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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Economics of Fandom

I’ve been rooting for the Chicago Cubs for about ten years now. It has been a brutal decade. I have friends who’ve been rooting for the Cubs their entire lives and they will tell you it’s been a tragedy since birth. I couldn’t help thinking about the Cubs last night as the New Orleans Saints clinched the first Super Bowl berth in franchise history.

For Saints fans last night made years of agony and anguish finally worth it, which got me thinking a little about the nature of “fandom”. Is it rational that Cubs fans continue to root for a team that time and time again has disappointed them? I’ve had many occasion where fans of teams that win, like the Yankees, have asked me “why not root for a team that wins?” And honestly I couldn’t answer them.

But last night I realized that there is a certain economics strategy to the devotion of a fan. Devotion is a real thing that could be measured in time spent watching games, researching players, and talking to friends about the teams. The joy on the faces of Saints fans present for that great moment last night made it clear there is a value being realized: the delight and elation and … well … glory of winning. And this glory seems to be commensurate with the emotional commitment a particular fans has made.

If you’ve been following a team for only a couple of years, the joy of victory is not nearly as profound as that of the lifelong fan. Likewise, to change teams after ten years of emotional investment trades the greater amount of joy (however improbable the victory)  for a lesser, though more likely joy.

So for everyone else out there who is a fan of a losing team … stop questioning your rationality (do you hear me Jets fans). You could take the cheap joy of becoming a fair weather fan. Or you could hang in there, knowing that when that moment does come, it will be transcendental.