The Situationist

The Origins of Sports Team Fandom

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2007

Red Sox GirlWe have examined sports fandom at various times on The Situationist, including “The Unlucky Irish: Celtics Fans and Affective Forecasting,” “Red Sox Magic,” “March Madness,” and “Think you’ve got magical powers?.” Below is an excerpt of a piece by John Jeansonne, who covers sports for Newsday, that examines the origins of how one becomes a fan of a sports team.

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The search continues, meanwhile, to determine the very beginnings of fan-ness. It could be that scientific advances in decoding the human genome “someday may allow us to isolate the ‘fan’ gene,” said Xavier University professor Christian End, who studies fan behavior. For now, though, “as a social psychologist, I’m obviously biased toward the nurture side” of the fan’s formation.

End pointed to the “socialization process.” In some cases (as with Wisconsin native End’s young son, who was showered with Green Bay Packers tchotchkes by various relatives at birth), connections to teams “happen even before a kid understands what sports are.”

Or young schoolchildren gravitate to a team based on maintaining popularity status among peers, to avoid “missing out on normal conversations.”

“One of the universal needs we have is to belong to groups,” End said. “So if you live in Chicago and everyone in the family is a Cubs fan, you don’t come down to breakfast in White Sox gear. You either become a Cubs fan or leave home.”

Passikoff referred to “access and opportunity” shaping the fan. That could be the result of geography (rooting for the home team). Or maybe – in End’s example – it could be living in Nebraska but constantly seeing the Yankees on the televised Game of the Week.Patriots Fans Tailgaiting Whatever, hardcore fans clearly relish the badge of identification that ties them to their teams and to fellow fans, their “tribe.”

“And if you go down that route,” said [Robert Passikoff, founder and president of the Manhattan-based Brand Keys research consultancy], “you have to talk about killing the meat and cooking it over the fire. And if that doesn’t sound like tailgate parties, I don’t know what does.”

The idea of subsequently switching clans, then, or even straddling two worlds by supporting two teams in the same sport, is widely unacceptable. “When [Hillary] Clinton was running for Senate,” Passikoff said, “and was asked, ‘Which team?'” – the Cubs of her native Chicago or the Yankees of her New York constituency – “she said, ‘Both.’ Eeehhhh! Wrong answer.”

There is such a thing as bandwagon-jumping in good times and the loss of fringe followers when teams’ records go south – which is why teams seek out companies such as Brand Keys. But compared to the Clinton flip-flopping and waffling, “real” fans see the shifting sands of on-the-field success or failure as far less treacherous.

“There is the idea that you affiliate with winners so that when they’re successful, you can sort of claim that,” End said. “And following losses, you experience a threat.”

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For the rest of the article, click here.


One Response to “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom”

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