Blog Feb 9, 2021

Gen Z Engagement in Sports – Why Is NBA’s Content Strategy So Successful

Gen Z Engagement in Sports – Why Is NBA’s Content Strategy So Successful

The battle for the Gen Z engagement is still at the beginning of its “growth”. It seems that the sports industry hasn’t recognised it as a big issue yet. However, as time will pass, more and more people in various disciplines will start noticing the consequences of losing young people to other entertainment alternatives. 

If you don’t want to drop a significant market share in the next twenty years, you need to start acting now. The National Basket Association [NBA] management understood it very early. They created a model, which is very appealing to Gen Z.

How did they achieve it?

  • What excatly NBA does,
  • How they engage the Gen Z,
  • What is the NBA’s sontent strategy.


Every generation that comes possesses an entirely different set of characteristics. What has the biggest impact on Gen Z engagement is their widely available access to smartphones and social media platforms. It completely changed their perspective, the pace of sharing knowledge and the way they create trends. 

Let’s look at the thirteen [13] defining characteristics of Gen Z:

  • digital natives,
  • entrepreneurial, 
  • competitive, 
  • flexible (preferring changes over stability),
  • open-minded,
  • appreciating independence,
  • “social ninjas”,
  • loving personalisation and individual identity,
  • financially focused,
  • direct,
  • aware, 
  • not afraid of dreaming big,
  • “ready-to-become leaders”.
Gen Z Engagement in Sports – Why Is NBA’s Content Strategy So Successful

Therefore, we see that being appealing to Gen Z is a challenge, but certainly a “doable” one! 

The first thing that you must realise as a member of the sports industry is that your competitors are all the companies from branches offering entertainment. Not only the ones from other sports disciplines. Once you understand it, let’s move on to the NBA case.


The first association that many people have when hearing “NBA” is “the best basketball league in the world”. That’s certainly true – but is it enough to lure Gen Z?

If the NBA was to compete only with other sports leagues, they could use their dominating position to attract most of the young people to their games. However, we must be aware that athletes’ rivalry in the United States must be closely connected to entertainment. Otherwise, it has no chance to win a large part of the market.

The management board of the NBA understood it a long time ago. In the early 1980s, their league was floundering. That’s when NBA Entertainment, a new in-house video production company, changed the rules of the game. They started creating short and long video formats, which aimed to promote watching NBA as an activity bringing a lot of joy, fun and sometimes even prestige. 

Gen Z Engagement in Sports – Why Is NBA’s Content Strategy So Successful

The right decisions that were made at that time are still bringing profits to the NBA’s current state. Nonetheless, the quality of the content and its publishing platforms have changed a lot in the last forty years. Now you have more extensive opportunities, so you need to do much more to become a full-fledged entertainment hub and be ahead of your competitors. 

FIRST HINT: Start perceiving your sports club (league/brand) more like an entertainment hub rather than only as a team of competing athletes.


League supports clubs. Clubs support players. Players support the league.

If you build healthy relationships between the parties that are decisive when it comes to the content creation, you’re one step closer to achieving success. 

In the case of the NBA, it works in the following way:

  1. The league has its social media specialists (including video content specialists and content writers) who publish materials with information coming straight from the clubs. 
  2. Each club has its content specialists as well. Their role is to go more in detail with the description of the situations and players that are interesting from their clubs’ fans point of view.
  3. Finally, we have players who make a tremendous contribution to the development of the league through personal branding activities. Clubs and league support players in creating content on social media (but don’t limit them!).


What the NBA understands that so many other leagues miss is the value of powerful player-generated content in engaging fans. The closer the vlogs and social media channels are to the players’ real vibe, the better for the league. Gen Z engagement in sports heavily depends on that.

Gen Z Engagement in Sports – Why Is NBA’s Content Strategy So Successful

Unlike other sports brands, the NBA doesn’t impose strict rules on what their athletes can post. The best method to build engagement and awareness among your fans is to let your “heroes” create genuine content for you.

These videos and social media channels that are run by the players are mainly focused on the lifestyle. Many famous basketball players are involved in the trending fashion. Sometimes they even go so far to compete to see who will have better sneakers

Such a focus on individual athletes lets the NBA catch the attention of both “basketball-freaks” and people that are barely interested in the sports competition. By providing the lifestyle that is desired to follow, players make more “consumers” aware of what’s happening in the “best basketball league in the world”. A self-propelling machine, isn’t it?

SECOND HINT: Use personal branding to make Gen Z follow your brand’s lifestyle. Your athletes will become idols social leaders for the young.


