The psychological make-up of a bandwagon fan

August 31, 2010 |

With the Boston Red Sox in town for three games this week, I thought it was a good time to address bandwagon fans. (Although with the Red Sox fading out of playoff contention, the numbers of Boston fans at Camden Yards this week might be lower than normal.) I make a point of attending at least one game against the Yankees, and one against the Red Sox each year. I feel that I’m doing my part to ensure that at least some Oriole fans are still in the stands. No doubt that some of the Yankee and Red Sox fans that show up at Camden Yards actually drive down here from those cities, or have moved to the mid-Atlantic region from those places. However a lot of them are also natives of the region that either abandoned the Orioles years ago, or perhaps never took to then, or the Washington Nationals, in the first place. (I would also say that I don’t put the children of Mass/NY natives in this category. If you have familial ties to those places odds are you grew up rooting for those teams just as a native would have done.)

So where were all of those Red Sox fans prior to 2003-04? Back in the 1980’s we rarely saw a pinstriped fan at Memorial Stadium. The fact is that these two teams are perceived as winners, thus people tend to like them. Any team that ever sustained a stretch of championships or even winning has always had bandwagon fans. In the NFL the San Francisco 49ers were the big “dynasty” back in the 1980’s with Joe Montana. Of late, the bandwagon team has most definitely been the Patriots in the sense that they’ve sustained a lot of winning. However the Steelers have also seen their share of winning, and as we know they also have their share of bandwagoners. Furthermore, I’ve seen a lot of Saints gear start to trickle into society since February.

People are funny when it comes to these kinds of things. If you combine winning with a “story,” you’ve got the perfect potion for a bandwagon fan. The Red Sox hadn’t won in 86 years so once they finally won a world series (and in the manner in which they did so), suddenly the media has a “story,” and we see the ensuing group of bandwagoners. Incidentally, I don’t have a problem if you’re a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankee, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, etc. All of those teams seem to have more national fanbases, so there are plenty of people from other places that probably grew up rooting for those teams. However if the team wins a title and suddenly their fan base swells to huge numbers, there’s something funny going on. A good friend of mine is a Cub fan, and he told me that when/if the Cubbies ever win a title he knows that the same thing will happen as with the Red Sox. People will latch onto the story of the Cubs not winning for so long, and suddenly new people will become Cub fans nationwide. People can root for whomever they want however I will say that as a lifelong sports fan and a fan of struggling teams at that, I take offense to “Johnny-come-late-to the parties.”

Another funny thing about bandwagoners is that they never seem to know their history. I attended a Redskins/Patriots preseason game last year, and I wore a Redskins’ three-time Super Bowl champions hat. At halftime I was standing in line for a hot dog, and a guy wearing a Brady jersey approached me and said how dare you wear a hat like that when the Skins have never gone to the Super Bowl much less won three!  When I explained that they won it in ’82, ’87, and ’91, the guy said that he started following football after the 2001 Super Bowl. Hmmm…didn’t New England win it that year? If you decide to latch onto a team as a bandwagoner, I would at the very least recommend that you learn some of the history behind the team that you’re choosing. If we’re talking about the Dallas Cowboys, don’t stare at me blankly when I mention Leon Lett’s numerous in-game mistakes. If it’s the Steelers, don’t tell me that you rooted for someone else when Bubby Brister was the quarterback. If it’s the Red Sox, don’t talk with a fake Boston accent and then when I ask you how long it had been since you moved out of Boston, tell me that you were born and raised in Northern Virginia and furthermore had never been north of New York! (That’s a true story that actually happened to me at Oriole Park one year.) Sports is about history people; if you’re going to jump on someone’s bandwagon, learn their history.

So when I go off on a tangent like this, people always ask me if I wouldn’t like bandwagoners rooting for Baltimore teams. My answer is always no. Sure it’s great to have a lot of fans and so forth, but I think that Baltimore is such a unique place and it’s teams are so much a part of the city’s identity that potential bandwagoners wouldn’t get it. As an example, could you imagine an O’s game where nobody yells “O!” during the national anthem? If Camden Yards was ever full of out-of-towners who came to see one of their “beloved” Orioles’ games at the legendary Oriole Park, it might happen. Would you want to hear someone from someplace else asking how his beloved Ravens finished in 1988? This is not to say that you have to be here to “get it,” however I wouldn’t want people latching onto my team in order to “be cool.” The O’s and Ravens are “cool,” however the fans here don’t need others to tell us that.