I’ve been a BYU fan my whole life. When I was a kid I cheered for the Cougs with all of my little heart and soul while watching them in my jammy-jams. I loved going to games. The 1996 season was my absolute favorite. I’d watch every game, and then Sunday night I’d stay up and watch sports on KSL to find out where BYU would be ranked.
When the time came, I only applied to one college: BYU. I loved being a BYU student. While I was a student I bought an all-sports pass every year. It was a no-brainer. I went to every football game. Our pre-game hours were spent tailgating. We walked into LaVell Edwards Stadium decked out in blue (or white when the occasion called for it), and during the game my friends and I screamed until we lost our voices. Game days drained us of everything we had.
During basketball season, we used to stand in line for hours to be among the first inside the Marriott Center. And when we got inside we screamed and didn’t stop screaming until the game was over.
As part of my major, I wrote for the BYU daily newspaper, The Daily Universe. The first day of the semester our editor assigned us beats. I shot my hand up in the air and volunteered to cover the baseball team. I went to every game that year at BYU’s beautiful Miller Park, and I loved every second of it. Beyond baseball, I got to cover some off-season football press conferences, and I got to interview Dave Rose for a story I did about the basketball team. Writing for The DU was so much fun.
I graduated from BYU in 2008.
After I graduated, I immediately allocated money in our budget for the BYU Cougar Club. I’ve been a Cougar Club member for six years. Supporting BYU athletics was, and continues to be, important to me.
I replaced my all-sports pass with season tickets. I’ve been a football season ticket holder for six years. In those years I’ve only missed two or three games, and that’s only because I was traveling for my job.
I am not a fairweather fan. I am not a casual fan. I don’t come and go as I please. I am a lifelong BYU Cougar. I’m true blue, through and through. Not every BYU fan is like me. Not every BYU student or alumnus is like me. There are bigger BYU fans in the world, but not many.
And so when I say that independence is snuffing out my love of BYU football, hopefully now that means something to you.
And if independence is having such a negative effect on me, what is it doing to the huge part of the BYU fan population that isn’t as dedicated as me?
Here’s where the bell curve talk comes in. Imagine a bell curve—you all know what a bell curve is, right? Well if you measure intensity among BYU fans, I bet the distribution would look like a bell curve. On the extreme left you’d find people that are always apathetic. On the extreme right you’d find lifelong Cougars like me. But in the middle, the big, fat juicy part where 95% of the fan base resides, you’d find casual fans.
Casual fans have the capacity to swing to the left or the right. They become serious fans when the team is playing well, or when a big opponent comes to town; they become lazy fans when we aren’t playing well, or when there’s nothing to play for. They show up to games when things are good, they stay home when things are bad. They do what they want. They don’t feel pressure to support BYU; they don’t feel like it’s their duty, or that they have some sort of special loyalty to the team or the school. If they want to come to a game, they will. If they don’t, they won’t.
If independence is shaking me, it’s got to be killing casual fans in droves.
If you were in LaVell Edwards Stadium for the last half of the 2014 season, you saw a stadium that was maybe half full. The stadium didn’t sell out all year, but the last three games against Nevada, UNLV and Savannah State were particularly terrible.
And TV ratings are down, too. I crunched some numbers (thanks to SportsMediaWatch.com for the data), and BYU’s ratings are down about 27% from 2013 to 2014.
I think it’s pretty obvious that independence isn’t working. In fact, I would say it’s killing BYU football. Beyond the quantitative data, like attendance and TV ratings, I also have anecdotal evidence.
My brother is also a BYU grad, and a BYU fan. But he’s in the fat part. He won’t “waste his time” on BYU sports if he’s not interested, but will gladly cheer for the team, go to games and get on board if there's something to cheer for. Suffice it to say, he hasn’t been interested in BYU football since 2010, with some exceptions. He doesn’t really watch games, doesn’t really care about the team. Think what you want about him or fans like him, but he represents the vast majority.
I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who is seriously considering becoming a Utah fan because BYU’s games are so meaningless. This is the same friend that used to heckle Utah fans mercilessly as they were walking into LaVell Edwards Stadium for our annual meeting with our hated rivals.
My dad is also a Cougar Club member and season ticket holder. He’s thinking of giving up both because he’s so disgusted with independence.
If I did any sort of digging whatsoever, I’m sure I could find thousands and thousands of stories just like this. But I still love BYU. And going forward I will still probably go to as many BYU football games as I possibly can.
BYU doesn’t have to worry about guys like me. But they should be worried—very worried—about the fat part of the bell curve.