Chapter 3 – Fan Treatment of Favorite and Rival Teams and Participants

Activity #5

Using a favorite and rival team you chose in Activity #2 and #3, make a list of the attributes you believe about each team.  Draw a line straight down the middle of your paper.  One the left side of the paper, write down 5 characteristics of your favorite team.  Characteristics that you think represent your favorite team to yourself and other fans.  After you have completed this list, write down 5 characteristics of your rival team on the right side of the line.  When finished, look at your list of characteristics of your favorite and rival team side-by-side.  Do the characteristics you wrote down for the two teams look different?  Are characteristics for your favorite team more positive than those written down about your rival team? 

Activity #5 illustrates how fans make meaning of characteristics and attributes of favorite and rival team participants and fans.  Typically, fans will describe actions of rival teams, whether players or fans, differently.  Remember Daniel Wann?  He has found that sport fans will describe behavior of favorite and rival team fans differently (Wann & Dolan, 1994; Wann & Grieve, 2005) and will that rivalry can impact favorite team and player performance evaluation (Wann & Thomas, 1994).  He and colleagues also conducted a study where Kentucky Wildcats Men’s Basketball fans were exposed to video of a player they believed was a highly rated basketball recruit (Wann et al., 2006).  Fans were either told the player had committed to the Wildcats or to the Duke Blue Devils.  When fans believed the player had committed to Kentucky, they evaluated his performance very positively and believed he would significantly help the Wildcats the upcoming season.  However, fans that were told the player had committed to Duke tended to devalue his skill and future potential.

People behave differently toward people they like (e.g., supporters of a favorite team) than ones they disagree with (e.g., supporters of a rival team) based on what is known as in-group bias (Tajfel & Turner, 1979).  In common terms, in-group bias means that a person will typically treat a member of their in-group more favorably than a member of an out-group, which sometimes can be caused by of a perceived threat to the in-group (Stephan, Ybarra, & Rios, 2016).  An early investigation of in-group bias was conducted by researchers Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, and Sherif (1966), and is known as the Robber’s Cave Experiment.  In the study, the researchers took a group of junior high age boys to an overnight camp in Oklahoma (Robber’s Cave to be exact).  When the boys arrived at the camp, they were split into two groups.  The groups were assigned different names and living quarters.  The researchers then instructed the boys to create things that would identify their group as separate from the other.  Next, the two groups were instructed to compete against each other in a series of events including athletics and arts.  The researchers observed that when the groups competed against each other, boys in both groups tended to treat members of the opposing team very poorly.  The poor behavior between groups included vandalizing the living quarters of the opposing team and even went as far as boys picking on and starting fights against members of the out-group.  On multiple occasions, the in-group bias, and out-group derogation, got so bad that researchers had to break up fights and separate boys.  After a while, the researchers told the boys that the groups would no longer compete against each other.  In fact, the two groups would no longer exist.  All the boys at the camp were members of the same group.  The researchers then presented the boys with several tasks that required they work together to succeed.  The researchers quickly found that boys previously belonging to two separate groups were working and playing together without trouble.  The major takeaway from the study was that the mere presence of competition and an out-group caused the boys to treat members of the out-group more negatively than members of their in-group.

Think about opening your computer and reading your favorite sport news website.  At the top of the page you see a headline that reads, “(RIVAL TEAM) Fans Display Poor Sportsmanship at Rivalry Game”.  Before reading the article, what is your first reaction to this headline?  Does the headline represent your beliefs about fans of your rival team?  Do you want to read the article?  If so, do you want to read so that you can search for evidence that proves fans of your rival team behave poorly or do you want to read to gather information before making a snap judgment?

Maybe seeing the headline affirms everything you have believed about your rival team for a long time, that their fans behave poorly.  Maybe you read the article in search of examples to discuss with you friends about how bad the rival fans are.  Now, let’s say you the headline reads, “(FAVORITE TEAM) Fans Display Poor Sportsmanship at Rivalry Game”.  Now ask yourself (1) your initial reactions, (2) do you read the article, (3) and do you read to find inaccuracies in the article to justify the behavior of your favorite team’s fans or for information gathering purposes?

