“The idea of being a fan is weaker than the word it is derived from – fanatical.”
Being a sports fan is like being a fan of anything else, be it books, television shows, comics, etc., but the life of a sports fan can be intense. You are immersed in your teams and sports. You’re part of the team; often referring to them in the plural (raise your hand if you’ve said the sentence, “We need to get stronger at the safety position.”). You may play video games, participate in fantasy leagues, binge-watch Sports Center, and subscribe to season long television packages for games or season tickets to watch in person. You’re protective of your team, even the players you don’t like, and will defend them until the end of the season.
But what makes someone become a fan?
Everyone has their own reasons and definitions. Some people become fans because their family and friends are fans and they get sucked in. Some are fans because their team is right down the street. Some play a sport as a kid and never get tired of it, even after their big league dreams are dashed. Some find a player they enjoy and follow their career. Some are fans of a sport more than a singular team.
People’s interests can change. A team that fosters a lot of cheaters or criminals or just a lot of bad attitudes can turn people off. A long drought in winning can identify the diehard fanbase from the ones who need the glory to stay interested. Likewise, there are new fans of teams when they win a championship or make a Cinderella-run through tournaments and playoffs or sign one of the most promising rookies of the last decade.
In North America, there are 122 teams across the Big Four leagues (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA). There’s also the MLS, the CFL, the WNBA, and the AFL. A lot of cities have more than one professional team with all those leagues, and that can be a major reason someone becomes a fan. Collegiate sports are an ever-growing fandom. College football Saturdays are huge, and we all know March Madness can be the one time everyone in the office participates in the same water cooler talk. There are individual sports, like NASCAR, golf, and tennis that draw huge crowds to their events, especially the marquis events like the Daytona 500, the Masters, or Wimbledon, respectively.
There are the Olympics. There are worldwide tournaments, like the World Cup for soccer or the Tour de France in cycling. All of these events bring a whole new crop of fans to these sports every cycle they come up. National pride can be a strong motivator for fan support.
Being a fan is a culture all its own. People tailgating in the parking lot on Sunday become a family. Wearing your team’s logo can start a conversation (friendly or not) in any number of random places. Fans have superstitions, rituals; some fanbases treat it almost like a religion. There are “super fans,” some in costume like the Green Men of the Vancouver Canucks, some in their own fan section, like Area 55 of the Pacers, some are just known for being shirtless maniacs in sub-40 degree weather on Sunday.
Fantasy sports have made being a fan a horse of a different color as well. People watch games they don’t care about to make sure their players (or their opponent’s players) are getting the job done. Leagues are a way for the everyman to be both a general manager and coach. It allows us to put into play all those great ideas we think make more sense than the current administration’s plans.
Whether a person grew up in a fanbase, became a fan on their own, changed their interests, or only become more obsessed as the years go by, fans are the heart and soul of sports. Professional sports don’t last without the crazy people that spend all their discretionary income on merchandise, tickets, and television packages. The lifeblood of sports does not lie in broadcast deals, but rather in the people who demand those deals be made in order to keep an eye on whether they should start Colin Kaepernick or Joe Flacco on Sunday morning.
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