Millennials, The NFL, and What It Means For Schools

The “M word.” It’s something we hear more and more nowadays and we seem to be at the tipping point of transitioning from defining the characteristics of the word to witnessing the impact it has on areas of society and culture we once thought were impervious to change. Such stalwarts, such as the car industry, the housing market, and the mighty NFL, are all starting to feel the repercussions of the “M word.”

The word: Millennials.

While more and more research is being published about the traits, habits, and mentalities of this age group, it is surprisingly hard to find a clear-cut definition of what exact age group is considered a “Millennial.”

Time Magazine states that anyone born between 1980 and the year 2000 are considered to fit into this category. Most definitions fall somewhere close to this timeline, so for the sake of this post, we will use those benchmarks. I give full disclosure to the fact that, because of the year of my birth, I fall into this Millennial label/category.

The statements,  "narcissistic", "entitled", "in-need of coddling", "addicted to social media", are all traits I hear often in describing Millennials.

While it may be convenient to try and type-cast an entire section of our population with common descriptors, most would agree, that notion doesn’t fly now-a-days and we can probably think of just as many Millennials who wouldn’t be described by these labels.

One thing that can be analyzed and agreed upon much more definitively, however, is the changing habits and tendencies of Millennials, as well as, what motivates them. The NFL is one example of this. 

A major news story has been developing this fall about the decline in the NFL TV ratings (across the board) by approximately 15%. When you analyze the statistics further, you see a large chunk of that is due to a drop in the coveted 18-35 year-old section of viewers (Millennials). Since 2010, NFL viewership for the under 35 crowd has dropped almost 40%. While the 36+ ratings prove to be about normal, not really showing a drop in viewership.

Short term, this does not pose a problem for the NFL, since advertisers know the 36+ crowd accounts for most of their profits, however, this could be a disaster for the future.

When I look at my own viewing habits, most of this makes sense to me. I, like many other fellow Millennials, have never had a cable subscription in my adult life. I view all my shows online (including sports). In fact, when I talk to my friends, most don’t even watch a game in its entirety. We prefer the constant stimulation and action of the NFL “Redzone” channel. If you are not familiar, this is a channel that runs from noon on Sunday until about 6:30 p.m. with absolutely no commercials. This channel only tunes into games when teams are close to scoring, and will break into coverage to show every touchdown, seconds after they happen. It’s condensed, distilled NFL action without all the erectile dysfunction commercials to deal with. You don’t feel like you miss out on anything and sometimes you can view 4 or 5 games at once. You pick which “box of action” you want to focus on.

When we are consuming sports and media, we are also doing it in far different ways than past viewers.  We consume media on our phones, on our tablets, laptops etc. We do not accept that we have to be tied to our living rooms at a specific time,  dictated by the NFL or broadcasting companies. For instance, if we want to watch a game while shopping at the farmers market, we can and will do so. While this is great for us ,it is a disaster for TV ratings. In fact, if we want to watch an entire season of a television show, we can do that as well ("binge watching" is definitely becoming a popular trend!)

These changes in habits and behaviors are also wreaking havoc on one of the most symbolically “strong” institutions in our country's history--the auto industry.

People under the age of 35 used to account for almost 40% of all new car purchases. Now that number is closer to 25%. This is a huge drop, especially when you see the mentality of Millennials for the future.  Compounding the auto industries concerns for sustainability, is that proportionately, from 1998 to 2008, the number of teenagers with licenses has dropped almost 30%. Why spend thousands on a car and auto insurance when you can use your phone to obtain a ride whenever you need it?

The same scenario appears to be playing out in the housing industry. The percentage of Millennials getting first time mortgages in 2011 was more than half of what it was just ten years prior.

There are countless examples of how Millennial’s habits are breaking the stereotypes and patterns of previous generations. There is a clear demand to have things delivered in a more personalized and individualistic manner. As the music, car, sports, and telecommunications industries are learning, these changes in habits cannot be ignored, otherwise, their mere existence might be threatened. Companies and industries have to adjust, and are adjusting (at least most)… (cough) (cough)-- with the exception of our current educational system.

The children of Millennials are continuing to enter our educational system at an increased rate and we cannot afford to discount the influence and expectations of their parents (let alone what this next generation of kids will be labeled…tbd.)

We have grown up in a time where we have had great access to technology and the ability to surround ourselves with the things that interest us. We continue to see that increase with our own children.

Growing up, we were allowed to find common communities of friends with the same interests and talents we possessed, even if these communities were spread across the world. Again, this ability continues to increase for the next generation.

Most of us don’t remember what it was like not having access to our entire music library within our pockets. We have been witness to some of the greatest technological advances to mankind. We have been encouraged to challenge conventional thinking and to ask “why not” when told we couldn’t do something a certain way. Open-sourced coding has allowed 10 year-olds to speak a digital language and emboldened them to create solutions to problems that engineers five times their age weren’t able to solve. We have been empowered and we have to ask why this should stop at the classroom door?

I have two sons, a three year-old and a two year-old, and my expectations for what their education will look and feel like are far different from what mine was. Why should my children have to demonstrate proficiency on a topic the same way 30 other kids have to? Every child is unique and has a completely unique skill set. Assessments should allow for divergent thinking and problem solving, application of skills, not regurgitation of content (still waiting for that day when I can utilize my ability to properly identify the atomic number of an element.)

Education should be tailored to the individual child, not vice-versa.

Engagement is key and expected. My children are engaged for most of their day at home. We explore, experiment, build, run, drive, navigate, ask “why” throughout the entire day—not for a set amount of hours. My wife and I encourage innovation.

We push the value in what they are learning and how it connects to the real world. This is something I rarely received in my educational years. I want them to have more than I did, such as a voice and choice, in how they experience their learning. We try to make this a part of all facets oftheir lives. We need to ask why education has been so slow to keep up? This post isn’t a warning, but rather, a reality that continues to unfold. I am not unique in my thinking.  Believe me, if we (Millennials), don’t feel the kind of reality I described above can be created by our schools, we will find a way to create it for our children ourselves. If you still think I’m alone in my thinking I will point you to a statistic from the National Center for Educational Statistic, that shows a dramatic increase in parents choosing to homeschool their children (a very personalized form of education) by 62% from the years 2003-2010.

Our schools are running out of time, and cannot continue with their “assembly line” approach to our kiddo’s education.

While one statistic cannot be used to definitively validate my point, I do believe it drives home the message that Millennials have become accustomed to choices and if they aren’t happy with the choices given to them, they will search for an alternate route that will, even if that means breaking traditional paradigms or behaviors. Just ask the NFL.

-Daniel Nietzel