Over-the-top [OTT] viewing is a system that uses Internet connection to provide fans with highly attractive videos (and other TV derivatives!). The idea of implementing the NBA’s OTT is strictly correlated with the appearance of mobile applications focused on live-broadcasting and publishing video content.

The NBA concentrated on developing personalised functions in their OTT platform. Their direct-to-consumer streaming uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide the best experiences to the viewers.

The NBA’s OTT went so far to include archive content, real-time statistics, alternative commentators, video highlights (both the long and the short ones) and even rewards for those fans who will be the most active in their application.

A fan can decide not only to buy access to the selected matches but even to specific quarters (or even just a part of them!). This is a unique customisation and an essential mechanism for the NBA’s OTT success.

Every evening they post videos called “Top 5 Plays of the Night”. Weekly there appears highlights presenting “Top Dunks”, “Ankle-breakers” and many more. NBA specialists cut out the most interesting pieces of the games and immediately post them in their social media channels even if the teams are still competing. This generates huge numbers and allows them to quickly go viral.

Gen Z Engagement in Sports – Why Is NBA’s Content Strategy So Successful

What makes NBA’s OTT so demanded by the consumers is its ability to provide amazing content opportunities. Not only can you cut highlights from the game (that reach a bigger audience), but you also have a chance to share very emotional stories of the teams and players. 

Video is the most engaging type of content because it makes us use more senses than any other medium. In the past, it was difficult to create high-quality video content, but recently it changed. The number of experts is proliferating as the demand for them is increasing.

The combination of personalised content (going off-the-pitch, showing lifestyle) with the offer to watch the most critical parts of the game wherever you are, makes NBA’s OTT a very useful tool in engaging Gen Z.

And those who are now children of the payers will soon be in charge of the majority of financial resources in the world.

THIRD HINT: Video is the most engaging type of content. Use OTT to bring personalised experiences to your fan base. 


NBA players are also actively involved in the social actions and events that aim to promote values they believe in. Gen Z is carefully observing and strongly appreciating it. Currently, the young tend to follow those people that offer them the whole spectrum of the lifestyle. It means “trending clothing style” but also (maybe even predominantly) social sensitivity.

Gen Z engagement becomes higher when the representatives of the league (the players) are not afraid of sharing their genuine opinions on the look of the world. The more it refers to their real-life experiences, the better the reception.

Finding the right balance between allowing players to express their opinions and keeping the brand identity of the league as professional and politically indifferent as possible may constitute a key for the future Gen Z engagement development.

We could recently notice it when NBA basketballers supported the “Black Lives Matter” protests. Developing universal values that clubs and leagues can publicly support is becoming essential. It was deeply analysed in the Deloitte’s report on the 2021 outlook for the US sports industry.  

FOURTH HINT: Set universal values that your brand will always follow. Being indifferent repels Gen Z.


NBA is one of the few leagues in the U.S. that manages to have a higher interest in their league among Gen Z than among all adults. 47% of the people born after 1996 declared to be NBA “avid” or “casual” fans. At the same time, only 45% of adults (overall) stated the same.

Apart from the NBA, only Esports managed to receive a bigger difference in percentage numbers. In terms of Esports, it was 35% [Gen Z] to 19% [all adults], which indicates where the future might be. 

That also shows the innovative approach of the NBA. They already created a dedicated Esports league focused only on the virtual competition. Fans can compete there both individually and in teams. The “engagement numbers” went record high during the pandemic.

Gen Z Engagement in Sports – Why Is NBA’s Content Strategy So Successful

Another important set of statistics relates to the personal branding of basketball players. People in the U.S. recognise primarily those basketballers who are the best but also those that are the most active in social media. This two-factor communication strategy brings enormous profits to both sides, the players and the league.

In fifteen years, those people that are now twenty will turn thirty-five. They will start occupying principal positions in the companies. Maybe they will be driving most of the consumption. Now you might not see the detrimental effects of not investing in the Gen Z engagement. But soon you will have almost no chance to reverse it. Start acting now to win the market (or at least not to lose it)!


The NBA case study proves that it’s possible to engage Gen Z. It’s challenging but achievable. Nevertheless, without focusing on it now, you will lose a large part of the market in the future. If you seriously care about your brand, you have no other option but to invest in the best solutions guaranteeing top Gen Z engagement.


Are you looking for more information about digital transformation in the sports industry? Visit our website to learn more about dedicated products and innovations designed for sports. To find out more about how TISA can help your organisation thrive in the digital world, contact us directly – we will be happy to talk about your case. And if you’d like to join our team and help us create the best digital solutions for the world of sports, check out our current career opportunities.