Cincinnati QB Burrow attracts a younger audience than most NFL players
Much has been written about how insanely cool Joe Burrow is, and that's really the only word anyone can find to describe him. Sometimes there is no other adjective that can truly capture the appeal of a public figure than the simple, self-explanatory "cool." As OBJ said, "If you look good in the dictionary, it's in some Cartier glasses," which in itself is a really cool quote.
Whether Burrow is a generational talent remains to be seen. Putting that designation on a second-year quarterback can mean handing down a death sentence by expectation. Obviously extremely talented and a great leader on the field despite his relatively young age, he has been able to quickly transform the Bengals franchise into a force to be reckoned with. There are essays that could be written about his on-field performance, and while that is certainly a big factor in his popularity, I'd like to elaborate on his off-field appeal and, by extension, whether he has the potential for NFL. to switch to the younger generation.
To say that he is "generational" in the sense used to describe Trevor Lawrence, for example, may or may not be accurate. It has to be interpreted, it's very subjective and, as we saw with Lawrence, it reflects a lot of other factors around a QB. But Burrow is a generational face, as he feels very representative of Generation Z. He's not really "relatable" per se, but he has caught the attention of a generation that hasn't yet felt the pull of the NFL to the extent that other American adults have.
In December, we wrote about Gen Z Americans' declining interest in professional sports, based on the results of a 2020 Morning Consult survey, which defined Gen Z as people ages 13 to 23. Only 49 percent of Gen Zers surveyed identified as NFL fans, compared to 59 percent of all American adults. When asked to name their favorite athlete, four NFL players ranked in the top 10 for American adults (Tom Brady at No. 1, Aaron Rodgers at No. 6, Peyton Manning at No. at #7 and Patrick Mahomes at #7). 8), while only two ranked in the top 10 for Gen Z (Tom Brady at #6, apparently since his retirement, and OBJ at #9).
So the question remains, does a unique character like Burrow have enough of a "cool" factor to change the way the coming-of-age generation views the game of football? At 25, he is at the top end of the 2020 survey pool, but he is supposed to be part of the younger generation. The legendary cigar after the LSU national championship was his first viral moment, gaining universal appeal outside of the sometimes closed world of football.
And cigars have followed him to the pros, along with cool sunglasses and cool outfits and his cool diamond pendants and his oh-so-cool, effortless answers to questions about all of those things. He shrugs with a laugh, with a slight confidence that somehow avoids trespassing into annoyance territory and that he carries with him both on and off the field (specifically, that he's still rebounding after hitting nine tiebreaker records dismissed by the Titans). and win the game). Football fans may enjoy watching it play, but many people, fans or not, simply enjoy it.
Burrow's face is all over TikTok, and only sometimes in relation to his skills on the field: videos of him dancing and smoking cigars, edits of him walking in slow motion, "Best Drip" compilations, reruns of his previous tweets. (a 2013 highlight: “Urban Meyer looks like Sheen from Jimmy Neutron”), and hilarious interview moments keep coming. His Instagram captions consist of quotes from The Office, jokes about his own beard, and SpongeBob references. He wouldn't have the national recognition and platform that he does without his talent, but the Bengals' new star adoration goes beyond his elite game. He has the personality, looks and appeal that the NFL's younger generation has been desperately missing. (Patrick Mahomes suffers from a general dislike for his brother and, to some extent, his fiancée. Mahomes also has a son, which makes him feel older, even though he's only 26.)
Here's the thing, though: Celebrity is incredibly fleeting these days, especially the way we see Burrow exploding online. I have no doubt that he will continue to be popular, closely watched and well known among Bengals and NFL fans. His footballing fame will not one day vanish simply because of a new trend, but the appeal he offers to potential fans and viewers interested in his style off the field who have yet to see him could be short-lived.
It's hard to say if the final score of this Sunday's Super Bowl will affect that. He has a lot of attention right now because of the next game, but even with a win, the media cycle will change to something or someone else. Could his cultural influence lead to a growth or resurgence of new fans in the upcoming NFL season?
And could it make Cincinnati great? Winning the Super Bowl on Sunday or not, the errant Gen Zers could flock to a very loyal fan base in a small market. Brady comparisons are obviously too early and have very little value at this point, but Brady has reached a level of fame where advertisers and broadcasters have benefited from having him in terms of viewership and TV engagement. So while we've seen a single player make a big difference before, the problem lies in the small number of Gen Zers who actually watch live sports compared to Millennials and other American adults.
There may never be another Brady because the audience and fan base have changed so much in the last two decades that he's been playing. But maybe for someone as young and cool as Burrow, there's a new way to impact the NFL fan in a different way. It remains to be seen what this path will look like. But for now, for now, Burrow has reached a status of cultural iconicity that has the potential to attract casual and non-football fans of the younger generation to watch the NFL and maybe even bond with Cincinnati if it's nearby.