Why Will Sports Fans Watch Any and All Sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

I feel like personal preference exists in all forms of entertainment. How is it that sports fans will choose any sport over anything else, even when the other option is something they like and the sport is one they don’t?

Confused and a little frustrated,


Dear Sarah,

What a great question! This is a great point about sports fans. Many of us watch an enormous array of sports often at the expense of other forms of entertainment. It is apropos for me to try to answer this on the Fourth of July, a day when each and every year I find myself horrified and fascinated but glued to the television for the annual hot dog eating contest on Coney Island. Why do I do this? It’s really, really gross but I suppose I watch it for many of the reasons I watch other sporting events:

  • Competition — No matter how good an episode of 30 Rock at the end there is no winner and no loser. Err… I guess usually Jack Donaghy wins and Liz Lemon loses, but you know what I mean. The natural tension of sports does come from competition. Even when I don’t really care which team wins, it’s clear that the competitors care and that passion is contagious.
  • Habit/Cross-Promotion — Okay, you got us, a lot of the time a sports fan will be watching sports out of sheer habitual inertia. You get used to getting home and turning ESPN on. When the best thing that’s on is a college lacrosse… so what, it’s still something to watch. There is a limit though, and every fan has a different line. For me it’s usually somewhere around golf or baseball; for others it may be soccer or women’s basketball. ESPN and other sports channels have an interest in pushing that line back so that it includes as many of its programming hours as possible. To that end they have gotten really, really good at promotion. Their pitch is usually effective and it centers around the next of our reasons…
  • Potential for Memorableness — In the long-run, one of the payoffs for being a faithful watcher of sports is that you will be watching when some really crazy things happen. Most people turned the Monday Night Football game off on October 23, 2000 when after 3 quarters the Miami Dolphins were up 30 to 7. But, like you noticed — some sports fans favor even the most seemingly meaningless, settled sports game over other forms of entertainment. I kept watching the game. Sure enough, the Jets came back in the fourth quarter and ended up winning the game 40 to 37! It’s games like this that contribute to us leaving the game on the tv no matter what.
  • Strategy — Most sports, especially team sports, share certain elements of strategy that are immediately recognizable. If you are a big soccer fan then watching a basketball game will be familiar because of the fluid passing of a good point guard. A hockey fan may not love that football keeps stopping all the time, but a good solid hit is a universal. Even more unusual sports, like water polo or cycling often have recognizable strategies if you are a fan of other sports; and part of the fun is the translation.
  • We’re not REALLY watching — Watching sports, unless it’s a particularly important game (defined as involving your favorite team OR in the playoffs) doesn’t require as much attention as other forms of entertainment. I can read the newspaper, write a blog entry, clean my apartment, organize my life (ha ha) while I watch a basketball game but if I’m watching an episode of The Sopranos or Boston Legal or even Chopped, I feel like I have to be more fully attentive.

I hope I’ve been able to answer your question. I’m off to watch the hot dog eating contest although I will probably switch back and forth to Versus’ coverage of the Tour de France. Later on there’s some international Under-17 Year-old soccer.

Happy Fourth of July!
Ezra Fischer

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