Monday, April 21, 2014

Michigan Football Fandom Predictor

There was a really interesting opinion piece in The New York Times on Sunday looking at how childhood shapes which sports teams we root for as adults. The thesis: successful teams leave imprints on young fans that last well into adulthood. 

The study says the sweet spot for hooking youngsters is age 8-12. Win a championship during those ages and boys are up to 8% more likely to become lifelong fans. But what of the inverse? What if the team your dad and uncles and maybe older brothers follow when you’re eight years-old sucks?

Let’s argue that from 2005 to present (nine seasons), Michigan football has been inconsistent and pretty mediocre. Two 11-win seasons (2006, 2011), one 9-win season and a single 8-win season (which most Michigan fans would see as a disappointing year). Then three 7-win seasons, a five-win and a three-win (sorry, Rich Rod).

What if you were an eight year-old when Rich Rodriguez was named head coach of the Michigan football team. Then watched them lose to Toledo and give you a 3-9 season followed by a 5-7 season for your ninth birthday. How would you feel about the Wolverines when you turned 18 in 2018? Would you be less likely buy tickets to the Big House? Buy a jersey? What if you were 9, 10, 11 or 12 during those bad years. And then Brady Hoke was hired and things hadn’t improved much. When, if they’re out there, might the chickens come home to roost?

This season. If you were 12 years-old when Rich Rod’s Wolverines lost their first game, you’re turning 18 this season. In your teens, Michigan has made one good bowl game, and won it on a game-winning field goal from a rapist kicker. Now you have a credit card and some disposable income, and if you don’t go to Michigan (even if you do!) how likely are you to be a diehard fan? 

Based on the findings in the NYT piece, from 2014 to at least 2018, Michigan is likely to experience it’s weakest influx of diehard fans, probably in program history. Fewer and fewer kids turning into adults in the next few years will have been impressionable young kids when Michigan mattered. They were impressionable young kids when Michigan sucked. 

It’s only one study. But, gulp.

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