Millennials are forcing us to change the way we think about sports. And it’s a good thing, because the grown-ups have gone plum nuts.
Did you hear about the University of Hawaii offering a football scholarship to a fifth grader? That’s right, an 11-year-old named Titan Lacaden, whose father told ESPN that “when opportunity knocks, you answer the door.”
Even if the door still has child locks?
Which brings us to the No Fun League. If N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell was any starchier, he’d be a potato. All those prohibitions on touchdown celebrations. No gathering except in small groups. No demonstrations. No going to the ground. Sometimes it has been difficult to tell the difference between the touchdown rules and martial law.
Then, in May, Goodell surprisingly turned the end zone into a dance party. Next season, it will be O.K. to use the football as a prop. To change its diaper. To rattle it like dice. To stand on it and mimic the logo of Captain Morgan rum. Neither the players nor the ball can twerk, it seems, but snow angels are back on the permitted list. Snow angels!
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And the reason for this relaxation of stuffiness? “I think that part of it is trying to reach the millennial and this new age of fans and having more fun,” Dean Blandino, the N.F.L.’s former chief of officiating, told Fox Sports, his new employer.
Sports officials and leagues have been flailing about to get young adults to care about their games. Millennials are the largest population group in the United States, according to census figures. But traditional sports are less urgent to those in the 18-to-34 age bracket than they were to their parents and grandparents.
A study of American sports fans published in March by L.E.K. Consulting, a global firm, portrayed a stark generational divide. Cord-cutting millennials are increasingly abandoning cable television and traditional sports for online video game tournaments and other e-sports, the study said. It noted that ESPN had lost 10 percent of its subscribers in the last three years.
“As millennials continue to back away from mainstream media,” the study said, “they are likely to become increasingly disengaged from sports in terms of viewership and fandom — that is, unless industry heads are able to respond to these changes in a proactive manner.”
Sports organizations looking to attract new, younger fans should provide more digital, fantasy and e-sport offerings, the study said. Some teams are also using an analog approach.