Fans Are Made, Not Born


by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

It’s finally spring (fingers crossed), and that can only mean two things: I may soon have to appear in public wearing shorts, and the endless, soul-sucking, heart-breaking baseball season is underway. I take no joy in either one, but I find myself particularly unenthused about the latter, as my life as a baseball fan over the past 40 years has been little more than repeated disappointments from relentlessly bad teams, namely the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies.

I came by my affiliation with the Mets courtesy of my dad, who adopted them after watching his beloved Dodgers desert Brooklyn for sunnier skies, and my loyalty continued through the Joel Youngblood/Lee Mazzilli/Claudell Washington era, courtesy of my then-boyfriend in New York City. I headed a bit closer to home when I met the man I would marry, himself a resigned but resilient Phillies fan, who endured the 1964 “Phillies Phold” and still talks about it to this day.

Honestly, it’s all just too sad.

Last week, I read about some research that indicates how, and exactly when, most fans are made, at least when it comes to men. According to economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, it turns out that between the ages of 8 and 12, boys are most likely to develop a lifelong affinity for a team if it wins a championship during those years. It matters little if the team was terrible before or after that: The seeds for loyalty are largely sown at that time, and it will be difficult—maybe impossible—to unsow them. But by age 14, all bets are off. The odds of a boy becoming a lifelong fan of a particular team drop dramatically, even if the team is a champion, and by the time a young man has reached age 20, a championship team is only “one-eighth as likely to create an adult fan as when a boy is 8.”

This is fascinating, but what about girls/women? What do we know about females and their loyalty as fans? The same research indicates that women are “equally likely to be won over at different points in their lives.” No details on exactly when those different points occur or how we are “won over.” Hmmm. In my case, it had something to do with the following people: my Dad, a serious boyfriend, and my eventual husband. Hmmm, again.

But let’s review from a slightly wider perspective. At least in terms of boys, “data analysis makes it clear that fandom is highly influenced by [childhood] events. If something * captures us in our formative years, it often has us hooked for life.” That’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? Hooked for life. Maybe loyalty is a critical part of male DNA. Do boys have an abundance of it early on and then shed some of it as they grow older? This could explain a lot. Alternatively, do girls have the ability to affix or shift their loyalty, or to be swayed one way or another, for decades? This could also explain a lot—and not in a good way.

Maybe it’s a good thing girls don’t commit to things too early. Imagine the consequences outside of the world of sports. If women made lifelong affinity decisions at the age of 8, I’d be loyal to my Easy Bake Oven, Kenner’s Easy Curl, and the Game of Life. Uh-oh. Wait just a minute. My kitchen has a Difficult Bake Oven, my bathroom drawers contain a flat iron, a curling iron, hot rollers and an ionic hair dryer, and I still have no idea what I want be when I grow up. Hmmm, yet again.

I don’t know exactly what to make of this. Except that someday, I may take great pains to ensure that my 8-year-old grandson is “highly influenced” by [some pretty amazing] childhood events, including but not limited to a phenomenal sports team. He might thank me for it someday.

* Could this explain why men seem to take such joy in giving directions? Maybe as children they all watched their dads consult and then fold up AAA maps, and that’s why you can’t get two men in a room without hearing them debate the best way to get from Point A to Point B.

Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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6 Responses to Fans Are Made, Not Born

  1. Alice Green April 25, 2014 at 1:58 pm #

    Well, I don’t know for sure what will leave a lasting impression on your grandson, but having been a very impressionable ‘grandchild’ I can say from my own experience that I don’t think I would have survived my childhood if I hadn’t absolutely “known” for sure that I was loved by my Grandmothers!! So if you have the joy of having a granddaughter, I can almost promise you that if you love her unconditionally, she will thank you for that love for the rest of her life!! And she’ll become the best Grandmother she can be, if she gets the chance one day.

  2. Renee April 25, 2014 at 5:27 pm #

    Thanks Alice – I’m at least a few years away from grandbabies but I’m happy to say that memories of time spent with my one “Grammy” are some of the sweetest of my life. She died when I was 19 (and my dad’s Mom died when HE was 18, so I never knew her) but she was strong, loving, and ahead-of-her-time. Still miss her and think of her often.
    I have a restored wedding photo of she and my grandfather in my dining room. Love looking at them, imagining them on that day when they were starting the rest of their lives together.

  3. Donna in Delaware April 25, 2014 at 7:27 pm #

    I developed my love of a sport(s) team when I was around 9 0r 10. I was a loner as a child, and I still like to be by myself. I hung around my grandfather, two uncles and my brother growing up. They would always have football games and baseball games on the tv, oh, and basketball too! My love for the Dodgers came from my grandfather who was a dyed-in-the-wool fan when they were in Brooklyn! Once they moved, my grandfather never gave up on them, and I, well, switched my loyalty to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. I loved those two teams. When they each, in the their own right, won their league’s championship, and then won the World Series, I loved them even more! I came to love certain figures on those teams. I loved those teams up until those figures retired, after that, I lost my connection and love for them.

    Next up, Pittsburgh Steelers, because of my brother. The Washington Redskins, because of my grandfather and younger uncle, that was that. I loved Lynn Swan. I had a BIG crush on Franco Harris, Mean Joe Green and Terry Bradshaw, also, a crush on Joe Theismann, because they did. When they stopped winning and changed players, or retired, I fell out of love again. I just couldn’t imagine those teams without their star players! I was then a young woman.

    I never cared for basketball, it somehow just didn’t suit my sensibility as a sport that I could fall in love with, or the players. I think too it’s because whenever someone met me, they always had to ask, or they just presumed that I played basketball because I was tall, which ticked me off!

    Anyway, what does any of this tell you? I think that what you stated earlier and the study done on young boys and sports make perfect sense. We are totally influenced by others, mainly family members, when loving a sport and sport figures. We have someone teach us about the sport, and when they get wrapped up in the excitement, so do you, and as a child, as in everything else in life, that tends to rub off on you!

  4. Renee April 29, 2014 at 8:50 am #

    Thanks for your comments, Donna! I love that you found your way into sports and some of your favorite teams through so many people you loved. But like most women (at least according to the research I read,) you’ve been more than a little flexible in terms of following (and then not following) teams over the years. Interesting differences there between men and women.
    One of the best books about fans and why they are fans ever is True Believers by Joe Queenan (one of my favorite writers ever.) If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it!

  5. Donna in Delaware April 29, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    Alright, thanks Renee! A “little flexible”? Ha! I’ve changed loyalties so many times… I think that women tend to like the sports figure first, then the sport, that the figure plays. Not so with boys/men, or not so much so in the past.

  6. Donna in Delaware April 29, 2014 at 11:42 am #

    I think that the only sport that I still love is tennis, partly because I played for a high school team when I was in middle school, and I loved it! I disliked golf until Tiger Woods came along. He made the sport very interesting to watch, and I learned a lot about the game just by watching him play and listening to the commentators. I will not watch the game unless he plays, like so many others. He makes the game exciting, he leaves you on the edge of your seat, he IS THE GAME! Just ask the sponsors and television station that aired the MASTERS a few weeks ago. Viewer-ship was down, because he wasn’t playing. That’s not taking away anything from the other great players, just that he has done wonders for the game, and die-hard fans, like myself, acknowledge and understands this! I will be a fan of golf for life, as long as he is involved, his private life not withstanding!

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