Fantasy vs. Reality: Response to "Our" Teams' Performances

Comparing the personal impact of NFL and fantasy teams’ successes and failures

Posted Sep 28, 2014

As we enter into the fourth week of the National Football League’s (NFL) regular season, only fans of the Arizona Cardinals, Cincinnati Bengals, and the Philadelphia Eagles have yet to deal with defeat. Conversely, there are thousands of owners of fantasy football teams, like Stones Rolling, Show me your TD’s and Beer, and Ruff-n-Tumble, who have yet to experience defeat.

While most are all too familiar with NFL fans’ emotional reactions to their teams’ victories and defeats, less salient are the owners’ reactions to their fantasy football teams’ performances.

 Unlike fans of NFL team who have little to no control over the outcome of the game (apologies to Seahawks fans and other spectators who yell believing their efforts are worth at least two touchdowns), fantasy football owners’ decisions to start or bench players can directly impact whether or not their team is successful. Research has indicated that arousal or “participating in the thrill of the victory” is one of the strongest motivators for fantasy sport users (Farquhar & Meeds, 2007). These fans tend to believe that they have a higher level of control over their fantasy teams, resulting in heightened positive emotions following fantasy team victories (Langens, 2007; Spinda & Haridakis, 2008).

Fantasy owner and NFL fan are not mutually exclusive identities; many fantasy owners also identify with NFL teams. A fantasy owner can experience conflicting emotions when his or her favorite NFL team is successful, but the owner’s fantasy team is unsuccessful, or vice versa. So how does the owner of the Pineville Polish Phantoms/fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers react when both teams lose? How does the owner of the Empyrrhical Victory and fan of the Tennessee Titans react when both teams are victorious? Maybe most interesting, how does the owner of the Appleton Cheeseheads and fan of the Green Bay Packers reacts when the fantasy team wins, but the NFL team loses?

Spearheaded by researchers Avelina Padin and Shelby Mytyk, we investigated the difference between fantasy sport users’ self-esteem and emotional reactions in response to success or failure of their NFL and fantasy teams

Utilizing a 2 (NFL team: win or loss) x 2 (fantasy team: win or loss) design, young adults (103 men, 52 women) who owned at least one fantasy football team, indicated whether or not their fantasy football team and favorite NFL team had won or lost their most recent game. Participants then completed a measure of team identification, a measure of positive and negative affect, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965).

The results suggest that when a person’s NFL team loses, they experience negative affect (irritation, anger frustration etc.), but when the team wins, there is no significant influence on a fan’s emotional state. Conversely, when fantasy teams win, the owners reported significantly higher overall positive mood, but losses have no significant impact on their emotional state.

Contrary to our hypothesis, one’s fantasy football team’s performance failed to influence self-esteem which contradicts the argument that higher levels of control of the fantasy team’s performance would lead to enhanced self-esteem following victories. (This also seems to contradict conclusions one might draw about a co-worker who brags about his/her fantasy team on Tues. mornings).

The findings also suggest that one’s allegiance to a NFL team has the potential to elicit personal costs following losses, but personal benefits are not experienced following victories. On the other hand, fantasy team performance only produced personal benefits in terms of mood. Fantasy owners reported no adverse effects of fantasy losses, but reported significantly higher overall positive affect than losses. These results suggest that this might be another instance when fantasy is better than reality.

Avelina Padin is a first-year student in Ohio State University’s Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program.
Shelby Mytyk is a first-year student in Indiana University’s School Psychology EDS program.

Farquhar, L.K., & Meeds, R. (2007). Types of fantasy sport users and their motivations. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4): 1208-1228.

Langens, 2007. (2007). Emotional and motivational reactions to failure: the role of illusions of control and explicitness of feedback. Motivation and Emotion, 31(2): 105-114

 Padin, A., Mytyk, S., & End, C.M. (March, 2014). The fantasy owner's complex: The effect of fantasy and real success on mood and self-esteem. Poster presented to the annual meeting of the Southeastern Psychological Association, Nashville, TN.

Rosenberg (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Spinda, J., & Haridakis, P.M. (2008). Exploring the motives of fantasy sports: A uses and gratifications approach. In L.W. Hugenberg, P.M. Haridakis, & A. Earnheardt (Eds.), Sports mania: Essays on fandom and the media in the 21st century (pp. 187-199). Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.