Football Fandom

19 12 2014

Living in an area where the local team has won the superbowl recently, I’ve had cause to reflect on sports team fandom. Winning championships tends to increase excitement among fans. This excitement may be embittering for some.

I, myself, am a Miami Dolphins fan and have been for thirty years. I became a football fan during the 1984 season. I followed the NFL closely that year and was impressed by the Dolphins who were led by 2nd year quarterback, Dan Marino. It was an incredible season for Marino and made quite an impression on me. The season ended with the Dolphins playing in the superbowl. It was the first one I had ever watched on TV and I cheered for the Dolphins all the way through. They ended up losing the game but gaining a devoted follower.

Seventeen years later, I moved to the area I live in now. It was a new experience living somewhere with a NFL team right next door. I didn’t really notice too much excitement about the team. The first season I was here, the NFL was realigned and the local team moved to a different conference than the Dolphins. That made it easier not to hate the local team since they would only rarely play against the Dolphins.

A few years later when the local team got the number one seed and went to the superbowl for the first time, there was a noticeable uptick in excitement for the team. I began to be able to pick out the fans. Though these fans were optimistic they did not seem confident that their team would win, however. Their fears were confirmed when their team lost.

Several years of mediocrity followed with local support for the team staying relatively constant. The next increase in fans occurred during last year’s season. The team was good. Fandom skyrocketed for the team, people who had shown little interest before were swept along in the wave of excitement for the team’s prospects. My son was one of those people. His growing interest in football and the local team paralleled my own journey to fandom with the Dolphins. I was excited for him when his team ended up winning the superbowl.

Not everyone was excited about this increase in fandom for the local team. There were mentions of bandwagons and fair weather. New fans were accused of only liking the team because they won the superbowl. Those annoyed by complainers and excuse-makers from the year the team lost the superbowl were even more annoyed by the overconfident swagger of those same fans when their team won.

Why are people bitter when the hometown team wins a championship?

I touched on one reason for the hate already. Fans can seem unbearable to non-fans when their team wins. They’re annoying. Part of the reason they seem annoying comes down to group inclusion. When you perceive yourself to be part of a group that is doing well, the excitement becomes infectious within that group. If you’re not part of the group you become an outsider. Humans are programmed to chafe at exclusion and chafing is annoying.

Another reason for people to be bitter is disillusionment with their own team. After putting so much time and energy into supporting one team, it can be disappointing to see fans of another team celebrating something for which your group has been striving for a long time. It can be especially aggravating when most of the fans are perceived as being new fans. The tendency can be to dismiss them as true fans because they have not put in the required decades of disappointment seen as a necessary foundation for fandom.

The thing to consider is that most fandom starts at a high. There was a reason you became a fan of one team over another. That’s the reason NFL team owners want to win championships, it increases the fanbase and thus increases income from ticket and merchandise sales.

I don’t own any merchandise from my local team. My football apparel is confined to Dolphins and my alma mater. I still root for the local team, though, unless they play the Dolphins (which only happens once every four years). I like the atmosphere of excitement for football.

If the Dolphins ever won the superbowl again I would be happy, but I don’t live in south Florida. I know a few fellow Dolphins fans that I could celebrate with, but it’s just not the same as celebrating with an entire city, county and metropolitan area. Would it be awesome for my investment as a Dolphins fan to payoff finally? Sure, but I’m starting to think having the local team win is just as awesome.

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