Press release

9 Nov 2023 London, GB

Boxing, Basketball and Badminton are among the most popular sports with Gen-Z adults in the UK

The first edition of the EY survey of over 4,000 UK adults uses comparative data to identify engagement levels across a range of sports by measuring the number of adults actively participating, following a sport on TV, online, or social media, or attending sporting events

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Related topics Strategy and Transactions
  • The EY Sports Engagement Index compares levels of engagement and participation in over 150 sports across demographics and identifies new trends
  • Sporting participation levels are highest amongst Gen-Z adults (18-24 year olds), with boxing, basketball, badminton, Esports and MMA having high levels of engagement with this demographic
  • The Index also identifies cycling, climbing and wellness activities as sports with attractive fundamentals, including high levels of participation and popularity with young adults

Boxing, basketball and badminton are among the most popular sports with Gen-Z adults (18-24 year-olds) in the UK, according to the brand-new EY Sports Engagement Index. 

The first edition of the EY survey of over 4,000 UK adults uses comparative data to identify engagement levels across a range of sports by measuring the number of adults actively participating, following a sport on TV, online, or social media, or attending sporting events. 

According to the Index, football, Formula 1, running, rugby union and cricket have the UK’s largest engagement bases overall – but there are significant differences in the sports that most engage Gen-Z adults (18-24 year-olds) compared to the rest of the population. 

Boxing, badminton, basketball and Esports are among the activities all scoring highly for engagement with 18-24 year-olds. Although football and Formula 1 maintain top-three positions with this demographic, cricket, tennis and rugby, are among the sports facing challenges when it comes to capturing the imaginations of young adults.

EY Sports Engagement Index - Top 10 rankings


Top 10 by size of engagement base Top 10 for Gen Z engagement base only
1 Football Football
2 Formula 1 Boxing
3 Running Formula 1
4 Rugby Union Basketball
5 Cricket Badminton
6 Cycling Cycling
7 Tennis Cricket
8 Boxing Esports
9 Rugby League Running
10 Snooker Tennis

The survey found that 59% of all respondents had engaged in sport in the last 12 months – this figure rises to 71% for men but falls to 45% for women. Adults aged 35-44 years old were the most engaged in UK sport, but participation levels were at their highest in the 18-24 year-old age group.

EY Sports Engagement Index 2023


Gen-Z adults are changing the definition of what sport is

The Index identifies a number of ‘new’ sports which have high levels of engagement with Gen-Z adults (18-24 year olds). Esports features in the top-10 most engaged sports for this demographic while MMA, weightlifting, dancing, table tennis and volleyball are in Gen-Z adults’ top 15 sports for engagement, but are absent from the equivalent list for all adults. 

Many of the sports most engaged with by Gen-Z adults are also in the demographic’s top-20 sports when measured by ‘participation’ alone, which suggests that participation is more of a driver for engagement for this age group.

Tal Hewitt, Sports Strategy Lead at EY-Parthenon, said: “Gen-Z adults are redefining the sporting landscape, revealing areas of untapped potential. Sports such as basketball and badminton are resonating with this influential demographic, while wellness activities, Esports and dancing are changing the definition of a what a sport is. It’s crucial that investors, sponsors, governing bodies and the sports themselves recognise the importance of this highly engaged age-group which is shaping the future of sport.

“For example, Esports is engaging Gen-Z adults in a well-rounded way, with an equal split of followers or viewers and participants. These engagers also attend Esports events, with a quarter of all 18-24 year-old Esports engagers having attended an event in person. By establishing multiple ways to engage, Esports offers Gen-Z adults options for personalised and highly immersive experiences, something we know is very important to this demographic. It also opens more commercial avenues for the sport to drive growth. Even some established sports, like football or Formula 1, have found new channels for engaging younger fans.” 

Sports to Watch

The research found that badminton has high rates of participation and a youthful, balanced demographic. The UK’s 14th largest sport by the overall size of its engagement base, badminton has added approximately half a million new adult engagers in the last two years, and with Gen-Z adults making up nearly a quarter of this new engagement base. 

Cycling added more adult engagers in the last two years than any of the sports surveyed, with the exception of football. It is now the sixth largest UK sport by size of overall engagement base, with 56% of cycling engagers actively participating in the sport in some capacity*.  

Wellness activities, including yoga, pilates and tai chi, benefitted from the COVID-19 lockdown when increased time at home, a rise in wellness-focused apps and growth in social media profile helped to boost engagement levels. Among wellness engagers, 52% said they had only engaged with these activities in the last two years or less. 

Climbing, Esports and Formula E are also identified as sports to watch due to their youthful engagement bases. Climbing in particular, has a very high proportion of engagers who participate in the sport (70%).

Tom Kingsley, Sports Industry Group Leader at EY, said: “The power of sport to bring together people from different parts of society is what makes it part of our national psyche. However, it’s clear that engagement levels vary significantly across demographic groups. For established sports such as football, rugby and cricket to maintain their relevance in the future they need to learn more about their engagement base. Sports and governing bodies should use these insights to make strategic decisions that will drive the evolution of this engagement base, while sponsors and investors will need to carefully consider the commercial opportunities available and understand where to place their bets in the future.”