Recently, Patrick Ferruci and I designed an experiment to determine how fans reacted to positive and negative news regarding their favorite and rival teams (Havard & Ferrucci, 2017).  In the experiment, we exposed fans to either a positive, neutral, or negative story about an upcoming game between their favorite and rival teams.  The positive story was one about participants on the favorite and rival teams participating in a joint blood drive that benefited the general public.  The neutral story was a preview of the upcoming rivalry game.  The negative story was one about a fight between supporters of the favorite and rival teams leading up to the game.  After controlling for fans identification with their favorite team and their preconceived feelings about the rival team, we found that fans exposed to the story about the fight (i.e., negative story) reported more negative perceptions about the (1) prestige of the rival team and (2) attitude toward the favorite team than fans that read the story about the joint blood drive (i.e., positive story).  In other words, reading a negative story about an upcoming rivalry game, such as a fight between rival supporters, can not only lower a person’s attitude toward the rival team, but also their attitude toward their favorite team.

People typically display in-group bias in the ways they describe actions of in-group and out-group members.  For example, Maass, Arcuri, Salvi, and Semin (1989) studies how people reacted to behaviors exhibited by in-group and out-group members.  The researchers found that people tended to describe negative behaviors of the out-group in ways that stereotyped the whole group to the action.  The opposite was true of negative behavior by an in-group member.  The authors coined the term Linguistic Intergroup Bias (LIB) to explain how in-group members will typically describe actions of in-group members more positively than actions of out-group members.  In other words, if an in-group member does something that reflects negatively on the group, people may push the behavior away so that it does not impact them or the group in unpleasant ways.  However, when an out-group member does something that negatively reflects on their group, people may expect such behaviors from “those fans”.  We have discussed how sport fans react to rival fan behavior (Wann & Dolan, 1994; Wann & Grieve, 2005).  The affiliation with a group (e.g., supporters of a favorite team) can inherently cause individuals to find ways to derogate a rival team in whatever way necessary.

In-group bias also extends beyond the descriptions fans have of rival teams and their supporters.  Researchers using fans of English Premier League teams ran an experiment to test how fans would react to seeing someone in an emergency situation (Levine, Prosser, Evans, & Reicher, 2005).  In the study, fans were told they were coming to a university campus to discuss their fandom.  Participants first met with a researcher and discussed what it means to be a fan.  Then, the participants were instructed to walk across campus to another building where they would watch a video featuring their favorite team.  This is where the experiment comes in!  On the way to the second building, participants deliberately passed through a parking lot that ran alongside a bike path.  During their walk, the fans witnessed an individual fall off of their bike.  It would be expected that the fans would help the individuals’ right?  Turns out, fans did not always help the individual in distress.  Why?  The researchers had designed the experiment so that all study participants witnessed an individual that had fallen off of their bike, but one third of participants saw the individual in distress wearing a shirt of their favorite team, one third saw the distressed individual wearing a shirt of the rival team, and one third saw an individual wearing a shirt not featuring either favorite or rival team or the sport in any way.  The researchers observed that participants were more likely to help the individual in distress if the person was wearing a shirt of their favorite team rather than a shirt of their rival team.  Interesting right?  As we have discussed, this finding can be attributed to in-group bias.  The researchers also observed that participants were more likely to help the individual if they were wearing a shirt of the favorite or rival team than if the individual was wearing a shirt that did not affiliate them with either team or the sport.  What this experiment points out is that (1) people will display a form of in-group bias when deciding to helps others in emergency situations and (2) in-group bias can exist on multiple levels.  For example, a participant was more likely to help someone wearing a shirt featuring their favorite team, but also identified with people wearing shirts that professed their fandom to the sport.

