Any old school can do a social-media countdown to game day, and most do. But the BYU athletics marketing team wanted to take it up a notch. To celebrate the beginning of the 2013 fall camp, they dropped 20 swag-stuffed boxes all over Utah and tweeted out pictures, setting off a statewide scavenger hunt. When out-of-state Cougar faithful cried foul, marketing director David K. Almodova decided that next year they’d take the hunt to every state for the 50 days leading up to the season opener. And so BYU50 was born.
What wasn’t certain was whether BYU fans would show up at far-flung locations—in Maine, Alabama, Alaska. Turned out there was no need to worry: not only did Cougar fans show, in many locations the volunteers struggled to drop the boxes because so many fans swarmed the likely landmarks. Most boxes were claimed in less than 10 minutes, some in under a minute.
Social-media coordinator Stuart D. Call (BA ’12) says BYU, unlike universities with primarily local followings, enjoys a nationwide base of fans. “They love the Cougars,” he says, “and they love free stuff.”
The 2015 boxes held a wide variety of gear and memorabilia—from an autographed 8×10 of Taysom Hill’s “Leap of Faith” to a BYU blanket to a Beanie Baby Cosmo—and BYU distributed 133 of them, 36 in Utah alone. And this year BYU50 went international, with drops in Costa Rica and Samoa.
Almodova loves the stories of New England families visiting multiple states in search of a box; of boats racing across Utah Lake in search of a box floating on a tube; of the American Fork, Utah, teenager who broke her arm while sprinting for a box. “She still got up and won,” marvels Call. “She was a champ.” Her devotion earned her a home visit from the entire football team, who brought more gear and season tickets.
James M. (BS ’99) and Marjorie DeVaux Anderson (BS ’98) loaded up their four kids and dog for a 45-minute drive-turned-footrace in pursuit of the Arkansas box. It was the ultimate family home evening, James wrote on the BYU50 blog. Upon winning, one of his young children exulted, “That was the Amazing Race for the BYU case.”