Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The (il)logic of fandom

(UMCP is having an REU (Research Experience for Undergradutes) this summer on Combinatorial Algorithms Applied Research. If you are an ugrad, go to that site and see if you want to apply. If you are a faculty see if you want to recommend it to some students. Deadline to apply is Feb 15.)

The Sunday before the Superbowl I spotted this curious passage in THE WASHINGTON POST which I paraphrase.

Washington Redskins fans should root for the Baltimore Ravens in the Superbowl because the two teams share many fine qualities. Both have gritty defense, soft-spoken by shrewd head coaches, underrated quarterbacks craving validation on the big stage. Neither team is flashy or has big starts--- rather they are both greater than the sum of their parts.

I interpret this as assuming Sports fans pick who to root for in a logical manner. Something like I like quality X, this team has quality X, so I will root for them. Is that how sports fans act. If it was then sports fans would change who they root for often. They do not.

So what is the logic behind fandom? Why do people root for certain teams, likely for a lifetime. Is it rational?

  1. Root root root for the home team, for it they don't win its a shame. Root for the team in the place you live NOW.
  2. Root for your childhood team. I wonder if the Chicago Cubs has more fans across the country since one of the early cable channels WGN, is from Chicago and (I think) carries Cubs games--- so you can be a transplanted Chicagoan and still watch your team. As people move around alot loyalty to your home team may fade.
  3. For College teams its common to root for the team that comes from the college you went to. This is less true for graduate school.
  4. Fair weather fans root for the team that's winning. But it is more common to have a team (perhaps your home team) that you ignore unless they are winning. So you don't choose your team based on this, but you choose weather to care based on this.
  5. The early NY Mets (early 1960's) were a terrible team but they had lots of fans. There was a loser-chic factor. The Chicago Cubs have also had that. This is rare or even nonexistent now. Everyone loves a winner.
  6. Individual players may appeal to you. Tim Teabow got some attention because of his devout Christianity. But this is rare. Its more common to get attention for negative behavior. This is more a matter of rooting for a person rather than the team.
  7. A while back some teams delayed getting any black players on them so they would still appeal to racist fans. This stopped once such teams just lost too much since they were not using that talent pool. Might someone root for or against a team because of the attitude or politics of the management? If some team took the profits and funded alternative energy for real would you root for them? What if they funded Ramsey Theory? What if they supported Same Sex marriage? I doubt a team would have a public opinion on an issue which may cause them to lose fans, though a player might.
  8. A friend of yours is ON the team so you root for the team and your friend. This is rare. But if someone on the team is from your SCHOOL- you may have a certain affinity for that person and team even if you don't know them. Whenever I hear that some pro football player is from Harvard (where I went to graduate school) I at least notice this. Its rare.
  9. In the Olympics one usually roots for their own country. What if (say) American offered the top Tennis player in the world (who was not an American) to become a citizen of the USA (and pay him for it) then he won the Gold Medal for American. (I think this is legal.) Would Americans be proud of that or feel that's not quite right? I suspect that this kind of thing will happen more often over time. While this may seem strange it already happens within a country. The NY Mets do not have more players from NY. Nor do the Baltimore Ravens have more players from Baltimore.
  10. Jerry Seinfeld once commented that we LOVE this player if he's on OUR team but HATE him if he is on another team. What has changed? His uniform. So we are rooting for clothing.

Is there a logic to who a fan roots for or not? Is there a logic to being a sports fan?


  1. Is there a logic to being a sports fan?

    No, it's just primate tribalism.

    Between ages 20 and 40 I abandoned it entirely because of that. But then I realized that people are tribal animals and sport is a good way to indulge our tribal nature without real violence. So at age 54 I became a baseball fan again.

  2. 11. Root against the mean.
    During Jordan's heyday, it seemed like everybody loved Jordan to the point where you couldn't go anywhere without people saying "I wanna be like Mike" or talking about getting some new "Jordans". So I began to like whoever the Bulls were playing. Similarly (but for a different reason), my second favorite team is whoever Dallas is playing.

    And we can speak about this logically since I'm increasing the variance.

  3. • Victorious football fans experience a richly fulfilling primordial enjoyment of territorial dominance by their troop's youngest strongest males.

    • Defeated football fans losers are consoled by the (recently evolved) human respect for the rules of civilization, which act to restrain (usually) primordial human instincts for killing and cannibalism.

    These experiences can be rationalized, of course. Which is good! And yet the foundations of these experiences are entirely instinctive, not rational.

  4. For (3), the only time I was at a college with a team worth mentioning was during my postdoc. So I cheer for them, sort of by default.

  5. It depends on whether you're a betting type of person.