By: Brad Manock
I was never really interested in sports while growing up. When my family would be watching football games on Sundays, I would be in another room playing video games. Many people follow at least one sports league, often a couple. These teams that participate in these sports leagues have nothing to do with the individual viewers. People often say “we did it” or “we are not doing well this year” even though they have no impact on the results. So why do people follow sports? That is what I will be discussing in this article.
Individual Sports Vs Team Sports
The most popular sports are ones that feature teams with a location in the name. This makes it easy for viewers to figure out who to root for. In individual sports: like tennis or golf, a new viewer really does not have much to go on in terms of who they should root for. These new viewers then lose interest almost immediately since watching sports is basically pointless unless you have someone to root for.
In general, a college sports team will have an easier time building a fan base than a professional sports team. I follow NFL football but I passively follow all four of the major college sports. Even though most people do not follow obscure sports like: rugby, or lacrosse, if a viewer sees a team from their Alma mater or local university, that viewer will know who to root for. I live in Wisconsin. One Saturday, I saw that the women’s Volleyball national championship match was on TV. Even though I do not know much about volleyball I ended up watching because the Wisconsin Badgers team was participating (and there wasn’t much on that night.) If a viewer is a fan of a certain college, that viewer will root for all of the athletic clubs associated with that college.
The only time people seem to care about individual sports is during the Olympics. This is because when you watch the Olympics on TV, the name of each participant has the flag of their country next to it. This gives viewers a guide on who to root for, and possibly who to root against. If viewers are not told who to root for, they will not be interested no matter how exciting the sport itself might be.
The Beginning, Baseball
The first sport to capture the interest of the American culture was baseball. This is partly because, at the time it became popular, there was no fancy electronic scoreboards. Baseball can be played just about anywhere without any electronic equipment. This is also why soccer is currently one of the most popular sports worldwide even though nobody really cares about it in America.
Baseball is a fairly slow-paced game compared to basketball or hockey. This was a big advantage once radio broadcasts for baseball games became big. Radio announcers could discuss the subtle strategies being used by either team and insert some opinions between every at-bat. Being able to effectively follow a sport requires being able to understand some of the strategy. Basketball and hockey do have strategy involved but the pace of the game is too fast to really understand it.
Since baseball was usually followed through radio broadcasts it was easier for average people to follow along and understand how well their favorite team is doing. If you sit down and watch a sporting event on TV that is really all you can do. But with a radio broadcast you can be working in a; restaurant, auto shop, store, pretty much anything while listening. Audio content allows people to passively follow along in the background when their active attention is on another task. Not many people would ‘watch’ a 162-game pro baseball season, but if they are listening along every day at work and it does not take any extra time to follow along with the audio broadcasts they will.
Currently, NFL football seems to be the most popular sports league in America. The switch from baseball to football happened once TV broadcasts started becoming common. Football, like baseball, owes its popularity to the fact that it is very strategy-oriented and is slow enough for people to follow along with the strategy. However the strategy in football is much more visual than in baseball. The strategy in baseball is very subtle and is not as easy to follow as it is in football.
Since football is much more visual and requires active attention, viewers can only spend so much time watching. NFL seasons consist of only 16 games as opposed to the 162 games in pro baseball. This makes it much easier for casual fans to be up to date with the latest happenings in the NFL.
This is What I Would Do
The most successful genre of television show, is the “game show.” Shows like “Jeopardy” or “Wheel of Fortune” usually have the most success in the long-term because the viewers at home watch and follow along with the context of what ‘they’ would do in that same situation. The viewers try to guess the correct answer and then they get to see if they were right.
The popularity of sports usually vary by region because of the sports that average people play there. Hockey is more popular in Canada than in in Mexico because Canadians are far more likely to have played hockey within their lifetimes. This is also why basketball is considered more of a “black” sport. In the big-city ghettos there are basketball hoops, and not much else. So that becomes the game of choice and that makes watching basketball games more interesting for them. They are more appreciative of the athleticism and strategy involved with playing basketball if they themselves play basketball often.
Sense of Self
The sense of self refers to anything that an individual would refer to as “me.” At first it is just your own body. But as life progresses their sense of self will expand to include new things; a report card, a bank account, a career, or maybe an investment portfolio. When something positive or negative happens to these things within your sense of self, you feel positive or negative as well. Something else that this sense of self often adopts are sports teams. This is why when people move to a different city, they remain fans of the team from the original city.
If a sports team has been adopted into a person’s sense of self, the successes or failures of that team will be felt as if it were them on the field instead of some pro athlete. When a football player breaks free for the go-ahead touchdown as time expires, you had nothing to do with it, but it FEELS like you did.