Home Field Disadvantage?
Professional sports are a part of the American culture. They serve as a distraction from our every day 40 – hour work week as we live vicariously through the existence of athletes that represent our favorite team. Our favorite home team – meaning, they represent the town or the closest metropolitan area where we grew up. Their uniforms, in many cases, display the name of your home town or, in some instances, special landmarks synonymous with our city. Often, their nicknames refer to a creature or characteristic that is indigenous to your familiar stomping grounds. This is why it is proper etiquette – check that – it is required that every fan of any professional sport be loyal to their home team.
In droves we patronize the courts, rinks, and fields that inhabit our hometown team. We don their uniforms, hats, coats, sweaters, gloves, bumper stickers, underwear, etc. We live and die with our teams. We cheer them on when they make us happy and we boo when they make us sad. I wonder why we exhaust our time and energy into a group of strangers that will never know we exist.
According to espn.com, over 17 million people attended a home NFL game last year – an average of 67,579 patrons per game. Meaning fans went to their closest NFL stadium and were ensconced in the most watched sporting event in the country. A portion of them had nose bleeds and dealt with inebriated imbeciles for hours (if you didn’t have to suffer through the game with an intoxicated individual, then you were that individual). Consumers over pay for a bottle of water, souvenirs and take out a second mortgage for parking, food and alcohol.
Once the event ends, the true challenge began – exiting the venue safely. One has to be both creative and adventurous in order to avoid disaster during the mass exodus of any professional sporting event. The maneuvers one’s vehicle has to make mimics those of a running back behind the line of scrimmage to make yardage. Yet, after all that hassle and frustration, we make a repeat trip to show loyalty to our squad.
Why is this? Why would we engage ourselves into the fiery pits of these complexes? Wouldn’t we rather lounge on the cushions of our sofas in the friendly confines of our own home and eliminate the chaos of a first – hand experience at an NFL, MLB, NHL or NBA matchup? You’d think we would. The stats say you’d be wrong.
Over 17 million spectators came to see the home team win last year... or did they?
The aforementioned numbers reflect the fact that we do enjoy attending our pro games. We bask in the glory of victory, or lament in the abyss of defeat. The psychology of a sports fan dictates that these emotions are intensified when the viewing of the game is with others. The average sports follower will attend games, go to sports bars, or even welcome friends and neighbors into their home to feel that sense of togetherness and camaraderie. Regardless of the outcome of the game, a fan’s feelings are more defined and heightened when surrounded by others. It’s during these times, in that group dynamic, that your eyes will always fall upon the one or two that do not belong. It might be at a game, or the sports bar, or even a sleeper cell that’s infiltrated your home. It could be the person you least suspected, but there is always someone who is not cheering for the same team as the rest of the pack. There are those that have decided not to follow the hometown heroes. There are those that have either gone rogue and / or have made a conscious effort to follow another group of athletes that represent a different town. Let’s examine these individuals and expose them:
1. The Ankle Breaker - This is your classic bandwagon jumper (hence the breaking of the ankles). We’ve all seen them and you know who you are. Twenty years ago, they were Bulls fans. Ten years ago, they were Lakers fans and now they follow the Mighty Miami Heat. And guess what? They’re originally from Philly. If you want to debate them over who is the best NBA player – Michael Jordan or LeBron James – they become so torn that their head explodes. But, unlike some other fan personality types you will encounter, their fickle fervor does not come with malicious intent. The Ankle Breaker is, in simple terms, a fair – weather - fan who seeks to only exist in those golden years of a team. The champagne flows, the ticker tape dances in the wind, but when the party stops, this fan is compelled to move on to the next big thing. They migrate to the newest and hottest franchise that will permit them to remain in the stratosphere of fanatic ignorance. In essence, the Ankle Breaker is more of a pro sports gold digger than an actual fan.
2. The Antagonist – Ever heard this: “What was up with your team last night?” The Antagonist feeds off of the agony of their friends and neighbors. Much like the first type you just met, the Antagonist, too, tend to swap alliances to other teams, but, they tend to do this with the objective to disgust those around them. Whether they weren’t loved enough as a child or they have a chemical imbalance in their brain, the Antagonist’s sole purpose in their genetic makeup is to rouse the masses and stir the pot; they thrive off of the home town fan’s displeasure.
3. The Blind Loyalist – Similar to the Ankle Breaker in that there is no malevolent manner in the way this fan conducts his or herself, but the Blind Loyalist is a product of their family ties. The Loyalist is originally from the Philadelphia Metro area, but their father, mother or other family member grew up watching the “no – name defense” or the “steel curtain”, or, one of my favorite nicknames “the purple – people eaters”. Therefore, the Loyalist carries on the tradition and is a fan of another team that his or her family has followed for generations. They don’t hate the hometown team, but they can’t go against the family for fear of being shunned.
