Why do fans cheer for the teams that they do? It can be linked to childhood, availability of teams and games to watch, or simply because they’re the underdog.
STORY AND PHOTOS BY COLE PARKINSON
It is a rainy night in November and the world is about to witness a feat that has not been accomplished in 108 years. Fans of the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians packed Progressive Field in Cleveland in a World Series game seven that will be remembered for ages. Sitting thousands of miles away from Chicago, you can feel the energy of the city radiating.
For Cubs fans and sports fans in general, watching the final out is a magical moment.
Chicago erupts and fans pack together in front of Wrigley Field, as the white W flag waves to celebrate their teams World Series win. There is something about breaking a curse, drought, or whatever you may call it that can bring a smile to your face. Unfortunately for Cleveland baseball fans their drought continues, but they aren’t the only fan base with a team who have let their fans down for decades.
Every sports team in the world has fans, some more than others. Here in North America you think of the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and of course National Hockey League as the big four. All of these leagues have big teams with huge numbers of fans. With the NFL it is the Dallas Cowboys and in the MLB it’s the New York Yankees, but every team has loyal fan bases. Where do these people come from and how do they choose their favourite teams? Is it the location of the team or is it passed down through generations of sports fans?
According to Dr. Jeffery James’ 1997 study called Effects of Team Identification on Motives, Behaviour, Outcomes, and Perceived Service Quality sports fandom really begins when kids are eight. They first develop a love for the sport, then a team and then specific players. James states that family, media and playing sports is a big factor in choosing a favourite team. When you are developing this newly found love, it doesn’t really matter where they are in the standings or where they are located geographically.
Mike Brodie has been involved with sports his entire life both on the field and behind the bench. The Saskatchewan native is a huge Chicago Cubs fan and the majority of his hometown of Burstall are fans too because they got a channel of Chicago’s WGN which showed Cubs games. The town has a small population, around 300, which doesn’t leave kids much to do in the summertime. Because of this, a considerable amount of the people from Burstall root for the Cubbies.
“In the morning as kids we would go outside to play and in the afternoon we’d all go to someone’s house and watch the Cubs game because in those days all games at Wrigley were in the afternoon. They didn’t get lights until the 90s so all games in Chicago had to be during the day,” said Brodie.
Brodie, who had been a fan since the early 80s says he felt relief and joy after he got to see his Cubbies finally win a World Series. So why do fans put so much stock into terrible teams? The Cubs had not won in a century yet they have one of MLB’s biggest fan bases. Maybe it is the underdog mentality or as a kid your favourite player plays on a team that is not very good. Most hardcore fans stick with one team their whole life, but why do we stick it out?
The Chicago Cubs went 108 years without a World Series, and that’s reason enough to desert a team. Cubs fans went through some painful incidents over the drought including the Steve Bartman incident back in October 2003 where he (and many other fans let’s be honest) interfered with Moisés Alou as he tried to catch a foul ball down the left field wall. It was an image etched in Cub’s fans minds as another blunder in trying to break the long standing dry spell but they fell once again in the post season.
Cubs fans treated Bartman like garbage after the whole event. He had every reason to switch teams or completely stop watching baseball after what he went through. He has declined every interview and media invitation since but has stated through friends that he “remains a huge Cubs fan.”
How is it that people can be die hard fans when the players, team management and its fans let them down year after year? Adam Sternbergh’s The Thrill of Defeat for Sports Fans from the New York Times Magazine rationalizes it as an emotional investment. “It allows you to feel real emotional investment in something that has no actual real-world consequences. The outcome can be exhilarating or dispiriting to its followers and when we wake up the next day, the course of history has been changed.”
Of course the emotional investment is huge because the team you cheer for is not going to win every year, so you have to expect some heartbreak. Another investment many fans choose to make is with their wallets.
According to statista.com, 2015 revenues from sports merchandising amounted to $13.81 billion U.S. in North America. Sports fans are crazy almost any way you look at it. They cheer for bad teams, spend money on tickets to see them play and of course they are decked out in jerseys, hats, toques, you name it.
“As a young teen in the late 70s, television really helped choose my sports teams for me.”
Kevin Holland is a lifelong sports fan who became a fan of teams in the 1970s, specifically the Toronto Maple Leafs, Seattle Seahawks and Toronto Blue Jays. Growing up playing sports like most people has been influential in his life as he continues to mentor young athletes at Kate Andrews High School as a teacher, a leader in the sports leadership program and one of the leads of the Hockey Academy.
“As a young teen in the late 70s, television really helped choose my sports teams for me. You need to remember there was no TSN or Sportsnet in those days and you were lucky to get to watch two games a week. Well the Leafs were almost always on Saturdays and I really liked Lanny McDonald. As for the NFL, the Seahawks were really the only team that you were guaranteed to see on TV every week so they kind of became my team,” said Holland.
The accessibility of watching teams is easier today than it was 10 years ago. Now almost every major sport is broadcasted on TV or streamed through the internet. Sports broadcasting in Canada is dominated by Sportsnet and The Sports Network (TSN), both of which are relatively new. TSN opened in the 80s and Sportsnet opened in the 90s, but before that, finding games on the TV was much more of a task.
Ty Hilgersom is from Coaldale, Alberta and has rooted for the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Blue Jays his whole life, though both teams have had rough patches since their former glory days. He remembers watching the Oilers big run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006 and it was a big influence on how he became a massive Oilers fan.
He first began to love hockey and baseball by playing on teams growing up and he soon began cheering for two of the more popular franchises in Canada. Hilgersom also said it was those teams, specifically the Jays, were easily accessible in a small town. Now that both teams have shown a turn in the right direction, he knows bandwagon fans will come out of the woodwork.
“Bandwagon fans are the worst. You don’t hear from them when the team is struggling, but as soon as the team starts to win games, there they are,” said Hilgersom.
Having to stick with a team when they are not good at all is incredibly tough, but watching fans who don’t really care celebrate the success when it comes, can be a pretty tough pill to swallow.
Hardcore fans like Hilgersom have experienced this throughout their fandom but the trend is still an annoyance to those who dedicate themselves to a team.
Sports fans in a word can be described as crazy. In any of the major sports in North America, there are long suffering sports fans who have been waiting years, even decades for a championship. The Toronto Maple Leafs, Cleveland Browns and the Texas Rangers are just a few teams that have large groups of supporters but have not been able to win a championship in 50 plus years, yet they have massive fan base.
Now that the longest drought has been conquered, we wait for the next team to finally exercise their demons. As a sports fan I cannot wait to witness another exhausted fan base celebrate their team finally bringing home a championship.