based leagues. Professional soccer has reached out to newly arrived, largely Hispanic immigrants to boost its fan base, and those viewers tend to be younger.

Among the four major sports, the National Football League, the nation’s most popular sport on television, had a median TV viewer age of 50, up by four years from 2006. For Major League Baseball it rose four years to 57. The National Hockey League’s viewer age climbed seven years to 49.  TV viewers of the National Basketball Association rose just two years to age 42.

The professional women’s tennis tour (WTA) is the lone sport moving contrary to the trend of older television viewers. The average age of its viewers, 55 in 2016, was a decrease of eight years from 2006.

The Magna Global study examined live, regular-season game coverage of major sports on broadcast and cable television in 2000, 2006 and 2016.