Denver Broncos 2023 season could determine next generation of fans

The future of the Denver Broncos fan base could be riding heavily on the 2023 season.

Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Tyler Schank/GettyImages

Think back to the moment you became a fan of the Denver Broncos. For many like me, Millennials who grew up in the 90s, it was the first two Super Bowl champion teams in franchise history that cemented Denver Broncos fandom for life. For many others, who grew up in the 1980s, it was simply the presence of a superstar QB like John Elway, who had the Broncos winning more often than not.

For some of the younger members of the Denver Broncos fan base, they were in their formative years when Peyton Manning signed with the team. The four years Manning spent with Denver were some of the best in franchise history, including a Super Bowl win in the 2015-16 season. Over the last seven years, however, the Broncos have not done a lot of winning.

We all know this. The Broncos have had a losing record every year since 2017. They haven't had a winning record since 2016 and haven't made the playoffs since that Super Bowl 50 season. Even worse, the Broncos have been in QB purgatory since Peyton Manning retired, the dreaded place teams go to be made fun of constantly for not being well-run.

The Broncos have fired numerous head coaches. They have had pretty constant roster turnover. Each year has brought with it its own level of false hope. And therin lies the issue at hand that must be discussed -- the next generation of potential Denver Broncos fans is being rapidly stolen away by the Kansas City Chiefs (or others) because the Broncos aren't winning. Not every young football fan simply becomes a fan of the teams that are winning, I get it. Some fans grow up surrounded by certain teams and, win or lose, they inherit the fandom of that team. But for the majority of us, I would be willing to bet that our fandom -- in any sport -- is largely tied to a positive (winning) experience rather than falling in love with a losing team.

But over the last two decades, I have nephews who grew up in Chicago Bulls homes and have become fans of LeBron James (wherever he goes) or the Golden State Warriors. Why? Because those are the players/teams that are winning. I have seen countless other young fans running around wearing their Mahomes no. 15 jerseys, and you don't see many orange jerseys these days.

That wasn't always the case. For the longest time, you would see Denver Broncos fandom being pretty widespread. People were proud to send their kids to school wearing no. 18 jerseys because, well, Peyton Manning was the man. But it's sad to see what the Denver Broncos have become.

The Broncos certainly aren't lacking for fans, but I want to personalize this just a little bit. My kids are all at the age now where they might be open to making a decision once and for all whether or not they want to root for the Denver Broncos. Or care about the team whatsoever. It's not about indoctrinating them (although they may have been told a time or two that we do not root for the Chiefs in this house), but about the Denver Broncos helping these kids fall in love with the team in their own unique way. What are the Broncos doing right now to help the next generation of fans fall in love with the team?

They have to start winning again. There must be new life breathed into the organization. Why should any young fan choose the Broncos over the Chiefs right now as their favorite team? So they can get razzed by all of the kids who wear their Mahomes jerseys every Victory Monday? You can't really sell tradition to a six-year-old who thinks even the Panthers are cooler than the team that won Super Bowl 50 just because of their logo.

This is a real conversation that has happened with my 6-year-old. He asked me if the Panthers beat the Broncos, and I had to be honest. "Well, yes, they beat the Broncos this past season, but the Broncos beat them in Super Bowl 50."

It doesn't fly with the kid. He doesn't care. The Panthers have a cool logo and, to him, they beat the Broncos (more recently).

It's all about what you've done lately. Not to be dramatic, but it almost feels like the Denver Broncos fandom is slipping away from my own kids, who don't care to sit down and watch a Broncos game on TV. And why would they? The Broncos set a franchise record for the least points scored in a season last year. They're constantly firing coaches. They don't have anyone like Mahomes (unfair expectation, but we are talking about kids). They barely score touchdowns. They aren't playing in the playoffs.

We can only tell our kids they're wearing orange and blue -- and that's that -- for so long. Ultimately, the life of a devoted fan of a team that is losing is something that has to be left up to them. Nobody forced me to be a Denver Broncos fan -- it was something I chose as a kid because a passion was birthed inside of me for the team. Just like nobody coerced me to be a Denver Broncos fan, how are you supposed to coerce that for your own kids? You can only lead the proverbial horse to water, you can't make them drink during a drought.

For me, it was the moment John Elway launched a pass to Rod Smith in Super Bowl XXXIII against the Falcons, one of the earliest memories I have of watching football on TV, as the moment that I knew I was going to rock with the orange and blue forever.

So what is that moment going to be for this next generation of Denver Broncos fans, or potential Denver Broncos fans? The Broncos brought in Sean Payton to be the team's next head coach and hopefully provide that moment for the team. Payton has been a consistent winner as an NFL head coach, winning a Super Bowl within his first few years with the Saints and winning 11 of every 17 regular season games he coached.


Maybe next year at this time, we'll be able to report back on more Russell Wilson jerseys roaming around in public. Maybe the Broncos will be good enough to the point that you start seeing guys like Javonte Williams, Pat Surtain II, or Justin Simmons represented with jerseys being worn by younger fans. But one way or another, the only way the Denver Broncos are going to appeal to this next generation of football fans is by winning games. The more this team wins, the more the fan base will grow organically.

It's up to this 2023 Denver Broncos team to start rewriting the narrative on this team. To take the Denver Broncos from being the butt of so many jokes and restore the franchise to its proper glory.

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