Do real sports fans live in the big cities like Philadelphia and not in the suburbs?

A columnist suggests true Philadelphia sports fans live in the city, not the suburbs:

With all due respect to my McMansion-dwelling friends in the bucolic suburbs, there are no Abington Eagles. No Bryn Mawr Flyers. No Drexel Hill Phillies. No Tinecum Township Sixers. These teams all belong to Philadelphia, because we’ve got the grit to handle it…

That’s why, my suburban friend, your blues ain’t like mine.

Sure, you might eat the cheesesteaks and scrapple while rooting for the Sixers and Flyers. But when the Phillies flame out with top-flight pitching or the Eagles lose their fourth NFC Championship, you get to go home and wash your hands of it all. You get to name some quaint suburb when people ask where you live. Me? I have to say I live in Philadelphia, and deal with the laughter of our rivals...

Today, however, it’s not about city versus suburbs, because this week, we’re all Philadelphians. Sure, the Phillies of old have returned; they’re eliminated from playoff contention. But with one quarter of the season over, the Eagles sit atop their division with a 3-1 record. That gives all of us hope … for now.

Don’t worry, though. They’ll do something silly and embarrass us again before long. When they do, my suburban friends, you can do something I just can’t. You can put down your cheesesteak, take off your jersey and tell everyone you’re from Abington.

On one hand, give me a break: aren’t there plenty of suburbanites who are crazy fans? Would the major teams in Philadelphia even be there if there weren’t the suburban fans who also buy tickets and merchandise?

On the other hand, perhaps there is something to this. Perhaps sports teams really are just a hobby for those who live in nicer suburbs. If their teams don’t do well, life isn’t too bad as they likely still have a decent job, a place to live, and a family. (Remember, we are dealing with broad stereotypes here.) In comparison, those in the city may not have as much to fall back on.

On the whole, I’m inclined to dismiss this argument as more unnecessary city versus suburbs, grit versus facade, posturing. Unfortunately, sports fans are often known for such posturing…

“Being a sports fan can be good for your emotional, psychological and social health”

Perhaps I simply like the idea that watching more sports could be a good thing but research suggests there are positive health benefits to being a sports fan:

Indeed, the stereotype that sports fans are overweight, beer-drinking couch potatoes is inaccurate, said Daniel L. Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University in Kentucky and the author of “Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators.”

“Sports fans are quite active physically, politically and socially,” he said…

Fans who identify with a local team have higher self-esteem, are less lonely and are no more aggressive as a group than nonsports fans, according to Wann.

“Pretty much any way you look at it, the more you identify with a local team, the more psychologically healthy you tend to be,” said Wann, who has studied sports fans for 25 years. “You have a built-in connection to others in your environment. If you live in San Francisco and you are a Giants fan, it’s pretty easy to be connected to others.”…

Wann said fandom unites people at a sociological level.

“We as a species have a strong need to belong and a need to identify with something greater than ourselves. Sports is the way some people do that,” he said.

Read on for more details (as well as some possible negative effects).

If there are some benefits to being a fan, we could then ask why negative stereotypes about sports fans exist or are so persistent. Are these ideas perpetuated primarily by non-sports fans – how many Americans would say they are really sports fans? Are they related to ideas about boorish masculinity? Are there too many incidents of sports fans doing stupid things like rioting or acting childish after a star leaves town for another team?

Additionally, this article hints at this but doesn’t fully address the social benefits or consequences of sports fandom (the sociological dimension). For example, what about this question: does having a major sports team improve the collective experience in a major city? Can most or even a majority of a community truly bond and with long-lasting effects over a sports team or a sporting event?

I also wonder if some would argue there is an opportunity cost issue here. If you pay enough attention to sports, you could experience some of these benefits. However, there are other activities you could be doing, say interacting with your family (which is not mutually exclusive from watching sports) or helping others, and that you could miss out on. While I enjoy sports, I am afraid to know how many hours I have spent paying attention to them and then thinking what else I could have done with that time.

Decentralization as a reason why LA just doesn’t care as much about the results of their sports teams

In an article that throws out a number of reasons why Los Angeles doesn’t seem to be as disappointed as other places when their sports teams don’t do well, a sociologist cites the factor of decentralization:

Sports fans in L.A. are more likely than those in other cities to come from somewhere else, bringing their old loyalties with them, diluting our civic passion.

“L.A. is very diversified and decentralized,” said David Halle, a UCLA sociologist who studies big-city culture. “That’s part of the whole zeitgeist.”

It’s different in, say, Boston, where books are written about how entrenched New England families pass the Red Sox and Celtics down through generations.

It is intriguing that decentralization is cited as a reason for lower levels of sports loyalty. The Los Angeles region is well-known for its sprawling landscape with a number of residential and economic nodes. Does this mean that there is a less cohesive civic feeling, using sports loyalty as a proxy for this, in Los Angeles compared to other places? Is this true of all places with pronounced sprawl?

There is an image (and rightfully so) of Los Angeles as the place where millions of Americans went to in the mid 20th century for the climate, the stars, and above all, economic opportunities. So is this the case in other American cities that have had a large influx of people, particularly other cities in the South and West that have grown in the last 60 years? Does Atlanta or Charlotte or Houston have similar lower levels of sports loyalties? I assume this might be the case in Florida and Arizona with a large number of retirees. But over time, wouldn’t there be a base of native Los Angeles residents who are loyal to local teams?

