Fan Loyalty in Baseball essay

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This paper is based on three articles. The first one is by Woosley and Bruner; “America's Most Loyal Baseball Fans.” This is a descriptive essay meant for the general public audience and it describes the characteristics of loyal fans and gives examples of clubs with loyal and disloyal fans. Secondly, Elizabeth Prann through the commentary “Spring Break for Baseball Fanatics” seeks to inform the general public about the common trend of fans traveling to destinations where they can watch their teams play during spring. Lastly, in “Baseball Fan Loyalty and the Pillars of Existence,” which is a journal article, Crosby engages academic audience as he explicates the psychological roots of fan loyalty. To wholly support a baseball team is like taking a second job which has the fan keeping track of league statistics, rivalries, injuries to players and many other aspects of the game. In spite of the burden, hardcore fans of baseball clubs are engaged with the action since throughout the year. Fan loyalty to baseball clubs is due to the psychological craving for meaningful life.

The level of loyalty to a club can be determined by measuring the number of fans who stay loyal even if the club is displaying poor performance and if the club raises its tickets prices and still gains more fans (Woolsey and Bruner). It is observed across the board that less loyal fans leave a club if its rankings in the division are low or once ticket prices are increased. Loyalty to a team can also be quantified by looking at the years a number of fans stay attached to their club and not the number of fans who attend a particular game. Contrary to simplistic view, fan loyalty tends to grow when teams undergo a spate of poor performances. For instance, though the Bucs had the second poorest performance as a club in baseball records and the second poorest National League performance in 2005, the club was supported by as many fans as the ones who supported the 1992 National league East (Woolsey and Bruner).

Existential psychological theory can be used to explain fanaticism among baseball fans. Being a fan of a baseball team is occasioned by four ultimate concerns that people have to confront and get used to as per the existential psychology theory. The ultimate concerns are death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness (Yalom (1981) in Crosby). As a person reconciles to these four aspects, they begin existing meaningfully.

In relation to the prospect of death, Crosby argues that fanaticism comes about as people attempt to live in symbolic manner through having allegiance to groups with which they share a common goal. In this manner, baseball fanaticism can be likened to group allegiance found in religious and political groups which share common history, symbols, worldviews, beliefs and values. As members with common goals, baseball fans of a specific club develop symbols which unite them. For instance, Red Sox Nation share an history of having lost many games, have a goal of beating the Yankees in common symbols in their blue and red colors (Crosby).  The Pirates loyal fans are a perfect example here since they might not be very many, being about 20,000 per game, but they kept attending the club’s matches though the club had not been featuring in playoffs for 16 years (Woolsey and Bruner). 

Being a devout club fan is due to a psychological tendency meant to fight the true nature of the existential isolation that encumbers individuals. People naturally seek to confront the isolated situation by resorting to lovingly associate with others (Crosby). The intense loyalty of fans to a team of their preference comes about, therefore, as the person seeks to fight isolation feelings. For instance, Chicago Cubs has the history of having the most loyal fans in the baseball league and this is evidenced by their support for the team in spite of poor performances and position in the division (Woolsey and Bruner). The association with like minded people alone gives the fan a feeling of belonging in a significant way. In this line, if a preferred team wins, a fan is likely to say to others, “we won” since she has already regarded herself as part of the team.

Freedom in existential psychology refers to groundlessness of human life and infers to the need in a human being to create meaningful perspective about their world. The freedom in this circumstance is negative and people naturally tend towards avoiding it. People seek to be in associations which have established structures, like political parties or religious groups in order to overcome groundlessness of their existence (Crosby). Following the same trend, fans join baseball clubs which have developed culture, social norms and a common history. Being a fan of a club takes away the feeling of groundlessness of ones life and substitutes it with the feeling of belonging no matter how the team is performing.

Another aspect of existential psychology that Crosby links to fans is meaninglessness that people find in the world. People develop a sense of meaning in life if they become part of grand organizations. Crosby argues that becoming loyal to a club is on the upward trend unlike membership to other organizations like churches and political parties. Fans create meaning by always thinking that they are needed by the team in order for it to perform well. Failure to witness a game in person or on television for a fan may make him feel he is responsible if the team loses.

