It's kickoff season again — and for the 100th time, it turns out. National Football League (NFL) football is about to start up — real games, not the practice ones — and that means another flurry of activity regarding payments and commerce.
The National Football League certainly remains popular, but recent years have brought serious concerns about whether the league has a firm grasp on younger fans, some of whom seem turned away by the concussion danger of the sport. But the NFL is making a big play for those fans and others via its newly announced partnership with TikTok, a popular social video app that has been growing rapidly and is now starting to focus on monetization and advertising.
The NFL wants to use TikTok to, in the words of CNBC, “score with young viewers.” The app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, “has become wildly popular among Gen Z. It was the third-most downloaded app in the U.S. in the first quarter of this year,” according to that report. The effort reportedly includes an NFL account on TikTok. One early post shows “San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin scoring a touchdown” and had gained at least 2 million “hearts.” According to CNBC, other NFL content on TikTok will “will include highlights, sideline moments and behind-the-scenes footage.”
Losing its Edge
The NFL (along with Major League Baseball, or MLB) seems to be losing its edge among younger viewers and fans, and to the advantage of basketball and soccer, according to a report from Morning Consult. “While 68 percent of all adults polled chose MLB or the NFL as their favorite professional sports league, that share fell to 52 percent among the youngest adults,” the report said. “Forty percent of those respondents also said they preferred the NBA [National Basketball Association] or MLS [Major League Soccer], compared with 23 percent of all adults.”
“Part of the shift comes from cord-cutting, as fewer young people tune in for live broadcasts of games on major networks and opt instead to stream games online,” the report said. Not only that, but “the transitory nature of social media and its effect on the collective U.S. attention span also better suit sports like basketball and soccer, with their easy-to-share highlight reels and the brilliance of individual stars.”
And then there is what the report called “the elephant in the room … emerging science on the effects of repeated concussions is already draining the NFL’s potential talent pool, with more parents refusing to let their children play the game.”
Even so, TV ratings for the NFL improved year over year in the 2018 reason, increasing some 5 percent over 2017.
It’s far too early to measure the TikTok impact on the NFL and its fan base, of course, but this new effort comes amid other payments and commerce moves tied to the new pro football season. After all, big football stadium crowds and the viewers at home or in bars serve as almost a captive audience for payment services providers, who know that any significant attempt to make the procurement of concessions, souvenirs and other goods as frictionless as possible will likely go over well among mainstream consumers.
This year promises more advances in biometrics — both in deployments and in the lessons learned from ongoing and new methods of authentication and payment. As new PYMNTS research documents, over the past year, 18 MLB, NBA, NFL and Major League Soccer (MLS) arenas have deployed biometric solutions by CLEAR.
CenturyLink Field, home of the Seattle Seahawks, was the first NFL stadium to adopt the technology. According to Zach Hensley, vice president of operations and guest experiences for the Seahawks and CenturyLink Field, these services are changing how fans experience live games and boosting their overall enjoyment. “Our fans really like the VIP experience of express lanes that shorten their wait time to get into the building,” Hensley said.
But it’s not just payments where the NFL and other sports can shine when it comes to digital and mobile technologies.
As other PYMNTS research confirms, consumers are set to spend $23 billion buying mobile tickets for sports and gaming events by 2023. Last year, in fact, some 80 million people bought mobile game tickets — and it is fairly certain that number will continue to increase in 2019 and into 2020.
Mobile apps, too, are playing a bigger role in football and other major sports. That’s because stadiums and sports teams are looking for more opportunities to connect with at-home and online viewers as they come to represent another segment of attendees. These teams are looking to mobile apps to innovate payments in a way that will revitalize purchases and the game experience.
Meanwhile, TikTok continues to try to increase its own appeal among consumers, especially younger ones. For instance, the platform recently launched an in-app feature that allows users to shop for products related to a sponsored hashtag challenge. The feature, called Hashtag Challenge Plus, prompts users to post videos of themselves using a product or participating in some sort of manufactured viral trend. And a separate tab allows users to buy products from the campaign within TikTok itself.
Get ready for that first real snap — it’s not just a new football season, but a new season for payments and commerce and social media.