Are There Rules For Being a Sports Fan?

Psychologists say there are many levels of fandom.

By Rhonda FanningJanuary 30, 2015 9:27 am|

Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us. Fans of either the New England Patriots or the Seattle Seahawks will be able to proclaim their team the best. But what about fans of both teams? Can you split loyalties?

According to Casey Hollins the answer is clear.

“No, absolutely not. Only one team, only one team. Because if you’re a fan of more than one team… How can you be a fan of more than one team? Yeah you can’t split loyalties,” Hollins says. “I’m a diehard Cowboy fan because I grew up five minutes from Texas stadium, and right down the road from Cowboys stadium.”

Hollins is what Jamonn Campbell, a professor of psychology at Shippensburg University, would call a die-hard fan.

“There are a number of scales that you can actually access this [sports fandom]. Some people score very high in terms of sports fan identification, and what that means is that the person sees themselves, or a part of themselves as a part of that team, or a member of that fan base,” Campbell says. “It’s very important for that to be recognized. It’s a very strong part of their core identity.”

Lots of people develop their team loyalty through the influence of family. Such is the case with Dena Shleifer. She only roots for one team, but that doesn’t mean she actively roots against all others.

“Well my dad’s from Pittsburgh, and I love the Pittsburgh Steelers, I bleed black and gold. I only have one team. One team that I love, and others that I don’t hate. Like bad teams, that’s so mean, but like teams that don’t matter,” Shleifer says.

There are, however, factors that might lead someone to root for multiple teams. Danielle Sarver Coombs studies sport fandom at Kent State University

“What we have found is that people tend to have a primary team, and that’s the team they have a historical connection with, they grew up as a fan of that team. You know, is this the hometown team? So even if they move away it connects them to place where they still have a strong emotional attachment,” Coombs says.

“But at times they’ll have a second team, so it’s not unheard of. What we found is that the second team tends to be a little bit less of an emotional connection. It tends to be a team that they admire something about it,” Coombs says. “We often hear they really like the quarterback. Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints, they like Drew Brees. And the Saints also have a great story. So sometimes a second team is a team that people say, ‘I just really like the story of that team.'”

It was the story of another team that made Ben Bessman split his allegiance.

“I’m a big fan of the Chicago Bears and the Philadelphia Eagles. You know I grew up being a Cubs and Bears fan. I think a lot of that is location, and also family interests,” Bessman says. “But as I got older I really enjoyed watching the Philadelphia Eagles play. That sparked from really not liking the Cowboys, at all. And also some of the players they had over the years really drew me in. During the 90s and early 2000s the Eagles defense coordinator, Jim Johnson, really revolutionized blitzing. It was so much fun to watch that defense play.”

Coombs says she’s also noticed that as people move around more for work, the likely hood of multi-team fandom increases.

“If you love football and you’re in a new place, and you can go to the games, and you’re around people who are excited, it’s really easy to become part of that,” she says. “It’s a way to become part of the community. As people become more mobile, they’re more likely to support the team from the place they’ve gone as well.”