4. The Transplant – the least harmless of all the fan personality types, the Transplant is someone that grew up in another town and lived there most of their life but, for one reason or another, moved to another major sports town. I was ambiguous about including the Transplant on this list because of the nature of their fanaticism. The Transplant is definitely allowed to remain a fan of a team that is not tied to them locally. If the Transplant grew up, for example, in Chicago, but then moved to Philly, they are absolutely permitted to remain a Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks and White Sox fan (notice I didn’t include the Cubs). Quite frankly, if they turned their back on these teams and attached themselves to our local teams in Philly I would lose respect for them. Sometimes, though, an Ankle Breaker can pose as a Transplant. Let’s imagine you happen to notice a fan wearing an out of town jersey and get into a conversation with them. They mention during this discussion that they, “… had lived in Dallas and loved the Cowboys all their life…” But, upon further investigation, you uncover that they spent only a few weeks of one summer in the Big D. ALERT! This person you’re speaking with is an Ankle Breaker and not a Transplant. You must cease and desist further dialogue with them immediately.
5. The Lost Youth – the final category of out – of – town fan types is the Lost Youth. These are by far the worst types with which you will cross paths and you will come to understand that there is no rhyme or reason for this type of fan. Unlike the Ankle Breaker, they don’t troll the Earth searching for the most talented and popular team. These types don’t seek to antagonize a crowd by their franchise selections. There is no real family history they are following. They are not transplanted from another town. The Lost Youth are none of these; they are merely a product of bad parenting.
As children, it was left in their hands as to which team they would be following. The parents of the Lost Youth stated to them at an early age, “go ahead, pick a team.” These youths, as all youths do, swell with enthusiasm and set their sights on finding the best team that will fit their needs. As any adolescent would do, they naturally gravitate towards the best team at that time. They might pick the current Stanley Cup Champion, NBA, World Series or Superbowl winner. From that point forward, and, unlike the Ankle breaker, the Lost Youth will never discard this team when they discontinue the championships. The event of picking this team will forever be embedded in their mind and heart; it’s a rite of passage for them that they will cherish incessantly. The problem is, though, it’s all under false pretenses. A Parent’s role in a child’s life is to guide them into making the right decisions. They shouldn’t make the decisions for the next generation, but a mother and / or father should lead their child towards the right path. Allowing your son or daughter to follow any random sports team they want, instead of guiding them by setting an example to follow the local team that represents the heart and soul of your home town is simply the closest thing to child abuse next to, well, child abuse.
Rooting for the enemy
Effects and the future of the True Fan
Now is the perfect time to note one exception to the rules of fandom I’ve illustrated – one can be a fan of a player or a couple of players on any team they wish. This does not, however, grant license to this individual to be a fan of the entire team itself. Your favorite player could be LeBron James in the NBA because of his style and talent level. However, if you’re not from Miami, you are not to refer to this team in a sentence by using the pronoun, “we”.
We’ve analyzed the types of fans that make our blood boil. With the emergence of fantasy leagues, the future of some or all of the above types would appear to be on the upswing. Sunday NFL packages and the internet will continue to expand the horizons of fanaticism and continue to remove provincial boundaries for sporting onlookers. This disheartens me; I seek to reverse time to an era when there were no sports packages available through your cable system and there was no instant feed for one to gaze upon any team and how they’re performing. In today’s society, technology permeates our homes and has taken hostage our inherent sense of loyalty and closeness – this is clearly evident in the sports realm as well.
Fantasy Leagues - are they diluting our loyalties to one team?
Are you a true fan (one that roots for the home team)?
Let’s visit the overall theme and important question relating to this topic – has this trend of foe fandom translated to the phenomenon known as of “home field advantage”. Sure, there may be those nestled within the home crowd wearing an out of town team jersey, but the presence of these snipers is not reflected in the statistics of home winning percentages. According to an article published on thefixisin.net, in the last decade the percentage of home games won for the four major sports are depicted below:
During these years captured, the numbers have not fluctuated much. The one exception is baseball, where MLB’s home field advantage decreased by 2 percentage points from 2007 to 2012. The NFL, meanwhile, has maintained a 57% winning percentage for the home town heroes during these same five years.
If the stats had spiked or dropped for any of the four major sports, it would not have been due to road team jersey – wearing frauds. There are far more important factors to these stats above, least of which has actually anything to do with the audience at all. Poor scheduling, long road trips, and even the officials in each respective sport have more to do in affecting the road team’s chances of losing than a fan having any impact on the home team’s prospects of winning.
That’s the good news – that, despite outside influences, the home teams still prevail upwards to 60% of the time in some of these sports. However, I still predict a bleak future for sports followers as it pertains to viewing a game without encountering some of these notorious fan types. I shudder to imagine that the Ankle Breaker, Antagonist, Blind Loyalist, Transplant and the Lost Youth are no longer the minority.
Now that you’ve been introduced to them you will have the acumen to locate them and remove yourself from their presence - that is, if you choose to do so. I, for one, will be rooting against them.