How do People Choose Teams to Root For?

Dear Sports Fan,

How do people choose a team to root for?

Thanks,
Meng


 

Dear Meng,

That’s a great question! It must seem somewhat unclear, especially in a big city like New York where there are many people from all over the country and world and where there are multiple local teams in most sports. I’ll do my best to break this down for you:

Primary Reasons:

  • Heredity — If you are a child of sports fans, they start indoctrinating you at an early age. There’s baby clothing, hats, and pennants. They take you to games, which is fun for any number of reasons that don’t involve sports but which gets associated in your mind with the home team. You learn to not bother Daddy and Mommy while they are watching their favorite team and that if you are in the room, you have to root with them!
  • Location — Most places in the country have a clear regional alliance with a set of sports teams. If you grow up in Western Pennsylvania you root for the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. If you grow up in Utah, you’re going to root for the Jazz. If you grow up in New Orleans, you are a Saints and Hornets fan. Why? Because they are the only games in town!

Heredity and Location probably account for 80% of all the sports allegiances. But, there are always oddballs like me whose parents didn’t have any strong allegiances (except to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but that’s another story…) and who grew up in an area like Central New Jersey where there were no clear home teams in some sports. When that happens, people tend to fall back on…

Secondary Reasons:

  • Style — It is rare, but sometimes a team will play with such panache that their actual play attracts fans. Even more rare is a team that plays so poorly that they repel fans. This was the case with my favorite hockey team. I started watching Hockey seriously in 1993-94 and even though I was from New Jersey, I quickly decided that I could not in good conscience root for the New Jersey Devils. Their strategy in those days was to compensate for their lack of skill by playing a rigidly disciplined, passive, and defensive style of hockey that involved negating their opponents skill by hanging onto their shirts the whole game… meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were playing a wide open, offensive game. They tried to beat you 9-8 instead of 1-0. They were fun to watch and I soon became a fan. Other examples of teams whose style could have attracted fans are the Philadelphia Flyers on the 1970s (they beat their opponents bloody,) the Dutch national soccer team of the late 60s and early 70s who pioneered the “Total Football” style, or the Brazilian national soccer team of the… well… just about anytime…
  • Bandwagon — Sometimes it’s not about how a team plays, but how well they do. Most people enjoy rooting for a winning team, so winning teams tend to have more fans. There was a pretty cool article about this the other day on The Big Lead that showed that Super Bowl winning football teams see a 4% increase in fans identifying them as their favorite team in the year after they win. If you know someone who is a Lakers, Yankees, and Cowboys fan, this is probably why.[1]
  • College — This one is pretty straight forward. When it comes to College sports most people root for their Alma Mater. Go Rutgers!
  • Friendship — When you watch sports with a good friend, as long as it doesn’t go against your own favorite teams, you begin to pull for the teams they root for. Over time, these topical rooting experiences add up. If you don’t have a favorite curling, swimming, or netball team, maybe you adopt theirs.
  • Video Games — Believe it or not, I think a lot of people root for teams at least in part because they enjoyed playing as them in a video game. Sports video games are a great way to get into a sport that you’re not familiar with and while playing them you do develop a relationship with the team you most often play as.

Hope this answered your question,
Ezra Fischer

 

 

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Also stop being friends with them.

The Women's World Cup is Happening? Huh?

Dear Sports Fan,

I had no idea the Women’s World Cup was upon us. Give me the breakdown – who are the top teams? Where is the Cup being held? Are there any channels showing it in the US?

Thanks,
Penalty Kick


 

Dear Penalty Kick,

The Women’s World Cup is indeed upon us. This quadrennial[1] competition pits the best 16 women’s national soccer teams against each other over three weeks. It began on June 26 and will conclude on July 17. It is being held in Germany with games in nine arenas throughout the country.

The women’s tournament has a lot in common with the men’s. To start with, just qualifying for the tournament is a great achievement for many countries. The qualification games have been going on since April 2009! The tournament is divided into two stages. In the first stage or group stage, the 16 qualifying teams get split up into four groups of four. Each team plays every other team in the group. A win is worth three points, a tie worth one, and a loss none. At the end of the group stage each team will have played three games. The two teams in each group with the most points will move on to the next stage. As you can imagine, with only eight possible point totals[2] it is pretty usual to have some teams tied at the end of the group stage. Luckily there is a Byzantine system to settle these situations! There is a hierarchy of eight tie-breaking factors that end with “Drawing of lots by the FIFA Organizing Committee!” The second stage is a pretty straight-forward single elimination tournament between the surviving eight teams.

The host team Germany has won the last two World Cups and they are again the favorites. If they stumble under the pressure, the next most likely teams to take advantage are the Brazilians, the Americans, the Japanese, and the Swedes — believe it or not, people bet on these games! People watch them too! Every game will be televised on ESPN or some ESPN channel.

I love watching women’s soccer because… well, I love watching any soccer! The issue of why women’s sports are not more popular as spectator sports in our country is a bigger one than you asked me to bite into, but it does seem like soccer translates from men to women better than almost any sport. The rules are exactly the same — the ball the same size, the field the same size, etc. The competition is as fierce and unlike men’s soccer, our women actually have a good shot to win! Also there is WAY less diving! The U.S. team played its first game today and won 2-0 over a North Korean team whose coach blamed lightning for his loss in his post-game press conference. Lighting!! The remaining two games in the group stage for the U.S. are Saturday at noon against Colombia and Wednesday July 7 at 2:35 against Sweden. Give them a watch!