Crosby’s viewpoint about death can be used to explain the initial interest in a certain club by a fan. A person generally becomes a fan of a club that they evidently know is strong and able to overcome opposition. This means that many new fans flock to a team if it is superbly performing. This death anxiety can also explain the transfer of allegiance from club to club by some fans. There is a breed of fans who move from one club to another only to feel like winners.  People irrevocably feel like losers at the prospect of death since there is nothing they can do to avoid it. People also feel invulnerable and superior if they conquer and dominate others who are different (Crosby). Belonging to one team and not another therefore seems to be rooted in the psyche of the fan as they seek to overcome the innate fear of death.

People truly find isolation disturbing and becoming fans of a team is a sure way to avoid the feeling. The fans get the most benefit against existential isolation if they get involved in the club intensely and interact positively with other elements which make their allegiance significant. Therefore, Crosby’s explanation of fanaticism through the ‘escaping existential isolation’ lens is pliable. People who become extreme fans reach the point of overcoming the sense of isolation as they keep close contact with their clubs and even feel hurt when the team loses. Fanatics of a team seem to be more confident about what their team is doing compared to average supporters.  Average supporters may give no heed to the team if it loses.

Behavioral traits of stout baseball club fans show that people will seek to overcome negative sense of freedom argued for by Crosby. The fans seek grounds on which to engage the outside world and they evidently find this kind of sanctuary in the midst of comrade supporters. This is the reason why fans travel to witness their clubs train in spring. Baseball fanatics capitalize on the spring break to get closer to their club players. The fans travel to the training zones of their teams for a chance to chat with them or get autographs (Prann). Coincidentally, the clubs training zones in spring are almost always good travel destinations as they offer more sunshine and intimate atmosphere (Prann). In relation to finding meaning to life, devout fans really discover it for their lives through their support, apart from their day to day identities like professionals, family members, citizens, among others. Being a fan becomes a lifestyle through which the persons involved are identified with. Loyal fans may be found cheerful about their teams even if other areas of their lives are not as bright.

Given the arguments of several authors discussed in this paper, it follows that devout fans have a psychological drive which keeps them going. Woolsey and Bruner argue that devout fans stick to a club even if it performs badly for consecutive seasons. This kind of attachment is most times regarded as irrational by observers and even the fans themselves. Fans who stay with a club for long often show irrational devotion to it and if the loyalty is well developed and fulfilling, the fans don’t feel like abandoning their team (Woolsey and Bruner). A fan or observer might wonder why he will choose a specific club and be quick to defend it if it loses. The aspect of feeling frustration over a team’s poor performance is also inexplicable to many people. However, as Crosby argues, a fan is psychologically wired to desire being part of an organization in order to escape existential meaninglessness, freedom, isolation and death. This argument proves that besides what is commonly referred to as ‘love for the game’ among fans, there is subtle psychic cause and sustainer of their life as fans. If people became fans merely for the love of the game there would be no specific supporters for any clubs.

The psychological attachment of fans to certain clubs accounts for the unbecoming behaviors the fans display against rival fans during confrontations. Devout fans at times turn to hooligans and may attack fans of a rival teams over disagreements. Fans at times feel as if they are as good as their teams and they might get frustrated if their teams lose, leading to aggressiveness if provoked. Therefore, hooliganism arises out of devotion of fans to teams. Notably, most of the activities of hooligans involve consequences like jail terms which people acting in their right minds would not risk. Besides, the hooligans do not gain materially from their activities. A deduction can be made here, that fans are psychologically driven to support their favorite teams. 

My argument in this paper is credible since it is suitably based on credible sources. Through synthesis of the various points that point at psychological compulsion of fans in the argument, I make meaningful contribution to the study of the popularity of baseball. Throughout the essay there is evidence of devotion to teams that is simply thought irrational.  Through a logical approach, I prove that the irrationality of fans can be understood as a process of psychological compulsion. Clearly, the reader can see that they have been unfairly contemplating about fans’ behaviors.

My thinking on devout fans’ behavior before undertaking the research for this paper was simplistic. I thought that fans just join clubs for the love of the game following a logical urge for entertainment during their free time. I also would blame hooligans at games like they were common criminals. My knowledge now about these two aspects of being fan of a particular baseball team is that the two are wired in the human nature. I am now capable of soberly examining the loyalty of fans. 

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