These findings are very important because they say that people can belong to multiple in-groups.  We see this all of the time in sport.  We will use United States college football as an example.  Let’s say Phil is a fan of the Washington Huskies.  He always wants the Huskies to win no matter who they are playing or the significance of the game.  However, let’s say that the Huskies season is over and Phil has a chance to watch the Oregon Ducks play in the national championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Remember, this example could very well have occurred during the 2014 college football season.  When watching the Oregon Ducks play in the national championship game, Phil can either (1) cheer for the Ducks, (2) cheer for the Buckeyes, or (3) just watch for the enjoyment of the game.  If Phil chooses to cheer for the Ducks, he may be doing so because he believes that a win by the Ducks will reflect positively on the Pac 12, and in turn on his Washington Huskies.  This illustrates that Phil belongs to at least two in-groups; (1) a fan of the Washington Huskies and (2) a fan of the Pac 12.  Now if Phil chooses to cheer for the Buckeyes in the championship game that could be attributed to a phenomenon called Glory Out of Reflected Failure (GORFing: Havard, 2014).  We will discuss more about that later.

The example of Phil, Washington, Oregon, and Ohio State makes sense doesn’t it?  Ask yourself if your favorite team’s season was over, but a team from your conference were playing in the post season, or national championship, you may want to cheer for them to show conference pride correct?  After all, on television we often hear chants of “SEC, SEC” when a team from that conference is going to win a high-profile game.  Well, that may not necessarily be the case.  I conducted research with a colleague Lamar Reams where we compared the perceptions fans held of their most significant rival (e.g., Auburn fans perceptions of Alabama, etc.) by conference affiliation (2016).  We believed that fans would in fact differ in their rival perceptions based on conference affiliation.  We believed this because I had found that rival perceptions differed by team affiliation and conference membership using a small sample size (Havard, 2016).  Based on this finding, Lamar and I chose to collect a large sample from the Power 5 Conferences (i.e., ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC) and investigate the hypothesis that conference affiliation would cause differences in fan rival perceptions.  In other words, we believed that fans of SEC teams would perceive their most significant rival team differently than fans say in the Big 12, Big Ten, ACC, or Pac 12.  Our investigation uncovered some very interesting results.

Discussion Topic #3

When your favorite teams rival is playing against someone else, do you cheer for or against the rival?  Why?  If the rival were playing in a game that could reflect heavily on your favorite team, such as a championship game, would you cheer for or against the rival?  Why?  What do you think about fans that cheer for their rival team when they are not playing the favorite team?  What do you think about fans that cheer against their rival team when they are not playing their favorite team, no matter if a rival failure reflects poorly on the favorite team? 

We used the Sport Rivalry Fan Perception Scale (SRFPS) to measure rival perceptions (Havard, Gray, Gould, Sharp, & Schaffer, 2013).  More about the SRFPS later, but the scale measured (1) fan likelihood to support their rival in a game against someone other than their favorite team, (2) perception of their rival institution’s academic prestige, (3) perception of rival fan behavior, and (4) the sense of satisfaction fans feel when their favorite team defeats their rival team.  We found that fans in the SEC were less likely to support their most significant rival in games not involving their favorite team (including post season or championship games) than fans of teams in the Big Ten or Big 12.  Additionally, we found that fans of SEC teams perceived the behavior of their most significant rival team’s fans along with academic prestige of the rival team more negatively than fans in any other conference.  Finally, we found that fans of teams in the ACC rated the academic prestige of their most significant rival more positively than fans in any other conference and fans in the SEC rated the academic prestige of their greatest rival more negatively than fans in any other conference.  This is very interesting because it suggests that fans may support other teams in their conference, but are resistant to do so when that other team is their most significant rival.  It may also suggest that identification with a conference can influence fan perceptions and behavior (Spinda, Wann, & Hardin, 2016).

Rivalry can elicit reactions and behaviors based in fun and harmless pranks, such as this wife, a fan of the Alabama Crimson Tide who served her Tennessee Volunteers fan husband pancakes that showed the lopsided score of the most recent matchup between the teams.  Researcher Martin Lee (1985) asserted that rivalry has the capacity to develop negative feelings in people that can elicit deviant behavior if not properly controlled.  Additionally, Vassilis Dalakas and Joanna Melancon (2012) called for sport practitioners to take precaution when promoting rivalries to ensure that deviant behavior is kept as a minimum.  We can all probably recount a story when a sport rivalry has caused people, possibly us, to act in a manner we aren’t proud of.

