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What Will the Future of NFL Fandom Look Like?

Last night, my son told me his favorite team was the New York Jets. Needless to say, this was quite the shock to the old ticker.  Where had I failed as a parent? Was it because I let him stay up until midnight watching HBO, and he happened to latch on to the Hard Knocks series, or the massive amounts of hype about the Jets this offseason? No, nothing wrong there.  Perhaps it was due to my writing on this site, and his reading all the comments, and he now mistakenly feels like he must believe in the Jets and Mark Sanchez. Also, thankfully, not true.  The reasons for the Jets being his current favorite team:

  1. The Jets are the favorite team of the father in The Wizards of Waverly Place, his current favorite show; and
  2. They wear green, his favorite color.

That’s it.  I’ve got less influence than a father on a fictional Disney show.  Marred by the home town team not having anything approaching a winning season since he entered pre-school, my son has also had a preference for the Miami Dolphins (for obvious reasons for a young boy into animals) and the Carolina Panthers (ditto).  I say this only half in jest: if I were running a team that had very little national appeal, I would consider changing my mascot to the T-Rexes. In twenty years, the T-Rexes might own the male age 25-34 demographic.

Is a young boy’s preference (temporary preference, I might add, or he’s grounded) for the Jets because of a Disney show and a color preference any worse than why we picked our favorite team?  I am guessing most of us did not pick our favorite teams because the organizational goals were in line with our visions.  Most likely, it was family tradition or geography.  Well, that may have been a more powerful influence fifty years ago, when the neighborhood went to the football game, and the players lived and worked in the offseason among the community, and when we did not have ways to connect outside of our immediate area.  We now live in a much different society from an access standpoint.  You don’t have to live 15 minutes from the stadium to see your team play every Sunday. You can watch them play ever game on the Sunday Ticket, or through an internet feed, and if you have have enough money, you can always travel quickly from any point in the country and go see your team play on the same day.  You can feel the sense of community associated with being a fan by participating in very good team-focused blogs that provide as much discussion as you could have gotten at the barber shop fifty years ago.

All of this instant access and ability to find lots of information and be connected to any team, and to watch any team, makes me wonder what the future of the NFL fan base will look like.  Geography will still be the primary factor, but how much less of a factor will it be compared to the past?  Sports fans have some of the best brand loyalty of any product.  If your favorite restaurant does away with your favorite meal and moves in a different direction with the look and feel of the restaurant, I’m guessing you wouldn’t complain and whine all week but then go back on Sunday for lunch every week.  You would take your business to a different restaurant that better fit what you preferred.  This is normal consumer behavior, but is certainly not the norm for football fans, as we stick with our teams despite all evidence pointing to it being a poorly run business.  Will teams be able to rely on such fan loyalty in the future?  The internet has created a global community, and the smart organization will realize they have to focus their efforts outside of the immediate geographic region.  Getting mentioned in a popular kid’s show wouldn’t hurt, either. [Photos via Getty]

 

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