Why are we loyal to our teams?

This post may seem a bit long-winded for a blog entry, but I think it’s an interesting question, and one that gets to the heart of what has inspired The Fan Embassy community. Comments are welcome, or you can email your feedback to brien@thefanembassy.com.

The main idea that gave rise to this site can be summed up quite simply – sports fans away from home. They are found at Buffalo Bills bars in Ft. Lauderdale and Pittsburgh. They have been seen in a Manchester United-themed bar in southwest China, and watching the Super Bowl steps from the beach in Thailand. People seem to be loyal to “their” team, no matter where they are. Why?

One of the most obvious answers is time investment. If a person is born and raised in a particular place, they are mostly exposed to the local fans there. Thus, when that person starts to take an interest in sports, they would likely choose to support the local team(s). If that person does not move to another location until they are an adult, then it amounts to ten or more years of following and supporting the team. It wouldn’t make sense to switch allegiances after that amount of time. But what is built over the course of this decade or more? What is it that makes these bonds so strong? Read on.

This writer has observed that a sense of culture tends to build around a team. This culture is revealed, as fans take figurative ownership of the team. The current or historical success of the team fosters a shared sense of pride. Any failures create an opportunity to commiserate and reflect on what could have been. These experiences stir very strong emotions in fans, and this shared knowledge of team history is like a cultural mythos, with the athletes as legendary heroes. The team becomes to the fans what the pantheon of gods was to the Greeks and Romans, or what the Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War heroes are to patriotic Americans.

This strong identification with the team is taken with the fan when they relocate. Once in their new home, they seek out other fans to share it with. Fans want and need strength in numbers. Most anyone who has been to a large-scale sporting event has seen the away team’s fans treated harshly. By attending the event with a large group of other away fans, a sense of “us versus them” is enjoyed. Additionally, even when they are not at the stadium, away fans can get together to share the cost of TV sports packages, parties, group trips and other events.

In these times, when the vast riches of wall street disappear in the blink of an eye; when the heritage and resources of an entire region are fouled, perhaps permanently, all while the guilty party writes the history; when the line between war and peace no longer exists, because we will be there forever; in this modern word, where meaning is in short supply, the fans have found meaning. Maybe they have made their own meaning. Perhaps meaning is being sold to them. No matter the source, it is a deep meaning and it resonates. It enlivens the senses, it boils the blood, it is real.

What does being a fan of your team mean to you?

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