The football team closes in on a touchdown drive. The quarterback picks apart the defense with precision passing. Fans shout as they cheer their team on to victory. The running back barrels past the first down marker for a third down conversion. The crowd erupts.
Well, part of it does, at least. Other fans are texting, snacking on a mint brownie and paying more attention to the cute girl two rows down than what’s happening on the field.
BYU sports fans know all too well the strange crowd dynamics that can be seen at football games. Some fans are cheering loud, while others simply talk to their friends or pay no attention at all. “Die-hard” BYU fans can find the latter very frustrating because they feel it gives the BYU student section a bad name.
Andrew Lord, a senior public relations major from Canton, Mich., feels the fan base is loyal, but that loyalty does not prevent ridicule from other fan bases.
“I think the BYU fan base is just as loyal, if not more so, than most schools. But that loyalty is not usually matched by an understanding of the sport they’re watching,” Lord said. “They’re also not as knowledgeable of the game as most fan bases, which often leads to BYU’s fan base being ridiculed as a whole for not being knowledgeable with what they’re watching.”
The knowledge disparity between fans has created a polarizing divide in the fan base.
“I think BYU’s fan base is made up of two main groups: there are the really die-hard fans who not only love watching BYU, but they are more realistic about the team,” Lord said. “They’re loyal, but not blindly. At the game, these are the people that are loud, that will stand up during important plays and things like that. The other group of BYU fans are almost the opposite. They love BYU but are not realistic. They are blindly loyal to the team and at the games, these are often the people who don’t make a lot of noise and will tell the person in front of them to sit down.”
Despite the divide, the loyalty is without question. Lavell Edwards Stadium seats about 65,000 and the average attendance for the past five years has been 62,229 per game. During the two seasons, BYU football was ranked 26th in attendance, and 27th the previous three seasons.
With great attendance and loyalty comes high expectations, and often unrealistic ones, said Ricky Andreason, a junior Spanish major from Mesa, Ariz.
“I think (fans) are unrealistic and overzealous at times. They aren’t fair weather fans, but honestly, kind of bandwagon-y,” Andreason said. “I just don’t like that expectations shoot through the roof after one big game, but no one is willing to stick with them after a tough loss.”
David Almodova, BYU assistant athletic director of marketing, thinks BYU generally has a great fan base compared to other schools.
“Some places, no matter the record, no matter who they’re playing, they’ll pack their stadiums. I think when we’re doing really well our fan base is very supportive,” Almodova said.
With football independence, BYU’s national fan base has had a chance to show their loyalty and zeal for BYU with the football team playing across the country. Duff Tittle, assistant athletic director, said independence is helping showcase the Cougars’ national following.
“Our fan base is outstanding, especially when we get to travel around the country with football in the new independence. It’s amazing how our fans support us wherever we go,” Tittle said. “They’re very loyal; they come out in large numbers. It’s awesome to go on the road and see 10,000 cougar fans. It’s actually amazing.”
Some fans complain about those who don’t wear BYU apparel. Navy blue is a very common color, but is not always as common at football games.
“I think – again when I first got here – I looked at old photos and noticed kind of a Skittles thing,” Almodova said. “Last year was the first year we actually told our fans what to wear to each game.”
This “Skittles” reference is commonly used in referencing BYU fans wearing multiple colors to the games. Recently, the athletic department has worked hard to fix that. Tittle feels they have come a long way in the past 10 years.
“I think over the last decade we’ve worked really hard to see people wearing colors to the games,” Tittle said. “Wearing the logos, the colors and BYU blue.”
Tailgating is another hot button issue when it comes to fandom. BYU does not have a strong tailgating scene, but it has tried to remedy that lately.
“We’ve done things to try to get people to come earlier, the RVs that we’ve had the past couple years. I don’t know if as a culture we’ll quite be like the big schools, but it will grow,” Tittle said.
BYU’s fan base may not be what many “die-hard” fans wished it were. But it is improving in the areas it should. Fans are more passionate, wearing school colors and making the whole day, game day.