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Fancy talk for every four years.
  2. 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,9 although I would guess that there few possible combinations for the four team group than you would think, because each team’s results effect the other teams’ results within the group. Anyone feel like solving this math problem?

What is Being Offside?

Dear Sports Fan,

What is being offside and why does it cause so much screaming in the bar next-door?

Thanks,
Max


 

Dear Max

Offside rules are about time and space. They are about a line, an event and an order. Although they are probably the most misunderstood, most shouted about, most infuriating rules in sports, they are deceptively simple. Offside rules exist in most of the most-watched sports in the world. Offside is the rule in soccer; it has caused more bloodshed than many major border conflicts or minor religions. It is an important part of hockey, can mean the difference between winning and losing in football, and although it is disguised in basketball, it still has major implications. If you understand the role being offside plays in all of these sports, you will understand a lot about the nature of each game.

In every sport, being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. I’ll repeat it: being offside means that a player is in a position he or she shouldn’t be in when a particular event happens. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. You’ve got it! Now all we need to do is fill in the where and the when.

Hockey
Where: If the player is in the offensive zone; the area between the blue line closest to the goal his team is trying to score on and the boards…
When: The puck is moved from outside this area into this area…
HE IS OFFSIDE!

Soccer
Where: If the player is closer to the goal she is trying to score on than fewer than two players of the opposing team…
When: The ball leaves the foot of a player on her team who intends to pass her the ball…
SHE IS OFFSIDE!

Football
Where: If a player on defense[1] moves across the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line across the field of play where the ball is placed before a play starts…)
When: Before the ball is snapped to start the play…
HE IS OFFSIDE (If the player touches another player on the other team, this is called “encroachment” which is much more fun to say than offside.)

Basketball
Where: If a player is on the side of the court that she is trying to defend…
When: When she has the ball for more than eight seconds after her team initially gains possession of it…
SHE IS OFFSIDE (This is called the “eight-second rule.”)

Where: If a player dribbles the ball on the side of the court that he is trying to defend…
When: After his team has had the ball on the side of the court that they are trying to score on…
HE IS OFFSIDE (This is called a “back-court violation.”)

Notice how the way the offside rule is written seems to suggest something about the game? The soccer rule favors the defense in a big way — if a player can’t pass to one of his teammates unless he has at least two defenders between his teammate and the goal, why are we surprised that there isn’t more scoring? The hockey rule also favors the defense, just a little less. Note how the rule makes it so that if a defender can clear the puck from his third of the ice into the middle third, the other team’s offense needs to totally reset by leaving the offensive zone. Basketball, on the other hand, seems to require offense. If a player cannot stay on her side for more than eight seconds, she’s going to be forced to get her team in a position to score, isn’t she?

See how simple the offside rules can be? What other questions do you have?

Thanks,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Before a play starts, only one offensive player is allowed to move at once. If any of the big guys in a row even flinch, they are called for a “false start” which is more or less an offside rule.

A Riot in Vancouver? What is Wrong with you People?

Dear Sports Fan,
Why did the Vancouver fans riot? What is wrong with you people?
Paul

Dear Paul,
There’s an answer specific to this situation and a more general answer – the specific answer deserves a few hundred words of its own, and it has to do with the fact that Canada brings nothing to the table other than hockey, and no one feels this more acutely than Canadians themselves – so when something doesn’t go their way on the ice they load up on the LaBatt Blue, and watch out.

The general answer has to do with the nature of live sports. Going to a live sporting event is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. There are very few times in life you’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of people all of whom share one common desire (in this case, for your team to win)– and when you think about the other times that happens, you realize how uplifting it can be. Concerts, political rallies – being around that many people who are all riding the same emotional roller-coaster at the same exact time can be an incredibly uplifting[1] and fun experience. The exhilaration is literally contagious, especially if you win – and even if you lose, the feeling of having taken a journey with 20,000 people is not something we experience every day.

But that same sense of exhilaration has a flip-side – once emotions start to turn, the negative feelings can be just as contagious and just as strong. It never infects the whole crowd – that’s why you see hundreds of people rioting after games, even though tens of thousands of people were actually there  – but all it takes is a few belligerent people (either violently angry at the loss, or violently happy at a win –these people are clearly not the picture of mental health, nor are they typical of fans) doing something stupid, a few people watching and getting ideas and no one trying to stop them, and soon enough couches are on fire and police are wondering how many rubber bullets it takes to bring down a rowdy West Virginian who weighs 285 pounds and is approximately 75% alcohol by volume.

Oh yeah. That’s the other thing: it’s safe to say the average blood alcohol level of a post-game rioter is exponentially higher than the level that would kill an ordinary person. They’re the same people who drink a fifth by themselves at home, then go outside and light stuff on fire in their backyard. Here, they just happen to be doing it in the middle of the street.

The bottom line: the pros of going to a live sporting event far outweigh the cons. Riots happen once in a blue moon, and nothing helps you appreciate your sports fan’s seemingly irrational exuberance like getting caught up in the communal euphoria of a live sporting event.[2]

Sincerely,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Using the word “uplifting” twice in three lines? who am I, Oprah?
  2. This does not apply to soccer games in Europe. If you are choosing a first live sporting event to attend, don’t start with European soccer – build to it, but don’t start with it. It is the double black diamond of sporting events, complete with moguls, ice, a completely vertical drop and 9-year olds rocketing down the trail around you wrapped in Kevlar jackets, titanium helmets and their own sense of invincibility. If you like taking your life into your own hands – and if you enjoy a smattering of racism (depending on where you go) – by all means, rock out with the hooligans. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and start on the bunny slope: baseball or basketball.