On a cool, brisk early morning in central Colorado, my dad and I sit down in a train car preparing to ascend a 14,000 foot mountain. This mountain, Pike’s Peak, sits on the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, the 2nd longest mountain chain in the world. The railway climbs the entire height of the mountain, the peak of which offers absolutely stunning views across the Great Plains and to the rest of the Rockies. This I remember clearly.
The mountain’s beauty is not the only thing I remember. As we eagerly wait for the train to set off, people mill around us, finding their seats. Most are speaking English, but even outside of the snippets of foreign languages being spoken, it is clear there are passengers from a wide variety of locations. On the opposite side of the aisle on our right, there is a blonde girl, perhaps 9 or so, speaking with family, friends, or perhaps a kind stranger. I remember the following section of conversation, but no more.
A man asks the girl, “Do you like sports?”
“Yeah, I like baseball.”
“So who is your favorite baseball team?”
“The Yankees, because they win.”
Any sport can be grossly simplified to a way that makes it a miracle that anybody watches it. Golf is attempting to hit a small ball with a type of metal rod into a hole. Soccer is kicking a ball around, attempting to get it into a large, mesh basket, and you can’t use your hands because that would make too much sense. Baseball is attempting to hit a thrown ball with a wooden stick in the hopes one travels around a square to get back to where you started. Curling is…er, I’m not sure. Anytime brooms and ice are put together all sense goes out the window.
And yet, people still follow sports. Here is the net worth for the top 5 sports teams in the world as of 2011, according to Forbes:
- Manchester United, English Premier League, $1.86 billion
- Dallas Cowboys, National Football League, $1.81billion
- New York Yankees, Major League Baseball, $1.7 billion
- Washington Redskins, NFL, $1.55 billion
- Real Madrid, La Liga, $1.45 billion
That’s an awful lot of money tied up in men playing with balls. For a more concrete metric, check out attendance. In 2012, the MLB gathered an average attendance of 30,895 per game. There were over 2000 games played–that works out tot a total of 74,859,268 people going to baseball games*.
*FACTOID: An average of 120 baseballs are used per MLB game. This means that, in a given season where 2,430 games are played, Major League Baseball goes through 291,600 or so baseballs. Considering baseballs used for batting practice, warmup, defensive drills, souvenirs given to fans, etc., it’s not unreasonable to think that the total number of baseballs used is closer to half a million than it is to a quarter of a million.
Without fans, though, sports don’t run. But…what exactly is a good fan?
First and foremost: you can enjoy a sport and not be a fan of a specific team, and you most certainly can follow a team without being terribly invested in them. Every once in a while, I’ll check in on the NBA standings when their season is in progress; I enjoy being caught up on what’s happening. I’m particularly interested in the Miami Heat, and LeBron in particular, so I suppose you could say that I ‘follow’ them. I’m not a fan of them, though, and don’t profess to be.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary calls a fan as “any of various devices for winnowing grain” and “an instrument for producing a current of air.” More relevantly, it calls a fan as “an enthusiastic devotee (as of a sport or a performing art) usually as a spectator.” Under this definition of ‘fan,’ I think that individuals like the aforementioned girl that I overheard as not being a fan.
You could claim that liking a team for their winning is still liking the team, or that liking a team for winning is not necessarily bad, as most people start following teams that win. I think the second claim is true; for any segment of fans, there will be some who started following a team when they started winning and stuck with the same team. That’s fine.
However, the fist claim, that following a winning team is still following that team, is a dangerous one. The dreaded ‘bandwagon fan’ comes into play here, and I present the Colorado girl as an example. The reason for following a winning team, for many, is precisely because they win. In other words, the team is an avenue through which these fans can experience success. Therefore, “I like the Yankees because they win” is essentially saying, “I like baseball and winning.”
These types of people are everywhere, and their blatant hypocrisy is evident. Two examples: the first involves University of Kansas basketball. KU basketball is dominant, while KU football is, to put it kindly, not. A quick search of KU fans during the football season will reveal some, but the same search yields far more results during the basketball season. Another example is the St. Louis Cardinals. There are Cardinals fans are solid and, because the Midwest is awesome, there are many of them. However, there are a truly stunning number of Cardinals ‘fans’ who don’t even like sports but participate in the ‘Woo! Cardinals win!’ antics. These same fans, usually from St. Louis* are often deathly quiet when the Rams or Blues play. No, I don’t expect my Kansas City Royals to be any different–they are improving drastically, and with this comes hosts of fans that weren’t there with the rest of us in the muck.
*This brings up an interesting question: can you be a fan of a team that’s not where you live or have lived? Yes, of course. Usually this happens through friends or family members of the faraway team, or if you live in a place with no sports teams (Iowa, Nebraska, whatnot). However, freed by geographical bias, success becomes a vital part of which team you choose to support, which often places your fandom of that team in jeopardy.
Not everyone needs to be a superfan. Not everyone needs to be a fan of all of a city’s teams, or even like more than one sport. I merely wish to bring up the uncomfortable point that liking a winning team does not automatically qualify you to be a fan of that team. Being a fan, as Webster says, is being an enthusiastic devotee of a team. Of course you can be interested in a winning team! Winning is fun! But answer yourself these questions:
- Do I like this sport?
- Will I continue supporting the team when they lose?
- Am I doing this because everyone else is?
If the answer is no, no, or yes, then you’re probably not a fan.