Go Team!

The Science of Sports Fandom

Why We Cheer

Hockey, basketball, and soccer devotees will be crowding the stands for the upcoming championships in June. But is being a loyal fan worth all the heartbreaks and hangovers, or is it short-sighted and illogical?

Cheering is no joke. Fans feel responsible for rousing their team to victory and believe—more than players and game officials do—that the home-team advantage stems from the supportive home crowd, finds Northumbria University psychologist Sandy Wolfson. When teams lose, however, most fans let themselves off the hook—they know that while cheering may help, the players have to do the work.

Big wins inspire lasting elation. Days after Spain's 2010 World Cup victory, Spanish soccer fans were still spending more money and feeling more upbeat than usual, an effect researchers attribute to the positive repercussions of releasing tension. Fortunately for those on the other side, losses don't seem to have the same lasting influence on mood.

Fans wise up after the fact. Their pregame predictions may be optimistic, but after a loss, fans reassess, asserting that their team didn't actually have much of a chance anyway. A study found that the most hardcore fans—who tend to attribute losses to the talents of the other team, rather than the faults of their own—are especially prone to such handy reevaluation.

Superstition rules the stands. Murray State University psychologist Daniel Wann and coauthors found that almost half of 1,000 surveyed fans harbored superstitions, with some truly believing that skipping a ritual might lead to defeat. It's hard having little control over the action, so many fans try to do something—anything—to help out: wearing "lucky" underwear, holding it in until the final inning, and more.

Go Team!