Millennials vs. March Madness
March is one of those frightening months. Not because of the unpredictable weather or the return of spring allergies, but due to the constant fear millions of Americans feel every day that somebody will try and talk to them about the NCAA March Madness tournament. Those who do not have any remote interest in college basketball share the similar feeling of dread when they see emails circulating about setting up a bracket pool for the tournament with coworkers, family and friends.
Being one of those people who doesn’t pay much attention to sports, I became fairly adept over the years at talking out of my ass about the NFL, MLB and NBA based on small tidbits of information I’d hear in my peripherals. However, college basketball posed a unique challenge because of the sheer volume of teams in contention. I would look at TVs out of the corner of my eye to check scores to at least have something to say, but at some point it became more effort than it was worth. That’s why I’m here to say it’s okay if you don’t watch March Madness and you don’t need to fake it; there’s plenty of us out there.
While many in the media take immeasurable joy in blaming the decline of aging entertainment on millennials (Toys R Us, TV), one actually valid concern of many in media industries is the lackluster sports viewing habits of millennials. In a survey conducted by LEK Consulting, 40 percent of millennials said that they prefer watching eSports (The International, League of Legends) to traditional sports. What’s even more worrisome is that of those millennials who do choose to watch regular sports are predominantly not doing so on TV, with only 33 percent spending most of their media time on TV. Compare this to non-millennials who spend 41 percent of their media time on TV, and networks like ESPN realize they have a pressing issue to address.
There have recently been some truly transparent and vein attempts to bring the youth element back to the world of sports. One such example is the complete 180 by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on the issue of touchdown celebrations. Because why wouldn’t teenagers put down their iPhones to watch a 10-minute drive in order to maybe see a 5-second touchdown dance that will undoubtedly be all over Twitter a minute later? Executives like Goodell seem to miss the message of the growing tendency of millennials toward eSports: we don’t want life to BE a video game, we just find video games more entertaining than life.
That is one of the major factors fueling the generational gap in the viewing habits of traditional sports; our parents grew up with the reality of college and professional sports being the sole form of entertainment. There were four networks and sports were a good portion of what was on them. But when you’ve been playing Halo and Grand Theft Auto since grade school, listening to Bob Costas drone on between every stop and start of play does not quite stack up. It’s the same for any generation that is native to new technology. Millennials teach their parents how to perform basic phone and computer functions, and before long it will be our children teaching us how to operate the latest technological advancement. God only knows what they will be watching instead of eSports.
Now some argue that our generation’s waning interest in mainstream sports is contributing to whatever instinct compels every outgoing generation to think that the incoming generation is getting soft. But those older people are probably the children of the same people who opposed implementing helmets in football. However these fears brought on by emotions are, unsurprisingly, not supported by facts. The facts are that millennials do place great importance on their physical health, despite not being interested in watching others do the same. A 2013 global fitness survey found that millennials make up just under half “of all regular exercisers who do gym-type activities.” And this is on par with the changing preferences that millennials are adopting in the world of fitness, including less of a focus on competition which would support a disinterest in competitive sports. The Sports Goods Manufacturing Survey saw millennials were far more likely to participate in exercise regimens focused around a communal sense of togetherness in which they pushed each other forward, rather than competing directly with one another.
What this all boils down to is that you are not any less of an American or “normal” person because you are not watching the big game. What matters is that you are doing what you enjoy doing, hopefully with some people you also enjoy. Don’t go to watch parties or make a bracket just to appease others or prove something to yourself. Rather, be an individual. There is an alternative to March Madness that contains all the fun of choosing things in a bracket but with none of the complications of college basketball. Our saviors at The Daily Show set up the “Third Month Mania Bracket of Bullshit” which is getting down to the championship between the Trump conference and the Everything Else conference. Final four finalists include Paul Ryan’s $1.50 tweet, Trump’s inauguration crowd, “very fine people on both sides” and many more acts of complete and total Bullshit from this past year. This only further illustrates that if you are young and you are not watching March Madness, you are not alone.