BYU Football (and all of football) needs younger fans... but how?
Before get into the nuts and bolts of what I want to say, I want to issue a challenge to each of you who are reading this article today. Today, we are talking about process, not about beliefs. So, I challenge you to dig beyond the surface beliefs of the topics we'll discuss today and hone in on the process.
There was an incredible article published on The Ringer today that detailed how difficult of a year it was for the NFL this year. The football was fine and that is ultimately what matters for TV ratings and things like that, but when you take a step back and look at the events of the NFL, it was a pretty brutal year for the League.
Dan Synder was forced to sell his team. Deshaun Watson was the subject of sexual assault claims from dozens of women and was awarded with a fully-guaratneed contract at the end of the saga. The Miami Dolphins were punished for tampering in a way that can only be described as the NFL's version of insider trading. The world watched Tua Tagovailoa get thrown back into a game with an obvious concussion. Damar Hamlin had to be recussitated on the field while the country watched.
The football in the NFL this season was great. Brock Purdy was an amazing story. Patrick Mahomes was fantastic again. The Philadelphia Eagles being led to the Super Bowl by Jalen Hurts is one of the best feel-good stories in recent years. The Kecle Brothers are playing against each other in the Super Bowl.
The football was awesome.
The non-football was much less awesome.
TV ratings still soared, but as the age of the country (and the age of the NFL's fanbase) increases, TV ratings are dwindling more and more. Gen Z, for example, consumes less football on TV (and less TV in general) than any other age demographic in the country. Whether you're ready or not, Gen Z is becoming a big part of the adult-world. The oldest Gen Zers are now 26 years old.
As was discussed in The Ringer today, Gen Z seems to care about the off-the-field/non-football stuff of the NFL more than other age groups have. They consume less TV than anyone else, instead getting their entertainment on the internet from For You Pages and other things. Gen Z, generally speaking, cares more about cause. They will tune into cause. The NFL's cause has always been about making money and everything else just prohibits them from making more money.
Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark talked about the need for the Big 12 to get younger and start appealing to a younger demographic. The NFL needs to get younger too.
BYU needs to do the exact same thing.
How do these entities get younger? Well, let's turn to the internet to explore one possible solution.
First, let's talk about Greta Thornberg. That grumpy girl who talks about climate change all the time is a bona fide celebrity now. She has nearly 6 million followers on Twitter and nearly 15 million followers on Instagram. Her cause? Climate change. Whether you believe in Thornberg or not, the model has proven to be effective: Find a cause, and become the face of that cause. It's netted a grumpy girl who is kind of sassy on the internet sometimes nearly 21 million followers on social media - made up mostly of young kids who are listening to her cause.
Keith Lee is a less divisive example. If you don't know who Keith Lee is, he's a young dude who sits in a Paw Patrol camping chair at his house and does restaurant reviews. That's been done before, right? Well, Lee does it different. He goes out of his way to review struggling restaurants, in hopes of making them "un-struggling restaurants." He has completely changed lives of restaurant owners in Las Vegas. Restaurant owners have credited Lee with saving their business. One food truck was making a few hundred dollars a week. After Lee did a review, that food truck pulled in tens of thousands of dollars.
Lee doesn't accept payment for reviews. He pays for food on his own and he gives his honest feedback - not every review is positive. But his cause is always consistent and people have jumped on board. A little more than a year ago, Lee had a few thousand followers on TikTok. Now, he has more than 10 million.
Perhaps the best example of positive causes growing audiences in Mr. Beast. The YouTube creator is the most successful content creator on the internet. 23 million Instagram followers, 18 million Twitter followers, 75 million TikTok followers, and a staggering 132 million subscribers on YouTube. He recently turned down a $1 billion offer for his social media platform because he believes it's worth more than that (some estimates have said as much as $20-25 billion is the true value of everything he has created).
The dude is 24 years old.
Now that he's big, he does some fun videos. But, he rose to fame by raising money from corporate sponsorships and then giving it all away in creative ways. He is the guy who will tape off a circle at a grocery store and tell a single mom who is shopping that anything she can fit in the circle, he'll pay for. He's racked up $30,000 bills at Costco. He's given away cars, islands, millions of dollars, and a myriad of other things. Recently, he found a doctor who knew a surgery that can cure a specific type of blindness. Using his own money, he found 1000 people who qualified for the surgery, paid for them to come to this doctor, paid for their surgery, gave many of them a briefcase of cash, and now they can see.
He's received some backlash along the way, but he's created an empire by being a generous rich guy. In a world where rich people are hated, Mr. Beast has used richness to rise to fame.
Causes, man. Gen Z loves their causes. Whether it's a societal cause like climate change or it's a smaller thing like a food truck in Las Vegas, Gen Z backs causes they believe in.
What does any of this have to do with BYU? Well, let's talk about it.
In the 70s and 80s, BYU football was widely considered one of the most successful missionary tools that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had. LaVell Edwards had put BYU football on the national map and many people were exposed to "the Mormons" when they saw BYU play football on TV.
The nature of college football has changed dramatically since then. Though there are still anecdotal instances of BYU football being the catalyst for someone finding the Church, it isn't the marketing tool that it once was. The internet, the availability of other college football games, and a variety of other things have hampered BYU's ability to market themselves like they did 40-50 years ago.
But, as we can see from other content creators, BYU has an opportunity in front of them to rekindle that 'missionary tool' component of their football program. And, if they do things right, this could help them gain a lot of younger fans as well - whether they're members of the Church or not.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rolls out their 'Do Good' campaigns every year. They have their 'Giving Machines' around the country during Christmas time. These are great things that promote general goodness in a non-religious way that resonates with people.
BYU football can do that same thing.
In a world full of NIL sponsorships and an internet full of the next thing looking to go viral, BYU football has the opportunity to lead the charge. They don't need a social cause (there is almost certainly backlash that would come with that), but a cause for general goodness. BYU could lead the charge to simply do good and have that become a key component of their social media strategy and see growth among a younger demographic.
Gen Z wants a cause. The Church wants to grow. BYU football wants to represent the Church in a positive light.
Service, doing good, and inviting people to join in the good causes could become a key part of BYU's 'get younger' strategy.
And it would be beneficial to everyone.