On and Off the Wagon: Bandwagon Fans

Bandwagon fans are always an interesting bunch. Many self-proclaimed die-hard fans seem besides themselves when mentioning the term. Personally I have been on multiple sides of the argument. I've been a die-hard fan in favor of bandwagon fans, a die-hard fan against bandwagon fans, and as far as I can tell, have also been a bandwagon fan a time or two.

In this post I hope to be able to talk about being in all of these situations and examine why it was I felt the way I did at the time. Let's look at a few personal examples.

Chicago White-Sox - in favor of bandwagon fans
My father grew-up a Chicago Cubs fan and my mother a Chicago White-Sox fan. There was never any turmoil in the house as I was raised to be a fan of both (I would like to take a second to point out that this is not the same as a fair-weather fan). Regardless of the rivalry, there came a point in the mid 2000's that I grew very unhappy with some of the Cubs roster decisions and decided to turn my full focus to the Chicago White-Sox. Now is also a good moment to provide you with some history about Chicago and how the Cubs and White-Sox fandom is generally distributed in and around the city. First, Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs) is located due north of the city in the safe North Side of Chicago. The Cubs generally attract those that live north, west and in the city of Chicago. Cellular One Field (home of the White-Sox) is located due south of the city on the dangerous South Side of Chicago. The White-Sox generally attract those that live on the south and in the city of Chicago. Second, Chicago fandom has historically heavily favored the Cubs for a number of reasons, with the White-Sox generally being referred to as the Second City's, Second Team. 

If you follow baseball and remember the 2005 season, then you already know that the White-Sox would end up winning the World Series that year. I remember what was always a near empty stadium suddenly being sold-out. Sure there were the old die-hard fans in the stands, but there was also a large group of younger fans that looked as though they had bought their first White-Sox apparel on the way into the stadium. 

Duke Football - against bandwagon fans
Believe it or not, I have been a Duke football fan for nearly my entire life. Duke football has historically been known to have one of the worst football programs in the United States. Except for a rare bright spot here or there, Duke almost always ends up at the bottom of their division and has been consistently ranked as one of the worst 10 Division I programs. 

The 2012-13 season was not only during my second year at graduate school at Duke, but was also the first season in nearly two decades (1994) that Duke had a good enough season to be bowl eligible (I'd like to say winning season, but in reality they finished 6-6). I only missed a single home game that season when I returned home for Thanksgiving, and with the exception of the Duke vs. UNC game, the stadium was nearly empty the entire season.

The 2013-14 season was one for the record books. Duke completed its first ever double digit win season (10), played in the ACC Championship, and went to a relatively well respected bowl game (Chick-fil-A Bowl). Granted, I wasn't able to make every home game since I was now working full-time in DC, but I still made it down to about half of the home games. Attendance throughout the beginning of the season was still pretty typical, you could here an echo if you were seated in the right part of the stadium. When the Blue Devils were closing in on 10 wins for the first time in history however, something incredible happened - the stadium started to fill up to nearly 75% of capacity! The sea of brand new blue Duke football jerseys was quite a sight. 

USA Soccer - being a bandwagon fan
I have always liked soccer. I played growing up and during high-school. But as a major league or national sport, I never paid much attention to it. That is, until the 2014 Brazil World Cup in which the United States somehow made it out of the "death division." 

I found myself talking about soccer at work, with friends, and with complete strangers on the metro and at the local pub. I was glued to the screen during not only the USA matchups but during any matchup that might have a direct effect on whether the USA moved on to the next round. I even stayed up until 4 a.m. while on vacation in Prague in order to watch the exhilarating win over Portugal - that was a lot of fun.

So what is the difference between all of these situations? I was very excited and very passionate for each of these teams to win. I was surrounded by countless others who were also very passionate about obtaining a winning outcome. So why is it that these three examples all fall into different categories, all with a different spectrum of emotions attached to them? Honestly, I'm not exactly sure, which is what makes me think that there's absolutely nothing wrong with feeling one way or the other. However, it does make me think that fans generally take the wrong point of view when trying to segment these types of categories.

In reality, there are a lot of appealing things about getting excited about a sports team. The sense of comradery, sense of belonging, sense of being the best, or rising against the odds are all fulfilling emotions that are fun and exciting to feel and be a part of. So instead, maybe the thing to recognize is that everyone has a different relationship to sports and various teams. Some people live and breath their favorite teams, while others may be too busy during the year to expend the time and deal with emotional roller-coaster of every teams ups and downs.

And come on, is it really that big of a deal if you are a die-hard fan sitting next to a bandwagoner? All it means is that there is someone sitting next to you that is also excited about seeing your favorite team succeed - even if it is only temporary. At the end of the day you know you're the real die-hard ;)