The conservative musical selections at Chicago Bulls games

While I think this Chicago Tribune piece about the DJs at Chicago Bulls games was supposed to provide a behind-the-scenes look at how musical selections are made, the real crux of the story seems to be that the music selections are quite conservative:

Every Bulls game at the United Center has its own soundtrack. Just as each game is different, roller coasters of emotions and shifting fortunes, the music and sound effects roll with the changes. A team of about 20 technicians plays DJ each night at the United Center, accenting the ebbs and surges on the floor.

The head DJ is Jeff Wohlschlaeger, the Bulls’ senior director of game operations, who sits courtside and communicates on a headset to music and scoreboard operators to wed sounds and game action. There are cavalry-charge bugle calls and countless ways of imploring “De-Fense,” but there are also more than 1,000 songs and song snippets available to enhance every movement and mood…

When the home team has the ball, just about anything goes. Nothing is explicitly banned, but all teams know they’re programming for a family-friendly event, so songs deemed the least bit salacious or provocative won’t be tolerated, the NBA says. Teams that bend the rules often end up paying for it. The NBA’s “Game Operations” department monitors every game; one source in the office said that at least two NBA franchises were fined in the last month for inappropriate sound and video while the visiting team was on offense.

The Bulls don’t push the envelope by design, Wohlschlaeger says. The music selections are “conservative,” reflecting a mix of classic rock and contemporary pop hits that is determined by audience surveys. During Game 2 of the Hawks series, songs leading out of timeouts designed to get the crowd pumped included the Beastie Boys’ “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!),” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song” and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels’ “Devil With a Blue Dress On.”…

Mostly, it’s about what the paying customers want, Wohlschlaeger says, “tried and true stuff that you or I would never listen to in a car, but that gets a positive reaction from the fans.”

On one hand, the article suggests that the DJs have a lot of music and sound effects at their disposal and try to respond to the action on the floor. On the other hand, it sounds clear that the actual music/effects played is quite limited in order to please the NBA and the fans. I can’t quite say why I find this depressing: it still sounds like an intriguing job but at the same time, much of it sounds scripted. For example, the article mentions the playing of U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” which every Bulls fan who has watched a game this year or in recent years knows is played during a timeout with about 4-6 minutes left in the game. So all of this is simply canned, fan-friendly entertainment?

I wonder if there are any pro sports teams who are known for pushing the envelope a bit more in their musical selections. Does everyone play the same stuff that the DJs “would never listen to in a car” but they think is safe for fans? Having attended a number of San Francisco Giants games over the last 10 years or so, I know they play a lot more salsa music, fitting in with the atmosphere of the Bay Area. Some baseball stadiums have music for individual home team players when they come up to the plate. There may not be the same opportunities for other sports though perhaps music could be introduced in situations when they make a reception or step up to the free throw line or at other points.

Of course, perhaps this is just good business: don’t alienate your fan base that can afford to go to NBA basketball games. Change up the music too much or make it too edgy

Comparing greatness of players past and present an enjoyable part of sports fandom

As the NBA season approaches, discussion this week has centered on the relative status of several players: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan. While the first three players in this list were involved in a question about who is the best current player and potential MVP, Jordan also has been inserted in the discussion due to his starring role in NBA2K11 and comments he made about the number of points he could score if he played today when more fouls are called.

Several quick thoughts come to mind:

1. The new era of statistics in sports offers more opportunities to make comparisons of players across different eras, particularly if you can control for certain features of the game at each time period (like the average pace in basketball).

2. I wonder how much current players think about issues like these. Fans seems to like these discussions. It allows the average guy sitting on the couch to say, “my guy, whoever that may be, can match up or beat your guy.”

3. Jordan, like some other old players, still likes to be part of these discussions.

4. All of these discussions are magnified by the non-stop media attention for sports these days. I can hear it on local sports talk radio which all sound like the CNN of the radio airwaves; stories are repeated all day long with slightly different interpretations.

Finding community in the Wrigley bleachers

In the midst of a gloomy Cubs season, a new book titled Wrigley Regulars: Finding Community in the Bleachers might provide some hope. Not written by just a normal fan, it is written by an anthropologist. The website Bleed Cubbie Blue provides some insights into the book’s content:

Before I tell you about this book, you should know a couple of things. First, Holly Swyers, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College, is one of the “Wrigley Regulars” and has been a personal friend of mine for more than ten years. She asked me (and other regulars) to read through her drafts to make sure all the facts were correct, and that means you’ll find things about me (and about this site) in the book. It’s also written not just about baseball and the Wrigley bleachers, but it’s designed to be a college-level sociology/anthropology textbook about communities and how they come together…

This book is highly recommended for anyone who’s a Cubs fan — or baseball fan — to understand why some of us spend so much time in the bleachers. Yes, it’s about baseball, but as Holly points out, it’s also about community and those you get to know so well over the course of many baseball seasons become family. We all found this out just within the last week, when someone who is a bleacher season ticket holder and one of the “Wrigley Regulars” became seriously ill. The outpouring of love and concern I saw everyone show is a perfect example of the family and community that Holly writes about.

A couple of quick thoughts:

1. This sounds like a fun research task.

2. I haven’t read the book but I’ll take a quick guess at the premise: American community has declined over time as we have become more individualized and separated from others. Here, in the unlikely setting of the Wrigley Field bleachers, strangers came together, not just for Cubs game but for authentic social relationships that transcended typical social categories that tend to separate people (social class, age, gender, etc.).

3. The plug from Bleed Cubbie Blue brings up an interesting point: sports isn’t just about competition and winning for fans. Perhaps for males in particular, sports allows people to build bonds over an external focus. A friendly relationship or community can develop without having to sit down and have deep conversations.