As part of New York City’s Advertising Week, I attended a panel discussing “Millennials and Digital Natives as Fans.” Panelists from major properties including the PGA and the Detroit Pistons, as well as from brands including Pepsi were on hand to discuss what their brands are doing to cater to a new crop of digitally savvy, mobile minded fans. At almost 80 million strong with $170 billion in annual purchasing power1, this audience wields a lot of influence. Sports properties cannot sit idly by and hope these Millennials become fans, but must step up their game (pun intended) and do more to offer Millennials the value they are seeking when it comes to sports.

This audience is constantly connected, with 68% of smartphone owners saying they use their devices while watching sports2. Brands and sports properties can use mobile to engage with their fans in the arena, off-site, and to turn thier passion for sports into discipleship for the brand and the team.

All on the panel were in agreement that this influential audience is crucial to recruit in order to grow their long-term fan base, and that sometimes, that can be easier said than done. Millennials are looking for more when it comes to sports – more value, more engagement, and more ‘can’t get it anywhere else’ content and experiences. This socially connected group is willing to be an ambassador for your team, your athlete, or your brand, but they need a reason to share and are looking for compelling content they want to push out to their social networks.

Never far from their mobile devices, these digital-native consumers look to mobile devices to improve and enhance sports event experiences and are constantly connected, even while watching sporting events. They are using these enhances experiences to put themselves in the ‘front row’ of the sports they love at all times.

For these Millennials, mobile and social programs are a big part of the on-site experience. Mobile can upgrade these consumers from the sidelines to part of the action. Social media gives consumers a stronger voice and a way to engage with the real-time experience during the game. Whether that is tweets on the jumbotron or surprise and delight upgrades for checking in, mobile can be used to turn a game into a memory for consumers.

And off-site, brands and properties have the opportunity to continue the relationship with their fans through digital media. Increasingly, athletes are controlling their personas and offering unprecedented access to their fans. Especially in sports like golf, where there is not inherent fandom for a team, it is important for fans to feel like they can engage with and root for the individual players.

Sports incite passion in Millennial fans. Sports properties, and the brands that sponsor them, can translate that passion into purchase, engagement, and social cred by leveraging social and mobile media to connect with these fickle fans and offer added value. If brands and properties can leverage these digital and social platforms in a strategic way, they can add value for their consumers, and build a strong and loyal community of fans.

1comscore, 2012

2Nielsen Q1 2011 Mobile Connected Device Report