sports icon
Jumping ship
It's my group!
My country, right or wrong
"We" won!
Can a paycheck buy loyalty?
An obsessed fan eggs on Wisconsin's football Badgers.
Image by Jeff Miller and courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of News and Public Affairs.



We Won!
You hear this all the time, but who are "we"? In the case of sports, "we" is often a business that engages in sporting competitions, or a team from a local university. Yet, when "our team" wins, we get a surge of pride, a feeling of well-being. When "our team" loses, we're downcast, upset.

A fan painted the Wisconsin team's 'W' on his face. William Sutton, associate professor of sports marketing at the University of Massachusetts, calls this the "we" phenomenon. "You say, 'We won,' but you were not on the field, you didn't practice, didn't train," he says.

How can sports produced by businesses and universities attract such loyalty? For one thing, sporting events have real competition, unlike the fictitious material typical of TV. Lynn Kahle, a professor of marketing at the University of Oregon, says sports are "a pretty good source of entertainment, and they have an uncertain outcome."

Perhaps more important, sporting teams give fans an identity, Kahle adds. "There's a local element, the team is part of who you are."

Another factor could be called the "know-it-all" factor. "People believe they are experts," says Sutton, "and that it's only an accident of fate that they're not on the playing field."

For whatever reason, sports evoke intense loyalty. When the Browns abandoned Cleveland and headed for Baltimore a few years back, Sutton says, the owner was called a "murderer who killed our memories and our futures." Lots of businesses would, may we add, kill to attract such loyalty. "You can't see them getting that excited about the choice of Coke or Pepsi," Sutton says.

How ya like dem Cubs?
Lots, if you're from Chicago, and it doesn't seem to matter that the Cubs are only reliable for losing. If identifying with a sports team helps define who you are, why be defined as a loser? Because team allegiance helps define a group, and even joining a group of "losers" can be beneficial. "There's this sense of belonging, identifying who are friends and who we can trust, who you can relax with," says psychologist Stephen Worchel. "There's a certain camaraderie among losers, maybe especially because they are losing. It's a feeling of, 'You must be my friend because you and I are the only two Cubs supporters left.'"

We hope you're not reading this on your employer's time. That would be highly disloyal.

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