We're going to have fans at every game wherever we play. Arizona happens to be a place where we have a lot of fans and we're looking forward to them making a lot of noise. We have to give them reason to rise and shout. —Head coach Kalani Sitake
They are swarming to Arizona from all corners of the country. Their numbers are solid and it speaks volumes about the matrix, those pesky facts and figures bandied about by the Big 12 expansion committee. No other expansion candidate can duplicate it.
It’s the BYU fan base.
It is a passionate army, highly connected, and uniquely international. It hijacks online polls, floods social media and spins a web far beyond its Utah geographical digital footprint.
“As of today, BYU fans have bought just over 23,000 tickets, and sales this week have been brisk,” said Scott Norton, marketing director for the Cactus Kickoff. As of today BYU has outsold the University of Arizona for this event hosted at the home of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. The University of Arizona is about two hours from the stadium in Tucson.
“We hope to have more than 45,000, possibly 50,000 attendance,” said Norton.
The growing 23,000-plus tickets sold is nothing to sneeze at.
That’s 67 percent of the 33,851 fans Memphis averaged in six home games at the Liberty Bowl in 2014-15 and 58 percent of the University of Cincinnati’s top-attended home game of 2015 against Alabama A&M in Nippert Stadium.
Thing is, Glendale is 614 miles from Provo.
It is why West Coast Conference basketball programs hike prices for home games when BYU comes to Pepperdine, Gonzaga, University of San Diego, Portland and others. BYU is a cash cow, climb aboard.
Here’s how it happens with BYU fans.
Tremonton, Utah, population 8,066 near the border of Idaho, has Steve Atwood, Darin Williams and Bruce Garrett joining Orem’s Bruce Bushnell on flights to Phoenix for a Marriott resort stay and golf with game tickets. Mark Dickson is flying in from McLean, Virginia, Matt Christiansen is coming from Kansas City while Joe Houston is coming 1,200 miles from Florence, Montana. Spencer Coles, Austin, Texas, and Samantha Burton, Houston, will make the kickoff, as will Jeffrey Fuller from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Mark Stoddard out of St. Louis, to mention a few.
Like ants marching to a picnic.
Cal Jones, 70, Orem, bought 13 tickets for his family to attend Saturday’s game, but four weeks before Saturday’s kickoff he suffered a heart attack followed by open heart surgery and can’t go, but his kids are still going.
Arizona is home to 420,000 Mormons, a faith that first sent volunteer soldiers to fight in the Mexican-American War in 1846 and formally asked settlers to colonize the territory in 1873.
A big chunk of the 23,000 BYU fans going to this game come from an Arizona alumni base of 19,386. BYU alumni numbers include 175,230 from Utah, 19,699 living in Idaho, and 15,554 in Texas.
Earlier this spring and summer, BYU’s football team held six “FanFests” across the country and in Hawaii. In Mesa on April 23, 2016, the event drew an estimated 5,000 fans to meet coaches and select players.
That crowd and others at events in Michigan, California and Hawaii brought a proud reaction from first-year coach Kalani Sitake.
"We have the best fans ever,” said Sitake. “We have fans all over the world. It was evident when we did firesides throughout the country this summer at the destinations we will be playing this season. We’re going to have fans at every game wherever we play. Arizona happens to be a place where we have a lot of fans and we’re looking forward to them making a lot of noise. We have to give them reason to rise and shout.”
In Arizona, a microcosm of the BYU thing is at the Jardine household.
Brad Jardine, a Phoenix lawyer and BYU graduate, will attend the game with his wife. His oldest son and his son's wife are driving from San Diego for the game and his youngest daughter and husband are flying in from Palo Alto. His sister Heather Carroll, her husband, and two daughters are driving from St. George, Utah, and bringing Jardine’s 88-year-old mother to attend the game. The matriarch is worried about finding the right BYU gear. “My youngest sister Lark, her husband, two kids and spouses are driving in from Bullhead City and Las Vegas, Nevada, respectively, to attend. That’s 15 of my family and extended family who are attending. We’re outfitted.”
Nearby Mesa is home to former BYU star quarterbacks John Beck and Max Hall and other LDS local heroes like Hall’s uncle, former Dallas Cowboy star Danny White and former Ohio State QB Joe Germaine.
Beck, who now lives in San Diego, will play in a BYU-sponsored golf tournament in Arizona’s Papago Park and will attend the game with his sons. His brother-in-law, former BYU linebacker Markell Staffieri, will also make the trip from San Diego with his sons for the game.
“Nearly everyone that I know that is a BYU alumni and loves BYU is going,” said Beck’s father, Mesa-based developer Wendell Beck.
In part, much is due to a new era in BYU football with Sitake and staff, said Wendell Beck, a former Cougar track athlete.
It’s a season stage setter in Pac-12 territory.
“Like every season of BYU football, hopes and expectations are high and excitement is in the air,” said Wendell. “With a new coaching staff and Ty Detmer walking the sidelines of BYU football, everyone is excited because Ty brought to BYU a new level of football which BYU fans had not even seen with the likes of McMahon and Young.
“Ty has two mature QBs to work with and a four-year veteran in Taysom. But I'm cautiously optimistic only because this is Ty's first year coaching college and installing his system. Our schedule is tough and in football it takes time, with game experience for the QB, O-line and skill players to gel. Taysom sat out last year and Tanner played, yet Taysom is an amazing athlete. Let's hope BYU stays healthy and we end with a winning record and bowl bid in 2016.”
BYU in Arizona?
Natural as sunshine.