Spotlight on Rivalry – Hatfield’s and McCoy’s

You have probably heard of the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.  As a matter of fact, you may have heard them referenced in popular songs or event watched the television mini-series on the History Channel.  But few people know the intricacies of the famous family feud, and that the generational battle between the two started over a pig.  Read the events that surrounded possibly the most referenced but least-known rivalries.  

I will give a personal example of a time when fans of my favorite team, including myself, behaved poorly at a rivalry game.  In 2009, the Texas Longhorns football team was #3 in the nation.  In the annual Red River Rivalry, they played the #20 Oklahoma Sooners.  The Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford, who decided to forego being a potential first round draft pick in the previous season’s NFL draft to return to school for his senior year, had suffered an injury against Brigham Young in the first game of the season.  Bradford returned for the Red River Rivalry game, threatening to end the Longhorns’ undefeated season.  Early in the game, a Texas defensive player sacked Sam Bradford and the crowd erupted, including me.  Bradford stayed on the ground and it took about half a minute for the crowd, including me again, to realize that he was hurt.  Even after most of the crowd, including me, had stopped cheering, some fans kept up the taunting until Bradford was escorted off the field by athletic trainers.  This story is important because most people, myself included (again), consider themselves to be rational people.  Outside of sport, most people would not cheer if someone they saw on the street fell and injured him or herself.  However, in that game, a rivalry game, many in the crowd, once again myself included, cheered a play where a college athlete, who passed up a lot of money from the NFL to return to school, was injured.  As fans, we can justify our actions after the fact.  For example, after realizing Sam Bradford was injured, I stopped cheering and rationalized my behavior as cheering for a great hit, or the star quarterback from the rival team possibly not being able to play the full game.  But no matter what, the crowd, including me, cheered for several seconds after it appeared a college athlete was injured.

When we as members of a group feel threatened, possibly when faced with members of an out-group, we may feel more hostility toward out-group members (Chang, Krosch, & Cikara, 2016).  Daniel Wann and colleagues have conducted a series of studies investigating fan likelihood to consider anonymous acts of aggression toward players, coaches, and supporters of a fan’s rival team (Wann, Haynes, McLean, & Pullen, 2003; Wann, Petterson, Cothran, & Dykes, 1999; Wann & Wadill, 2013).  In their studies, they asked fans if there was not chance that they would get into trouble and they could stay completely anonymous, how likely would they be to (1) trip, (2) break the leg, (3) hurt, or even (4) murder the star player, coach, or a fan of a rival team.  Even though sport fans do not show a difference in trait aggression from non-sport fans (Wann, Fahl, Erdmann, & Litteton, 1999), highly identified fans reported they were more likely to consider committing anonymous acts of aggression toward the rival participants and fans than fans with lower levels of identification with their favorite team.

Further, in each sample, including two that I have been associated with (Havard, Wann, & Ryan, 2013; Havard, Wann, & Ryan, 2016), roughly 1% to 2% of participants indicate they would strongly consider committing the most heinous anonymous act of aggression (either hurt or kill depending on the scenario posed to a sample) toward the rival team.  This may seem rather small, but let’s take this example into consideration.  For the example, let’s use the 1% figure.  Large numbers of fans attend sporting games (usually 10,000 to 20,000 in basketball, upwards of 100,000 in football).  If you consider that roughly 1% of people in the crowd would strongly consider committing severe acts of anonymous aggression, that is very troubling.  For example, out of a crowd of 10,000 basketball fans, 100 people would consider those severe acts of anonymous aggression (hurting or killing someone associated with the rival team).  Out of a crowd of 100,000 football fans, that number grows to 1,000.  Pretty scary right!  It should be noted that participants in the above studies were asked to indicate their likelihood.  The participants were not placed in a situation and observed whether they would commit the acts or not.  But the simple fact that people would even indicate they would strongly consider severe acts like those described is very alarming.  When other variables such as a close game, pre-existing tensions between individuals, severe trash-talking, or alcohol come into play, it is sadly not difficult to understand how some fans react negatively toward rival supporters or how unfortunate examples like San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow would occur, or the most recent unfortunate encounter following the Dallas Cowboys playoff game against the Green Bay Packers .